The moment was one that Maurice Little had been waiting for his entire track and field career. It was the type of accomplishment an athlete, especially at the beginning of a season, refuses to believe is fleeting. The type of moment that, reasonably and simply, can’t be just out of grasp. After all, Little already had held it, etched his name on it and shoved it in his pocket.
Yet he’s been chasing it all season.
On March 7, during a Cuthbertson home meet against Monroe, Forest Hills and Piedmont, Little ran the 200-meter dash in a blistering 21.44 seconds, giving him his second individual win of the day after posting an 11.2 in the 100.
Little said the effort took even him by surprise.
“When I was going into that race, I was a little nervous because there were good athletes at that race,” recalled
Little. “As soon as I got to the blocks, my coach told me to keep my head down, and I kept my head down through the whole race.
“When I got to the finish line and I saw my time, I was just in shock to see it.”
It turns out that Little’s time was more valuable than just a single win. More than two months since that performance, Little’s time has yet to be topped by anyone in the state, according to athletic.net. In fact, it’s tied for the 16th-best time in the nation.
Cuthbertson coach Nicola Roark is a little less surprised. For her, Little’s success lies in his mechanics.
“An advantage for Maurice is he comes out of the blocks really, really well,” Roark said. “He’s a great starter, which is why he starts both of our relays, too. He’s really consistent, and he knows how to get out of those blocks.”
But Little, who has a scholarship offer from Mount Olive College, has had a difficult time matching that performance, which flies in the face of conventional track wisdom, which states that athletes typically improve as the season wears on. And with the Class 2A Western Regional meet taking place at North Stokes High on Saturday, May 11, the hope for Little is that he’s peaking when it matters most.
It’s a little baffling to Little that his best performance came in his first track meet of the spring.
“It felt a little backward for me,” said Little. “Usually I’ll run a slower time (at first), but I guess I just had a good day, and I just went out there and did my best.”
It helped, ironically, that he couldn’t work on that race during the winter season, when sprinters are limited to competing in the 100 and 300 meters. Little said that while the 300 wasn’t his favorite race, it’s helped him this spring as he’s typically running his fastest once he hits the 200-meter mark.
“In the 300, I basically started out at 50 percent, then I’d start building up at the 200 and I’d go full-out and just keep it going,” said Little, who added that his endurance has improved since training in the 300.
“I feel more prepared to go full-out (throughout the entire 200 meters this spring).”
But thus far, Little has been held back by injuries. He suffered a hamstring strain in the middle of the winter season. Just as he was feeling recovered, he injured his back while coming out of the blocks during one of the meets immediately following his season-opening performance. As a result, Little posted a time of 23.64. He’s steadily improved on that time since, however, recording efforts of 23.44, 22.97 and 22.54.
But the hamstring strain has persisted this spring, intermittently tightening up during races. It hasn’t been enough to scratch him from a meet, but it’s kept him from pushing to meet his mark. Instead, he’s opted to err on the side of caution with the postseason approaching.
“I’ve felt good for a couple of weeks,” said Little, who estimated that his hamstring feels about 95 percent healed. “At practice, after I do a couple of runs, my hamstring will start hurting a little bit, so I’ll sit out and ice it because I don’t want to hurt it for regionals.
“It’s been kind of hard for me because I like to go hard at every track meet. Now that I’m dealing with an injury, I have to go not too hard because I don’t want to tear anything, so I just try to maintain my speed. I still go hard sometimes, but not all the time.
But Little also said he understands the time for waiting to duplicate his early-season performance is past with regionals and, if he qualifies, next week’s Class 2A meet on the horizon.
Along with Little, the Cavs are taking a strong contingent of athletes to the regional meet and stand a chance at doing extremely well. On the boys team, Cuthbertson basketball standout Isiah Cureton has been a pleasant surprise as a new competitor in the triple jump. The 6-foot-4 Cureton has competed in four meets, with his best effort being 41 feet, 11.5 inches. However, Roark noted that Cureton has leaped 43-11 in recent practices, which would rank sixth in the state this season, according to athletic.net.
Cole Bernard has recorded four wins this season in the boys 800 meters and another in the 1,600, while Chris Duchateau has been one of the county’s top 400 runners all season. Danny Sodano also should give the Cavs a lift in the distance events.
In the girls meet, Roark is expecting strong performances from Mikaela Seibert (triple jump, long jump and 400), Nikolette Hurrinus (100, 200, 400), Liz Wood (pole vault), Tyneshia Walker (100 hurdles, 300 hurdles) and Morgan Carlson (high jump), among others.
“We’ve got them everywhere,” said Roark. “They’re really progressing to new heights. It’s unbelievable.”
None of the other Cavs have the opportunity that Little does, however, which is to finish the season the way he started: with the best performance in North Carolina. Ending on top is one thing, but starting, and staying, as the state’s best is a goal Little said is driving him.
For Little, it’s not a matter of boisterously professing his dominance, said Roark. Little isn’t the type to subscribe to the glitzy – he doesn’t wear golden spikes, as many famous sprinters do. With Little, there’s no chest-thumping or victory laps.
“Maurice works so hard, he’s fantastic,” said Roark, who described Little as “a pleaser.”
But if he can match, or top, his early season performance, Little will have made the perfect statement.
“I just give it all I’ve got on the track,” said Little. “Once it’s track day, I come out here to tell everybody, ‘I’m Maurice Little, and I’m about to show out for the Cuthbertson fans.’ That’s what I try to do every track meet. I want to go 100 percent for everybody.
“I feel like I’m ready. I’m just ready to compete with the other athletes (this) week. I’m going to try to go in there and get a good time down and try not to come out of the blocks slow, but come out fast and try to go through all the way.”
And that could be the best moment of all.