By the looks of it, Rhode Island athletes have potential to make quite a bit of noise in the individual events at the New Balance Nationals this weekend.
On the track, the featured event for the Ocean State appears to be the two-mile run where DJ Principe of La Salle Academy will be looking to win his second national title. Principe earned gold in the 5K at last June's outdoor nationals and right now appears to be the favorite for the deuce on Sunday. Despite clocking a near sub four-minute mile with his state mark of 4:00.97 from the New Balance Games back in January, the Stanford-bound senior has decided to shoot for prosperity in the two mile where he's very capable of a time in the low 8:50 range, possibly faster. Principe's primary challengers are Brodey Hasty of Brentwood (TN) and Noah Affolder of Carlisle (PA). Principe and Hasty have faced each other just twice this season, both times occurring on the cross-country trails. The first race produced one of the more exciting of the fall campaign with Hasty getting the best of his rival at the Great American X-C Festival where he was timed in a nation best of 14:32.20, just .20 ahead of Principe. Affolder and Principe last faced each other during an elite mile event at the US Olympic Trials where the Ram runner was just .33 behind his rival with a then-best of 4:07.66. Affolder also won the Glenn B Loucks Games last May, clocking 8:46 for 3,200m. After winning three individual state title at the State Meet a few weeks ago, Principe decided not to defend his New England two-mile crown last week to insure that he's well rested for an expected grueling battle on The Armory oval. Expect the suspense in this one to last until the final straightaway. It could be a replay of the 2015 race when Drew Hunter won with a time of 8:48.22 less than a half second ahead of second- and third-place finishers, Levi Thomet and Alex Ostberg.
Rhody other chance for gold appears to be in the girls' weight throw with Ponaganset's Gianna Rao, who ranks No. 1 in the country with her best of 60 feet, 8 inches. Rao will certainly be challenged in this event as eight of the next 10 throwers on the national list are also competing at NBNI. The toughest rivals appear to be Jillian Shippee of Shenendehowa (PA) and Makenli Forrest of Woodward Academy(GA). Shippee is just one inch behind Rao with a PB of 60-7 and Forrest has a best of 59-11.75.
Just like the girls, the boys' weight throw will have all the players in NYC. Nine of the top 10 in the country will be competing this weekend, including Woonsocket's Jared Briere. The Villa Novan senior is among eight in the field that have tossed further than 70 feet with his nation No. 6 of 72-5. The No. 1 throw belongs to top seed Jacob Wickey of Medine (OH), who captured his State Meet on March 4 with a winning distance of 78-7.
Portsmouth's Nikki Merrill is entered in the second section of the mile, a race that includes Sammy Watson of Rush Henrietta, the current national record-holder for 600m, 800m and 1K. With a 4:24 best for the 1,500m, Watson will push the pace, making this a race and honest one. The red-hot Merrill ran a PR of 4:56.09 to win the New England's. It wouldn't surprise us if she improves on that time substantially at NBNI. Merrill is also entered in the 800m where she owns a best of 2:19, another PR we predict can be lowered significantly.
In addition to their services on the relays, Central's Donatien Djero (200m) amd Austin Wolo (400m) will be competing in separate individual events. Djero recently ran 22.17 for 200m at the Eastern States Championships and a state record of 34.48 for 300m at the New England Championships. Wolo was third for 400m at the Eastern States where he was clocked in 49.27. He has broken 49 seconds on the outdoor surface.
South Kingstown's Anthony Shepard, who was his second straight state long jump title this winter and was a runner-up at the NE meet, has a chance at a top 10 finish in his specialty. It was an event he placed 17th at last year's NBNI. He has a best of 23-0, which he did to win the class meet.
La Salle's Grace Connolly and South Kingstown's Ellie Lawler. who were 3-4 in the two mile at the New England's, are entered in the 16-lapper this weekend. Both will be looking to improve on their best of 10:44.
NBNI CHAMPIONSHIP INDIVIDUAL EVENTS
Nikki Merrill, Portsmouth
Grace Connolly, La Salle Academy
Ellie Lawler, South Kingstown
Samantha Andrews, Lincoln
Annika Kelly, Barrington
Sydney Polando, Barrington
Faith Polando, Barrington
Maggie Tarmey, Lincoln
Chelsea Yang, Pilgrim
Keyarsa Harris, Central
Molly Botts, Cranston East
Donatien Djero, Central
Austin Wolo, Central
DJ Principe, La Salle
Ben Drezek, Cumberland
Matt Walker, Westerly
Anthony Shepard, South Kingstown
Jared Briere, Woonsocket
Dilyn Cote, Woonsocket
Jacob Greenless, Woonsocket
Evan Givers, Lincoln
Matthew Thibodeau, Lincoln
Ivan Goretoy, West Warwick
Garrett Doyle, Lincoln