S.C. looks to test nation’s best

ainelson@ thestate.comApril 10, 2014 

Nearly 2,000 track and field athletes will descend upon Harry Parone Stadium at Spring Valley this weekend for the 22nd annual Taco Bell Classic.

The meet, which features athletes representing more than 150 teams from across the nation, is a prime opportunity for South Carolina’s stars and their out-of-state counterparts to test their mettle against new competition.

The Taco Bell Classic takes on greater importance for South Carolina athletes after inclement weather cancelled the Coaches Classic in March. With that cancellation, this weekend’s meet is the only opportunity for the state’s track athletes to get a feel for the facility where the state championships will be held next month.

“It gives the kids an opportunity to see what the facility is like and kind of get rid of those nervous tendencies that come out when you get into a big (meet) situation,” Lower Richland coach Michael Steward said.

In one event—the trials of the boys 200-meters—121 athletes are entered, including Dutch Fork’s Jo’Mal Aiken and Lower Richland’s Jaylen Bacon. They likely will be taking their marks beside one of the top high school sprinters in the nation, DeMatha (Md.) High’s Darryl Haraway, seeded at 21.15

“We want them to improve their times and see what good talent looks like,” Steward said. “Right now, Jaylen hasn’t been tested, so it will be a good challenge for him in the 100 and the 200. It’ll be a great opportunity for him to get pushed.”

The 100 trials also feature over 100 athletes competing, among those favored to reach the finals are Bacon, whose best time is 10.60 seconds, James Drummond of Lexington, N.C., who has been clocked at 10.65, and Xavier Atkins, a sophomore from Spruce Creek, Fla., whose seed time is 10.47. New Balance National Indoor champion Trentavis Friday, of Cherryville, N.C., is the front-runner in this race and could go for the meet record of 10.28 seconds. Friday was clocked at a personal best 10.38 last week.

With national 100-meter hurdles leader Jasmine Quinn, of Fort Dorchester seeded at 13.33, three-tenths of a second ahead of last year’s Taco Bell champion, Chantel Ray, the girls’ low-hurdles event could come down to the final sprint.

And in field events, Burke’s Raven Saunders is expected to set the meet record in shot put and could break the national record. Saunders leads the state with her season-best throw of 51 feet, 9.5 inches. The Taco Bell record is 48-1.5 and the national record is 54-10.75. Saunders holds the record for indoor shot put with a 56-7.5 throw at the New Balance Indoors in March.

The excitement begins Friday with trials for the 100-meter dash, plus the high jump and 3,200-meter relay finals.

Spring Valley, which holds the state’s best mark in the girls 3,200-relay – 9 minutes, 45.24 seconds – is among the top seeds in that event, scheduled for 8:15 p.m. Friday. Action resumes Saturday morning at 9 a.m.

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