Christian Balcer, East Central at State 2019
That's right track and field fans... although it sure does not seem like it, it's getting to be that time of year again, as we are gearing up for another outdoor season! And man, do we have a LOT to look forward to. So much, actually, that it will have to be split up into distance, sprints, and field, otherwise you would probably be reading for days. From future head-to-head class matchups to recapping the indoor season, we have a lot to cover.. So let's go ahead and dive right in!
I don't know how he keeps doing it, but it seems like every time Christian Balcer, East Central steps on the track, he surprises me. He absolutely tore up this past indoor season, running marks of 4:17 in the 1600m and essentially soloed a 9:11 3200m, a top 10 mark on the national level. No other Mississippian has run faster indoors in the 2 different distance events. There is no telling what this East Central High School stud is going to run in outdoor track, but if he gets in the right race, expect to see an absolute ripper out of him. Sub-9 minutes in the 2 mile is definitely not out of the question for Balcer this outdoor season.
Another Mississippi star that had a nice indoor season was none other than Saltillo High senior Madison Jones. Much like Balcer, Jones posted some very nice times in the 1600 and 3200 as well, running 5:01 and 10:53 for the 2 disciplines. These 2 marks are also the fastest times for a Mississippian indoors. Jones also ran 5:03.8 for the full mile at the second Magic City Elite Meet in Birmingham, #3 All-time in Mississippi. Something even more intriguing is that 5A rival Brooklyn Biancamano, Long Beach is #2, just 1 tenth of a second faster than Jones at 5:03.7. All that to say, I can not wait to see that matchup at the state championships this year. Jones also ran a 2:19.6 800m this season, finally eclipsing that 2:20 barrier. Her mark is good enough #2 all-time indoors in Mississippi, only behind current professional runner Cory McGee, Pass Christian. Jones's range is incredible, and it will be very exciting to see what kind of times she throws down on the track this year.
Some other indoor times that definitely need to be noted are the squad from Tupelo High School, as well as Tupelo Christian Prep School. Perhaps the most intriguing performance was J.T. Posey posting a 1600m time of 4:27 at the Last Chance Invitational. That's a solid time for the Tupelo senior, as that comes in at #3 all-time in Mississippi indoors, only behind Balcer and Tupelo Christian 2020 graduate Brock Kelly, and in front of past 6A runners like Shamar Tucker, Slater Richardson, and Patrick Spurgeon, a very high-class field indeed. All 3 of these guys went on to win outdoor titles in the 800m and/or 1600m. Posey consistently showed a lot of promise in the mile this past indoor season, and he is for sure someone to look out for in the tough class of 6A this outdoor season.
Yet another solid performer in the indoor season was the middle distance ace from TCPS, Sophie Santucci. Santucci got to work on the indoor oval, posting times of 2:24 and 5:17 in the 800m and 1600m. As a matter of fact, at the Holiday Invitational, she posted 2:24/5:17 on the same day, tying her 5:17 PR from a week prior. Santucci won all 3 of her races that she competed in. As a matter of fact, she is probably the most consistent racer in the small schools in Mississippi. The last time she finished outside of the top 2 was almost a year ago in the short-lived 2020 outdoor season, and that was in the 400m dash. And with all of that, Santucci will be the heavy favorite in the middle distance events in MHSAA 1A this year.
The last indoor performances to be noted from Tupelo are Christopher Eskeson and Jaheim Bridges from Tupelo High School, as well as Causey Simmons from Tupelo Christian Prep School. Eskeson popped off a nice 10:05 in the 3200m at Last Chance, so you can tell he has already made some pretty big improvements since the cross country season. After that performance, it is clear that he definitely has the potential to toe the line at the state championships, something that is going to be hard to do this year in 6A. Speaking of big improvements, teammate Jaheim Bridges knows all about that. From outdoor last year to indoor this year, Bridges dropped 39 seconds off of his mile PR, going 4:44 at Last Chance. He also posted a 2:05 at the Holiday Invitational. Once you add in Taylor Brown to that, they will probably be able to put together a pretty nice 4x800 squad. The battle between them, Oxford High School, and Pearl High School will be something to look forward to for sure. Causey Simmons from TCPS also posted a nice 4:40 1600m at Last Chance AND Holiday, so expect him to be chasing that sub 4:40 barrier this outdoor season.
Outside of indoor, we also get to see some athletes that were not competing this outdoor season. Perhaps the most notable are Chase Rose from Oxford High School, as well as Julia Stradinger from Jackson Prep. Rose hasn't run on the track since 2019. The last time that he did, he ran 2:00 in the 800, as well as 4:34 in the 1600 meters earlier in the season. These were times that he ran as a SOPHOMORE, and he has made some remarkable improvements since then. As a matter of fact, Rose actually time trialed a 4:28 1600m the week after his state championship in cross country... and closed in a 2:11 last 800. Once he gets back to ripping track workouts this outdoor season, there is no telling what he is going to run, but expect him to absolutely torch the track when he does. It should be a pretty good showdown between him and Posey in the mile this year, and I also wouldn't throw Kevin Cooley out of the mix either.
Julia Stradinger is another name to look out for this Spring. Much like Rose, Stradinger hasn't raced on the track since her state championships back in 2019, where she tripled in the 800, 1600, and 3200, winning the 2 middle distance events and finishing second in the 3200m. If her last cross country season told us anything about her fitness, then she is ready to annihilate her PR's this outdoor season. She won all 6 of her races in cross country, including an 18:50 5k at the loaded MC Watson meet. I've also heard some rumors on some pretty wicked workouts that she completed during the cross country season, and I believe she's ready to tear it up on the outdoor oval. Another MAIS/Jackson Preparatory School star to watch would be the MAIS 5A State Champ Preston Speed. Speed also had some very solid performances in cross country, which included 4 wins out of the 6 races he ran, as well as a top 10 finish in the gold division at MC Watson, securing a 16:37 PR. His current 1600m PR is a 4:45, but his solid performances in cross country season indicate that he is capable of much more.
Sadly, although I would absolutely love to write about every single name I think is capable of running fast this season, we must come to a close. There is no doubt in my mind that someone I did not mention is going to come out of the woodworks and go out there and kill it this outdoor season, and I most certainly hope that they do. However, there are still some names that I would like to point out. These are some names that I, as well as all the other track fans out there are ready to see them compete this Spring. They go as follows, and in no particular order:
The Brookhaven Boys, Brookhaven High School: Specifically the trio of Grayson Childress, Sam Arnold, and Jake Thompson. However, I definitely would not throw out the likes of Trey Knott or X'Zavion Stewart either. These guys all have the capability to run some PB's, not to mention they are probably going to torch the 4x800 this year.
Keegan Leverett, Saint Stanislaus: Very excited to watch this kid compete on the track this year. He has made some HUGE breakthroughs in cross country, and he is probably going to take at least 80 seconds off of his 2 mile PR this Spring.
Breann Bell, Central Holmes: Another MAIS superstar. She is the queen of MAIS 3A, not having lost to someone in her class since 2017. She's got some really good range, and I'm looking forward to watching her chase sub 2:30 in the 800, sub 5:30 in the 1600m, AND sub 12 in the 3200m.
Luke Johnson, Oxford High: 3rd place finisher at the MHSAA 6A State Championships in cross country, and teammate of Chase Rose. He already knows what it takes to make it to state in 6A, and expect him to shake things up in the 3200 meters come championship season.
Daeja Davis Pearl High: Of course, we can't leave the MHSAA 6A State Champ out of the mix. With PR's of 5:29 and 11:54 from last outdoor season and an absolute fighter, she will definitely be the favorite in 6A this year in whatever event she chooses to run.