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For most of the elite athletes in the state, including several with local ties, Fridayâ€™s New England Interscholastic Indoor Track & Field Championships signifies the end of the winter season.
For a select few like Central Falls senior Aleide Fernandes, itâ€™s just one more meet to prepare for the inaugural New Balance Nationals the following week.
Fernandes will still be making the 45-minute ride to the Reggie Lewis Center at Roxbury Community College this weekend for the New England meet, which will feature athletes from R.I., New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Maine. But she wonâ€™t be there to compete in the 20-pound weight, her primary event and one she captured, along with the shot put, at the state meet on Feb. 19.
Fernandes will be inside the circle solely for the shot put, where sheâ€™ll be looking to improve on last yearâ€™s 11th-place finish. She is ranked ninth this weekend.
The event and meet that C.F. coaches Ernest Fennell and Nic Palazzo as well as Fernandes are focusing more attention on is the 20-pound weight at the nationals, to be held at the New Balance Track & Field Center in New York City March 11-13.
In a separate N.E. competition that took place this past Saturday at the Providence Athletic Facility, Fernandes claimed the individual title with a career-best distance of 58 feet, 6 ÂĽ inches. That toss moves the multiple all-stater to No. 5 on the national list.
â€śShe could be peaking just in time,â€ť Fennell said.
Fernandes twice earned All-American status last year when she finished third (55-1) at the Nike Indoor Nationals (NIN) at Reggie Lewis and then, the same weekend, placed fourth (56-10 Âľ) in New York City at the National Scholastic Indoor Championships (NSIC).
The New Balance meet is now the only national competition for the indoor season, held at the same venue as the NSIC and organized by the same people that were in charge of the NIN.
Fernandes will have some hefty competition at the national meet. Leading the list is Shelby Ashe of St. Pius X in Atlanta, Ga. Ashe, who also competes for the mega-successful Throw One Deep club in Georgia, unleashed an indoor best of 65-2 in placing fifth in the womenâ€™s weight throw (college and open athletes) at the Millrose Games back in January. Only one other thrower has reached the 60-foot barrier indoors this season. At the California Indoor State Meet this past Saturday, Katie Kraychir of Twentynine Palms High hit that mark exactly to cop the title.
Fennell feels Fernandes could be right around that distance when she goes to the Big Apple.
â€śShe is very confident,â€ť he said. â€śYou could see it in the way she was throwing (this weekend). Before she threw, she slipped, regrouped herself and bashed out 58 (feet). We are looking for her to PR, possibly 60 feet. She has done that in practice. She is capable.â€ť
As for the New England meet this weekend, Shea High senior Freddy Gobewole looks to be the best bet among local entries to achieve gold. Gobewole, who finished off an undefeated season on the oval this winter by winning the 55-meter dash in 6.43 seconds at the state meet, is the No. 2 seed this weekend.
Gobewole placed sixth in last yearâ€™s N.E. meet where he was timed in 6.57. The five sprinters that finished ahead of the Raider sprinter, including individual winner Chris McConnell of Andover (6.39), have since graduated.
Salem (N.H.) High junior Jerickson Fedrick has the top seed with a time of 6.39. Brett Buskey, a senior from Blackstone-Millville Regional, ranks No. 3 on the list. At last weekâ€™s MIAA State Championships at Reggie Lewis, Buskey edged New Bedfordâ€™s Phito Gondre for the individual crown by one-hundredth of a second, breaking the tape in 6.51.
Chariho senior Innocent Jacob, who has a chance to earn a national title in the long jump at New Balance, is a shoo-in for first place at the New Englandâ€™s. He holds the state record in the event with his 24-1 effort, set at the R.I. Track Classic Dec. 29. He also has had a number of 23-foot efforts this season, such as his winning 23-8 at the state meet.
Woonsocket senior Jessie Charette could fare well for R.I., too. Charette finished third at the state meet with a career-best of 21-10 Âľ, less than an inch behind runner-up Ben Shaw of South Kingstown (21-11 Â˝). Charette is seeded 10th for the meet, but only a few more inches would put him among the top five.
Because of the caliber of athletes in the meet, the high jump competition for girls opens at 5-1 and for boys begins at 6-1. La Salle Academy senior Dakota Daily-Harris, who etched her name in the record books at the state meet by clearing 5-7, is the top seed for girls. Woonsocket sophomore Kaylnn Pitts, Mount St. Charles junior Ali Sayles and Cumberland senior Amber Russell are tied with a large group at 11th at 5-2.
Central Falls junior Steven Vasquez, who has a best of 6-4 this season, is among 10 jumpers that are seventh on the list.