March 19, 2011 11:10:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- Starkville High School''s boys track team will lean heavily on its distance group this season after a solid performance last weekend at the Paul W. Bryant Stampede Invitational.
The Yellow Jackets'' second-place finish at their first meet of the season was powered by distance standouts Kamau Bostic and Joseph MacGown, who finished second and third, respectively, in the 1,600-meter run.
Bostic, a junior, clocked in at 4 minutes, 54 seconds, while MacGown, a freshman, was two seconds behind.
Sophomore Damien Grady added more expectations of the distance group by taking seventh at 5:11. His personal record is nine seconds faster.
Bostic and MacGown''s times in the mile event would have clinched top eight finishes at last year''s Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A state meet.
"They''re going to be the ones, from what I''ve seen, who will be our top guys to score throughout district, region, north and state," Starkville High track coach Chris Barnett said. "And it''s still early in the season so we expect those guys to get much better."
With Tupelo''s Max Holman, who won the 3,200 and 1,600 state events by at least seven seconds, currently running for the University of Mississippi, the gap between placing in the top five at state and challenging for a state title is shorter for Bostic and MacGown. The duo placed in the top 15 of the state cross country meet in the fall.
But they''re not alone.
Grady''s late-season cross country surge is carrying over into track season, and the arrival of soccer midfielder Kase Kingery has surprised the coaching staff.
"If he was in shape right now, he''d be running up there with Kamau and Joseph," Barnett said.
Grant Woomer''s expected return from a hip injury will also add depth to the versatile distance group, which hasn''t been a major scoring threat since former state champion Quartez Rogers graduated two years ago. Though Rogers scored valuable points for back-to-back state championship teams, the Yellow Jackets didn''t have multiple runners who could score in multiple distance events.
Bostic, MacGown, Woomer and Grady will run the 1,600, while Grady and MacGown will run the 3,200. Bostic, Grady, Kingery and Woomer will also run the 800.
Starkville''s distance group shined in the opening meet, but hurdler Charles Hughes posted top-5 times in two events and sprinter Julian Lewis showed his early-season form was on point.
Hughes ran 41.96 seconds in the 300 hurdles (fifth) and set a new personal record of 15.1 (PR) in the 110 hurdles (third).
"Last year, 38.35 was the top time, which would be ranked around sixth or seventh in the state in the 300 hurdles," Barnett said. "So we''re pretty excited about Charles."
Lewis took seventh in the 100 at state last season with a time of 11.1 seconds, and the junior ran 10.92 at the Paul Bryant Invitational. Lewis also ran 22.45 in the 200.
Much like Starkville''s boys, the Lady Jackets'' early season standouts have been their distance runners.
Walker Mattox won the 3,200 at the Paul Bryant Invitational with a time of 12:47. Mattox took third in the 1,600 at 6:02.
Her younger sister, Kate, would have won both events with times of 12:15 in the 3,200 and 5:39 seconds in the mile. Just a sixth-grader, Kate''s times didn''t count toward Starkville''s sixth-place varsity finish.
"We couldn''t move her up this year even if we wanted to," Barnett said. "But the future is bright for Kate."
A pair of middle school runners who will be making the step up to varsity this season are Abigail Arinder and Emily Woomer.
Woomer, unlike her distance-running siblings, is a threat in sprint events. Woomer 28.96 in the middle school 200 event, which would have placed sixth in the varsity final.
Arinder won the 800 middle school race at 3:01 and would have landed in eighth if she had ran the varsity race.
Starkville''s distance group will be led by Mary Elizabeth Stringer, who missed cross country season because of leg surgery.
Stringer missed the Paul Bryant Invitational due to spring break, is close to full fitness, Barnett said.
"As far as her actual form over the whole year, it hurt her not being in cross country," Barnett said, "but she''s getting back to shape. She''s going to be a great asset to both teams. With any injury, it''s always going to set you back, especially in distance because there''s so much as far as lung capacity and maintaining speed over long distances."
Both boys and girls teams return to action at the Homewood (Ala.) Invitational on March 26. Thirty teams on each side are expected to compete in the event.