July 28. 2018 11:55PM

Union Leader Athlete of the Month: Billy Powers one of nation's top hurdlers

By ALEX HALL
New Hampshire Union Leader


Winnacunnet's Billy Powers earned a fifth-place finish in the 110-meter hurdles at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals in June. (Ryan O'Leary/Seacoastonline.com)

Billy Powers began last month by setting a state record. By the end of June, he had cemented his spot as the top high school hurdler in New England and as one of the best in the country.

Powers, who graduated from Winnacunnet of Hampton in June, won the 110-meter hurdles in record-setting time and also took the 300-meter hurdles crown at the NHIAA Meet of Champions June 2.

The Seabrook resident won the same two events at the New England Track and Field Championship Meet one week later at the University of New Hampshire.

Powers capped his high school career by earning All-American honors with his fifth-place finish (13.97 seconds) in the 110-meter hurdles alongside placing 15th in the 400-meter hurdles (54.38 seconds) at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals June 15-17.

For his performance in all three meets last month, Powers was named the June Apple Therapy Services/Bedford Ambulatory Surgical Center/Express MED Athlete of the Month by the New Hampshire Union Leader Board of Judges.

Powers and Winnacunnet track coach Kara Seager felt confident he would set the 110-meter hurdles state record at the Meet of Champions. Powers, the Gatorade New Hampshire Track and Field Athlete of the Year each of the past two seasons, went right to work achieving the feat that day at Merrimack High School, setting the record during the preliminary rounds with his time of 13.98 seconds.

The previous mark (14 seconds), which Powers tied on his way to winning the Division I title in May, was set by Merrimack Valley of Penacook's D'Mahl McFadden in 2011.

Powers' record time did not stand long.

He bested his own mark in the finals, winning with another record-setting time of 13.93 seconds.

"He knew it was now or never," Seager said of Powers. "I was confident he'd get that record that day. I was happy he got the record in prelims so it was done for the day. Then of course he breaks his own record. That's just what the kid does."

Powers, who will compete for Cornell University next year, won the 300-meter hurdles at the Meet of Champions in 38.3 seconds, improving on his winning time from last year (38.71).

Defending his title in both events at the Meet of Champions gave Powers momentum heading into the New England meet the following week.

"Obviously, you want to go from one meet to the next with a good mindset," Powers said. "Winning both at Meet of Champions in pretty good times made me feel pretty good."

Powers, who also played football at Winnacunnet, did not deviate much from his usual training routine as he prepared for New England championships but he did get some practice sessions in at UNH. Powers said having his home state host the meet at a venue he had performed well at in the past took some pressure off him.

Powers was the top seed and defending champion in the 110-meter hurdles at the New England meet and won the event in 14.25 seconds. While he was the No. 3 seed in the 300-meter hurdles, Powers finished first in a time of 38.67 seconds.

Powers said he knew the 300 was not going to be easy but he was determined to improve on last year's runner-up finish.

"I was definitely motivated," Powers said. "I was a little bit uncomfortable. I was put in lane three, which is not really preferable for me just because it's a little bit tighter of a curve. I usually run better on a wider curve. That was definitely different but something (Seager) and I had talked about this season was being comfortable with being uncomfortable."

Seager knew the 300 would be the more challenging of the two events but she was not surprised when Powers won it.

"To me, the 300 performance at New Englands was more impressive than the 110 because the 110 comes a bit more naturally to him," Seager said. "The 300, that was all work for him - calculations and really putting his mind to it."

Seager said sometimes what gets overlooked when talking about Powers is that it is uncommon to see a hurdler compete at such a high level in both the 110 and 300.

"That's why what he did at New Englands is so impressive - because he won both on a big stage," Seager said "Track people were like, 'Wait a minute, how is this kid fast at both sprint and mid-distance events?' It speaks to his natural talent but also his work ethic."

Winning both events at the New England championships and placing fifth in the 110 at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals are Powers' two favorite accomplishments over his high school career.

"Getting All-American status in nationals, I worked really hard for," Powers said. "It's something I really wanted my entire high school career..Winning those two events (at New Englands) with all my coaches there and friends there at a home meet at UNH with our AD (athletic director) there, it's one of those things you never forget."

Other athletes considered for the June award were Manchester West distance runner Julia Robitaille, Bishop Brady of Concord tennis player Sydney Herrington, Concord High softball player Abby Rochette, Pinkerton Academy of Derry boys' lacrosse player Alex Sturgess and Bishop Guertin of Nashua girls' lacrosse player Emily Santom.

Robitaille, a rising senior, won the 1,600-meter run at the NHIAA Meet of Champions and finished runner-up in the same event at the New England championships last month.

Herrington, a graduated senior from Bow, won her third consecutive NHIAA girls' singles tennis championship and finished as the doubles runner-up with partner Rachel Achong in June.

Rochette, a rising senior, earned the win in all three of Concord's NHIAA Division I playoff games in capturing the state championship. She was named both the Division I Pitcher of the Year and New Hampshire Gatorade Softball Player of the Year.

Sturgess, who graduated, made 26 saves over Pinkerton's three NHIAA Division I tournament victories, helping the Astros capture the state title. Santom, a rising senior, recorded five goals over Bishop Guertin's NHIAA Division I semifinals and championship-game victories last month.

Previous 2018 winners: January, Jaylen Leroy, Manchester (basketball); February, Warren Bartlett, Loudon (indoor track); March, Connor McGonagle, Danville (wrestling); April, Bobby Cliche, Stratham (baseball); May, Amanda Bickford, Salem (softball).

To submit a nomination for future Athlete of the Month consideration, email the Union Leader Sports Department at sports@unionleader.com and enter "Athlete of the Month" in the subject line. Athlete of the Month recipients are honored at the annual Leaders: A Celebration of Sports Champions event held in February.