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March 17, 2008

Blazers make splash on national stage

by Johanna Gretschel, Online Managing Editor
PG SPORTSPLEX, March 15-

Blair qualified three athletes to compete in three different events at the Nike Indoor National (NIN) Championship track meet on Saturday, March 15. NIN has hosted hundreds of athletes from across the country in the premier high school indoor track meet every year since 1999.

Senior co-captain Louis Varella, junior Jonathon Haughton and senior Mohamed Mansaray joined forces with their summer track teammate, Bladensburg High School senior Joe Ward, to run the 4x200m relay. Varella also ran the open 400m dash and Haughton competed in the open 200m dash.
Junior Jonathon Haughton and seniors Louis Varella, Joe Ward of Bladensburg High School and Mohamed Mansaray comprised the 4x200m relay quartet that placed 8th at Nike Indoor Nationals. Johanna Gretschel
Junior Jonathon Haughton and seniors Louis Varella, Joe Ward of Bladensburg High School and Mohamed Mansaray comprised the 4x200m relay quartet that placed 8th at Nike Indoor Nationals.


Athletes competing at NIN are not allowed to represent their high schools because the meet is a post-season championship event, so the Blazers ran under the team name "Otm," which stands for "On the move." Varella said their Hummingbirds coach, Louis Sales, created the name. The Hummingbirds Track Club is a year-round, Prince George's County-based track organization for athletes aged six to eighteen years. Varella, Haughton and Mansaray competed for the Hummingbirds this past summer.

Haughton led off the 4x200m relay in his typical dominating form by charging to the front of the pack and never letting go. Varella ran a strong second leg but was unable to fend off the advances of Douglas Freeman Track Club and slipped to second place. A perfect blind hand-off to Ward, the Blazers' summertime teammate on the Hummingbirds Track Club, propelled the Maryland state champion quartet back into first. Mansaray maintained the lead and anchored the team to a heat victory. Their time of 1:31.54 placed them 8th overall out of 27 teams, about half a second behind sixth place and All-American honors.

After being sidelined with injury for much of the indoor season, Varella participated in his first open event since December, the 400m dash. Varella began the staggered start in lane one, passing through the 200m mark in about 24 seconds at the back of the pack. He piled it on strong during the last lap to surge into third and finish with a time of 51.93, placing him 32nd out of 50 competitors overall.

Race delays hindered Varella's warm-up and performance, he says. While waiting in the designated area for his race, Varella was informed that the first heat of the 400m dash would start seven minutes later than scheduled. "I kind of got thrown off a little bit," Varella said. "I went from being a little warm to being a little cold."
Senior co-captain Louis Varella flies out of the starting blocks during the open 400m dash at Nike Indoor Nationals.  <i>Photo courtesy of Kevin Milstead.</i>
Senior co-captain Louis Varella flies out of the starting blocks during the open 400m dash at Nike Indoor Nationals. Photo courtesy of Kevin Milstead.


Despite the somewhat detrimental circumstances, Varella remains satisfied with his performance and looks forward to what will be his last season competing as a Blair Blazer. "I'm not disappointed," he said pointedly. "This is just a tune-up for outdoor."

Haughton won his heat of the 200m dash by pulling away from the pack during the last straightaway for a time of 22.84. His win was not enough to qualify for the final, which the eight fastest sprinters race on Sunday, March 16, to determine the national champion. The fastest qualifying time was 22.04 seconds and the slowest was 22.48, only 38 milliseconds quicker than Haughton's 22nd place showing out of 63 sprinters.

Haughton's results matched his expectations for the race. "That's kind of what I expected to run. I've never run an open 200 before indoors, so it was kind of different for my first time," he said.

Though the Blazers will graduate superstars Varella and Mansaray among others in 2008, Haughton is already looking toward the future of the team. "I'm going to try to get Penn to bring us back next year," he said.



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