RI Outdoor T&F Preview: Girls' Distance Events

Based on her success from the indoor season, there's no doubt one of our top contenders in the middle distance events is Portsmouth's Nikki Merrill. She's the leading candidate to earn prosperity in the 800- and 1,500-meter runs on the outdoor surface. But just like the State Meet in February, it won't be easy.

How about the 3K? Recent indoor champion Grace Connolly of La Salle Academy would have to be considered the favorite. But it won't be a cakewalk there, too. 

Here's what we have in these events.

The 800m features several that have broken 2:20 and four of the top seven finishers from last year's State Meet. Merrill, the indoor 600, 1K and 1,500m champion, is the fastest among the bunch. She twice ran 2:14 this past winter, including a best of 2:14.25 from the New Balance Nationals a few weeks ago. La Salle's Emily Kane, who was a runner-up to Merrill in the 1,000m this winter, has potential for a time considerably faster than her best of 2:22. Westerly's Randi Burr, another 2:17 half-miler, has the ability to battle the leaders. She was fourth in the 1K at the indoor states. There's also twin sisters Lisbeth and Leinni Valdez of Hope, who were third and fourth, respectively, at the 2016 states. Both of the Blue Wave runners clocked times in the 2:17-2:18 range and will probably have the freshest legs of the seeded runners on the line, who will more than likely be competing in multiple events.  Barrington's Katie Zitzmann, sixth in the 1K and 800m at the last two State Meets (indoor and outdoor) and Portsmouth's Elizabeth Sullivan, who took third in the 1K, are other top contenders. The current outdoor state record is 2:08.40 by former Classical great Maddy Berkson in 2013. We think that record is safe, but a winning time in the 2:12 range at the June 3 State Meet, is possible with the runners in this event.

The 1,500m is another event where several should be in the mix for top placements. The two leading contenders would appear to be Merrill and Burr, the 1-2 finishers at the indoor states. Burr has the fastest time among returnees with her 4:38.23 best, a clocking that earned her a runner-up placement last June. Merrill ran a PR of 4:56 to win the mile at the New England Championships, a time that would convert to a sub 4:40 for 1,500m.  Zitzmann (4:40.31) and Kane (4:43.60) are two others, to name a few, that have potential to break 4:40 and make things happen with the right kind of race. Zitzmann had her best race of the season at the 2016 states where she finished fourth overall.

Right now it would appear that the Rams' Connolly and South Kingstown's Ellie Lawler are the top two in the 3,000m. Connolly is coming off a season where she won her first individual title in the state's longest event. She had a best of 10:01 to win the deuce at the Dartmouth Relays and won her state crown by nearly three seconds over Lawler during the indoor season. For the Rebel junior, a two-time cross-country champion, this will be her first time competing this spring after running indoor. In her previous two years, she began the outdoor season after competing for her school's swim team.  The 3K state mark of 9:44 by Berkson in 2014 would appear to be safe, but these two runners are certainly capable of a mid to low 9:50 time with the right kind of race and conditions. Kane, who was third during indoor with a best of 10:16, North Kingstown's Lily Nunnery, Cranston East's Shayna Cousineau, Portsmouth's Sullivan are among others that should be battling for podium finishers. There's also Bay View's Clare Hanlon, who was ninth at the X-C states. She suffered an injury shortly after the division championships in late January. If she can get back to her old form, she should be in the mix.