According to Northwood junior Noah Nielson, his preparations for the outdoor track and field state championships, which took place last Friday in Greensboro, began the night of the indoor state meet way back on Feb. 10.
Earlier that day, Nielson was tripped in his main event, the 1,000-meter race, and he ended up finishing in last place. His 1,600-meter race was decidedly better, but his time of 4:26.56 was only good for second place — just one-tenth of a second behind North Lincoln senior Stephen Fernetti.
Nielson expected to finish well in both races, but to crash out of one so early and come up so close in the other was obviously frustrating. It was all the motivation he needed to start the spring outdoor season, and he used the next several months to make sure something like that never happened again.
“I’ve never been as motivated as I was for this meet,” Nielson said. “I could have looked at (my performance at indoors) in defeat and said, ‘Well that sucks. No coming back from that.’ But I decided to look at it the opposite way and I was going to work harder than any other kid this season.”
Saturday on the campus of North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, Nielson’s hard work finally paid off. Competing in the 800-meter race, he won gold with a time of 1:53.73. Nielson was the only Northwood athlete individual to earn a podium spot (top three) in an event.
Nielson started the race by jumping out front and he finished his first 400 meters in just over 55 seconds. A few runners passed the Northwood junior over the next few hundred meters, but as he and the other athletes rounded their final turn, he kicked it into high gear and won the sprint to the line.
“The race was absolutely perfect,” Nielson said. “I had splits in my head I wanted to hit for every single 100 meters, and I had them down to the very decimal ... With about 150 meters left, I knew it was time to go. I made my move, moved out to lane two, kicked, and down the home stretch I was able to pass both of (the other runners ahead of me) and win.”
The Northwood boys placed 21st and the girls placed 50th in the team standings at the state meet, but this season was one to remember for both teams. After winning their first conference meet since the first time since 1985, the Charger boys followed it up by finishing second in the 3A mideast regionals for the first time ever.
Northwood will graduate several important seniors from this year’s teams, including Sophia Cremeans (pole vault), Jack Nicholson (discus, shot put) and Jackson Adams (distance running). Nielson will be among the many returners for the Chargers next season, and he expects things to pick up where they left off when next school year starts.
“I’m very excited about the future,” Nielson said. “We have such a fun team, and we have a lot of younger kids coming up who are really motivated. It’s fun to kind of be a leader on the team and see those kids and to see the success we had this year. Those younger kids have gotten a little taste of it, and they’ve seen the example set. It’s a great future we have ahead. It’s gonna be amazing.”
Competing in the 2A championships in Greensboro last weekend was Seaforth, which placed ninth in the boys competition and 17th in the girls. The Hawks had two individuals earn podium finishes — sophomore Jack Anstrom finished second in the 1,600-meter race and freshman Cali O’Neil took third in the 800-meter race. In the relay events, Seaforth’s boys took third in the 4x800.
No Chatham County athletes made the podium at the 1A championships, but two individuals did claim top-five finishes in their respective events. Chatham Charter junior Lucas Smith took fourth in the 400-meter race with a time of 50.08 seconds, while Chatham Central senior Kailey Green came in fourth in the high jump.
Sports Editor Jeremy Vernon can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @jbo_vernon.