When Ivan Alvarado took over the Howard Community College track program in 2019, he was adamant about his first goal.
“I definitely want to compete at the upper echelon of Division III,” he said in 2019.
In Howard CC’s first full track season under his leadership, the Dragons have done just that.
From May 11-13, the Howard CC men’s and women’s track and field teams finished second and third, respectively, at the National Junior College Athletic Association Division III championships in Levelland, Texas.
“They did fantastic,” Alvarado said. “I’m so proud of them all.”
POLL: Each week this spring, we are letting the community help pick a Howard County boys and girls Athlete of the Week. Our staff, after consultation with coaches and receiving nominations, will pick players from each of the spring sports and then let voting decide the rest. To participate, either vote below or click here for the boys poll and/or click here for the girls poll by 11 p.m. Tuesday.
The men’s team finished second with a team score of 170, 15 points behind DuPage. Sophomore Grant Bunyard had a busy three days, dominating the decathlon, winning the javelin throw (42.66 meters) and finishing third in three other events (long jump, shot put and discus). He was later named the NJCAA Division III field athlete of the year.
“It’s been a joy to be around him for seven years,” said Alvarado, who previously coached at Atholton High. “He was such a stud in the multis. He gave us everything. Without him, the team is nowhere near what they did.”
Sprinter Darryl Jeffries, a Wilde Lake grad, won two national titles in the 100- and 200-meter dashes, finishing in 10.82 seconds and 22.28 seconds, respectively. Jim Nwalal, also a Wilde Lake alumnus, contributed for the Dragons as well by winning the high jump with a height of 1.93 meters.
The women’s team, meanwhile, finished third with a team score of 118. Cassidy Bunyard, an Atholton graduate, won a national title in the high jump (1.58 meters). The freshman also dominated the heptathlon and finished second in the long jump and third in the shot put.
“Being with her now for six years, she really transformed herself,” said Alvarado. “She was primarily a high jumper at Atholton, but I told her she’d be a good multis girl. She’s put in the hard work, and she performed tremendously all year.”
Also competing at nationals for the Dragons were Ifeoluwa Epebinuade, Na’Shae Early and Veronica Jennings. Epebinuade, a freshman, won gold medals in the long jump (5.16 meters) and the triple jump (10.76 meters).
Early, a Mt. Hebron graduate, earned first-place finishes in the three throwing events — discus (27.94 meters), shot put (10.39 meters) and hammer throw (25.57 meters). She was later voted as the NJCAA Division III field athlete of the year.
“The women only had four athletes, but they still finished with 118 and multiple national champions,” Alvarado said. “They showed up and competed, and I’m really proud of them.”
Girls Player of Week (May 15): Veronica Goode, Wilde Lake softball
There may not have been a sophomore season on the field for Goode last spring due to the coronavirus pandemic, but in the hiatus of high school athletics she rarely took days off.
That’s why her coach Tee Dronenburg wasn’t the least bit surprised when the junior pitcher was ready to hit the ground running from the first day of tryouts this spring.
“Veronica is a workaholic. She took that time off during the pandemic and did softball, softball and more softball. Every chance she got she was out with her batting tee and a net just getting swings in,” Dronenburg said. “She was determined to be ready whenever we started playing again.”
While helping the Wildecats to a 5-1 start — already the most county wins for the progam in well over a decade — Goode has been one of the team’s main pitchers and an all-around threat in the middle of the lineup.
She has a 2-1 record at pitcher, striking out 14 batters in 15 innings. At the plate, she has reached base multiple times in all six of the team’s games, compiling totals of 11-21 (.524 average), 10 runs scored, nine RBI and two homeruns.
“She is the epitome of being able to hit for average and for power and she is fantastic at reacting to the situation and doing what is needed at the time,” Dronenburg said. “She can shorten up and look to just put the ball in play, like she did against Howard, or she can swing away and showcase her power. I’ve just been so impressed with her approach this year.”
Up next: Wilde Lake at River Hill on Monday at 5:15 p.m.
Boys Player of Week (May 15): Branden Brown, Atholton baseball
Nearly 10 Howard County baseball pitchers have twirled dominant performances in the first two weeks of the Howard County baseball season.
Aside from Glenelg’s Andrew Johnson, no pitching performance has been as impressive as Brown’s on May 14. Brown, a senior, struck out 13 and allowed only one hit in a shutout win over Howard, one of the top program’s in the county.
“Everybody knows for the past decade Howard has been one of the most dominant teams in Howard County. Branden was definitely excited to play in that game,” said Atholton head coach Scott Peddicord. “He harnessed that energy and put it into his performance, and he did an outstanding job making the pitches when he needed them and keeping his emotions in check.”
His 13 punchouts are the third most in a game by a Howard County hurler this season, behind Johnson’s two 18-strikeout games.
With a mid-80s fastball, a curveball and a changeup, Brown has developed into a pitcher who can generate swings and misses with multiple pitches, Peddicord said.
“His fastball velocity and control have both improved significantly, and now hitters also have to worry about his secondary pitches,” said Peddicord, who is in his second season at the helm. “He has a great fastball, he can set pitchers up with his fastball and put them away with it.”
Up next: Atholton at Long Reach on Monday at 5:15 p.m.