Parkland quarter-milers are good to go for college

Parkland quarter-milers are good to go for college
November 19
00:00 2015
In Above Photo: Photos by Craig T. Greenlee- Left: Class 4-A state outdoor 400 champ McKinley McNeill of Parkland had over 20 scholarship offers. Right:  Parkland’s Lorenzo Graise expects to improve on his breakthrough performances from last season.

Parkland’s best 400-meter sprinters recently realized their dreams of attending college on a scholarship when they signed letters of intent last week.

McKinley McNeill, the girls Class 4-A state outdoor champ, will go to North Carolina. Lorenzo Graise, the boys’ fastest quarter-miler, has chosen East Carolina.

Both have traveled different paths to get to where they are now.

McNeill is looking to continue the winning legacy established by six seniors from last year’s squad who helped Parkland win four state championships (two indoors and two outdoors) over the past two years. Graise, on the other hand, is the lead performer in a much-improved boys’ program. The focus for the boy’s team is make their mark just like the girls have in recent seasons.

At UNC, McNeill will reunite with former Mustangs teammate Katlin Sherman, who is now a freshman sprinter for the Tar Heels. “When I made my visit (to Chapel Hill), I saw that Carolina could offer me more as a student versus me being an athlete,” said McNeill. “They combine the two really well. I’m really excited about going. Katlin has always been like a big sister to me.”    

It came as no surprise that Graise opted for the Pirates. He readily admits that ECU has always been among his top choices of schools to attend. “The track team is strong and it’s the same for academics,” said Graise, who has a 3.7 grade-point average. “I thank God for how far He’s brought me from, and for my family and support system.”

Aside from being a state champ, McNeill, was the state indoor runner-up at 500 meters last year, and she placed fifth at the national outdoor championships in the 400. McNeill had over 20 college offers, but chose UNC over a field which included South Carolina, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Stanford, Florida State and Miami (Fla.). In the national outdoor 400 rankings for next spring, she’s projected to be No. 8, according to the NCRunners site.

McNeill took a quantum leap because of year-round training, which she participated in for the first time last fall. Given those results, she looks forward to what the future holds. She understands that the lessons she learned from last year can take her to an even level this time around.

“It’s important for me that I don’t hold back,” said McNeill, who has a 4.4 weighted grade-point average. “That was a huge issue for me last year. There were times when I would come off the track and realize that I wasn’t tired at all. So, this year, I’m going to lay it all out there and whatever I run, then that’s what I run. By using that philosophy, I’m sure I’ll run great times.”

One of McNeill’s goals for the outdoor season is to erase the state record of 52.9 seconds in the open 400. Right now, she’s only .5 seconds away being North Carolina’s fastest ever in the one-lap race.   

“The biggest thing about McKinley is that now she believes in herself,” said Parkland assistant coach Jarrell Elliott, who works with the team’s quarter-milers. “It’s a big difference between believing you’re good and believing you’re great.

“There were times when she wasn’t sure if she could compete against the national elites.  But now, she knows that she’s one of the elites and the roles have changed. Instead of her going after them (elites), people will be gunning for her. That’s the biggest mindset adjustment that we’ll have do deal with this season.”

As the Mustangs best male track athlete, Graise is considered to be the foundation for the resurgence of the boys’ track program. Last spring, he placed third in the Midwest 4-A Regionals with a career-best time of 48.99 seconds.

At the state meet, Graise had a below-par race and finished 12th. Entering the outdoor season for 2016, he’s ranked fourth in the state in Class 4-A by the NCRunners website.

Graise is confident that he will emerge as a viable contender for state titles in the 400 (outdoors) and 500 (indoors). “For me, there’s going to be more weightlifting and more training, but I know I can do it,” he said. “Not only am I coming strong in my final high school season, but I’m going for state championships.”

Based on his development up to now, Graise’s championship vision shouldn’t be viewed as wishful thinking. In his three years of high school competition, he’s improved his 400 time by an average of 2.8 seconds each season. Whether he’s able to maintain that same rate of progress remains to be seen. Looking back on previous results, the future looks promising.

“This year I’m looking to break 46 or 47 (seconds) in the 400,” Graise said.   

Elliott believes that Graise, who transferred from Carver, is just beginning to tap into his potential as a runner. Given his mental approach to the sport, coupled with his desire to excel, Elliott envisions superlative performances from his top boy’s senior.

“I see Lorenzo being a strong state (championship) contender and a Parkland record-holder in his events,” said Elliott. “That will happen as long as he keeps working hard and develops the way he’s supposed to. Since he had that break-out season last year, he’s learned how to trust in his training.”

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Craig Greenlee

Craig Greenlee

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