BUIES CREEK — Southeast Raleigh High School track coach Liz Gray says it’s pretty rare to run across a really natural team leader.
But the Bulldogs have had one for the past four years. Sprinter-hurdler Jacklyn Howell also has also led most of her opponents to the finish line. .
During Saturday’s Greater Neuse River 4A conference meet at Campbell’s Irwin Belk Track, Howell won the 100-meter dash, both the 100 and 300 hurdles and ran the anchor leg of the winning 4x100 relay team. She earned girls’ most valuable athlete honors as the defending state champion Bulldogs rolled up 227.5 points to 116 for second-place West Johnston.
It was the third straight conference team title for the defending state champion Bulldogs, who also won both conference outdoor and indoor meets last year (the GNRC did not sponsor an indoor meet this season.)
Howell’s flying feet have earned her a track scholarship to Kentucky. She also considered SEC teams LSU and Tennessee.
“Running at Southeast has been an amazing experience,” said Howell, whose two older brothers also ran for the Bulldogs. “I love being a part of this team. It’s like my own family. I’m proud of us as a team.”
Gray said she’s going to be sorry to say goodbye to Howell, who is the reigning state indoor champion in the 55 hurdles.
“I’ve had Jacklyn since she was a freshman, and she’s going to be missed,” Gray said. “My daughter (Jordan, an eighth-grader) says all the time she wishes there was some way Jackie could stay back and not graduate. She wants to do everything Jackie does.
“(Howell) talks to her and shows her things and helps her with the hurdles, and (Jordan) says ‘Mommy, I want to be teammates with Jackie.’ (Howell) just works hard and is always willing to sacrifice herself for the team. We have to tell her, ‘No, you’re not running on that relay.’ She’s not one of those athletes who says, ‘I just care about me.’ ”
On Saturday Howell put on a show in the four-event sweep.
She ran a 14.38 in the 100 hurdles and a personal best 12.06 in the dash before recording a season-best 43.23 in the 300 hurdles. She was on the anchor leg of the relay following seniors Brittney Anderson and Kayla Chavis and sophomore Asia Macon as the Bulldogs ran 48.53.
“My 100 was rusty, but I just came out and did what I needed to do,” Howell said. “I can do better, but we’ll just focus on that in the next meet (the Mullins Russell Classic on Saturday at H.D. Woodson in Washington, D.C.).
“In the 100 meters I really wasn’t supposed to be running it and I didn’t find out until Wednesday, so I’m really proud of myself. I was proud of our team in the 4x100. And then I was really proud in the 300 that I could get the win and get my best time of the season.”
Howell and her top teammates will compete in the NCHSAA 4A Mideast Regional on May 10 at Apex before going for another state title on May 17 at N.C. A&T’s Aggie Stadium.
And soon after that she’ll go to the Bluegrass State to be a Wildcat.
“I picked Kentucky because it was the only program I was excited about,” said Howell, who plans to major in kinesiology. “It really got me pumped up. I love the academic opportunities and the coaches and everything about the school. I’m probably going to be a dual (distance) hurdler, but you never know.”