Murillo was a legendary sprinter for War Eagles
By Brian Pitts
Seventh in a series on Davie’s all-time individual state champions.
When runner Samantha Murillo was a Davie freshman in the spring of 1998, it didn’t take track & field coaches Scott Young and Cary Powers long to understand her potential.
Murillo’s first Central Piedmont Conference championship meet was something to behold. She captured first place in the 400 meters by three-plus seconds. She finished second in the 200, losing by an eyelash to the league’s foremost sprinter, Angela Breeden of Mt. Tabor. She closed out her jaw-dropping performance by teaming with Susan Delaney, Tiffany Peoples and Stace Joyner on the victorious 1600 relay.
Three years later, she forever reserved a spot in Davie lore by winning the 4-A state championship in the 400. She could have easily been a double state champ, but an unfortunate incident prevented her from running the 800 in the 2001 state meet. (More on that later.)
Now back to Murillo’s auspicious 1998 arrival in the CPC.
“Murillo is legitimate,” Young said.
“Murillo lost by a tenth of a second (in the 200), and (Breeden) is undefeated in everything this year,” Powers said. “So for a freshman to come within a half a step of beating the conference’s runner of the year is great for her.”
Although Murillo was the regional’s lone runner to have broken 60 seconds in the 400, she settled for second in the Midwest Regional at Mt. Tabor. Tracy McLean of North Forsyth rose to a stunning time of 58.70 to take first.
“She’s young and I think she went out maybe a little too strong in her preliminary 400,” Powers said. “I hated it for her and I know she was disappointed. But she gave a heck of an effort. She’s only a freshman and she’ll have a lot more races to improve her ability.”
In the state meet at UNC-Charlotte, Murillo recovered from a slow start to place fifth in the 400 at 59.54.
“She held back a little too long,” Powers said. “She had a super finish, a super strong finish, but she just ran out of time. I think she would have been in the top three if she would have had about five or 10 more meters. Some of the girls got out a little quicker than she did, but that comes with experience.”
Murillo’s late charge pulled her almost within two seconds of the winning time (56.97) by 71st’s Kennisha Morten.
“When you’re in a field where all the finalists are under a minute, that’s pretty tough,” Powers said. “Sam did real well. It was just a stout field.”
Murillo kept getting better. In the 1999 CPC meet, the sophomore seized first in the 400 for the second straight year and qualified for the regional in four events.
Lauren Poplin, Jerrine Peeler, Joyner and Janel Darcy became CPC champions in the 3200 relay (10:13.30).
Nothing changed in the Midwest Regional at Tabor. Murillo took first in the 400 at 58.90, winning by three-plus seconds to remain undefeated on the season, and the 3200 relay team surged to first again.
In the state meet, Murillo climbed to third in the 400, beating everyone except girls from Garner and Southeast Raleigh.
First-year Davie girls coach Suzanne Black said: “That’s pretty outstanding. She ran really well.”
Davie boys coach DeVore Holman: “That Murillo girl is the real deal.”
Murillo transferred to Forsyth Country Day for her junior year. She utterly destroyed the competition in the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association, winning state titles in the 400, 800 and two relays.
She signed a scholarship with Georgia, picking the Bulldogs over Texas, Tennessee, Southern California and UCLA.
“I remember seeing her at a race and everybody told me: ‘That girl out there, she used to run at our school,’” new Davie girls coach Daric Beiter said. “I was like: ‘We need her back.’”
Murillo was back in the black and orange in 2001, and her legend only grew. In the Taco Bell Classic in Columbia, S.C., she was first in the 400 at 55.79 and second in the 800 at 2:19.91, losing to a girl from New York by one second.
“Her and Nick (Propst, a star for the Davie boys) were arguing about who was faster,” Holman said. “Obviously Nick can get her in the 100 sprint, but I told Nick he didn’t want her in the 400. That’s the truth and he’ll tell you that’s the truth.”
In the CPC meet at Tabor, Murillo dominated like everyone expected, winning the 400 and 800 and taking second in the 100 as she made all-conference in three events. It was her third CPC title in the 400.
The meet’s most exciting race was a showdown between Murillo and Reynolds’ Bernadette Washington in the 100. Washington squeaked out a 12.54-12.55 victory.
“You couldn’t tell just by looking,” Holman said. “They’ve got cameras, pictures and everything. They were smoking.”
In the regional, where the top four finishers qualified for the state, Murillo lived up to her reputation by taking the gold medal in the 400.
Unfortunately, she was robbed in her quest for twin titles. In the 800, coming around the first turn, she was shoved by Tabor’s Taylor Steelman. Murillo never recovered and sank to 11th. Meanwhile, Steelman secured the fourth state berth.
It was a huge controversy. Murillo, who had not lost an 800 race against high school competition since her sophomore year, was not going to be able to compete at UNC-Charlotte in that event.
“I was pushed,” she said. “People elbow – that’s normal – but she pushed me in the back. I am very upset because it doesn’t allow me to go to states in the 800 and it allows her to go to states.”
The regional winner in the 800 ran 2:23, about 10 seconds behind Murillo’s average.
Mother Mathilda Murillo was seething. “It was an illegal extension of the arms,” she said. “She was pushed dead in the middle of her back. She had no choice but to fall. It’s a foul and we have the whole race on tape. Why wasn’t there a line judge? There’s normally a line judge. One judge said it was just crowded and the kids just tumbled over. But it’s clear on the tape that it was an illegal push. (Steelman) pushed her to the right. Samantha flew and people stepped on her. It was horrible.”
Propst saw the push. “I thought it was crap that (Steelman) pushed her like that and nobody did anything about it – because she was going to win,” he said. “When you’re running and get pushed, it’s kind of hard to stay up.”
A week later, Murillo won the state championship in the 400, and she made it look easy.
Beiter: “It was just amazing to watch her run against the top competition in the state. She didn’t have any problem. There were some great competitors in the race, but Samantha is just on a different level. She showed it and made all of us proud.”
Murillo: “It’s very exciting. I’m glad I made the change (and returned to Davie). It’s well worth it. It’s better competition and all my friends were at Davie.”
In the North Carolina High School Track Honor Roll, Murillo owned the No. 1 times in the 400 (55.79) and the 800 (2:14.62). With Murillo out of the 800 field at UNC-Charlotte, Broughton’s Karen Medlin triumphed in 2:18.79.
“(Medlin) said to Samantha: ‘You know you would have won had you been out there,’” Mathilda said. “And that made her feel really great. That showed really great sportsmanship. Samantha has run against her many times, and Medlin’s never run faster than Samantha. But she’s always been really kind to her.”
In the final chapter of Murillo’s high school journey, she missed the 400 state record (54.35) by a shade over two seconds.
“It was so hot (93 degrees) that no records were broken, and she didn’t have any competition,” Mathilda said. “You run your best in good weather and with strong competition. So it was hot but a good day for Samantha.”
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