PDT Sports Writer
Five local athletes qualified for the upcoming OHSAA State Track Tournaments by finishing in the top four of Saturday’s regional meets.
Valley High School’s Matt Hodge placed second in both the 300-meter hurdles and the 110-meter hurdles in the Division III meet held at Fairfield Union High School, and Portsmouth High School’s 4x200 meter relay team finished third and reset their school record at the Division II meet held in New Concord, Ohio.
Hodge will be returning to the state tournament for the third time. He reached the podium his sophomore year, placing third in the 300-meter hurdles. Hodge plans on using his experience to his advantage as he seeks to climb the podium once again.
“It makes me feel more ready. I know what to expext,” Hodge said.
He holds the school record in both the 300 hurdles and the 110 hurdles, as well as the 100-meter dash.
“Matt is very serious about the hurdles,” track coach Jason Fell said. “He’s been doing a lot of stuff on his own in the summers to perfect what he’s doing.”
With school out for the summer and all other Valley runners eliminated from the state tournament, Hodge continues to work out one-on-one with Fell in preparation for this weekend’s meet.
“Mainly, [I’ve] been conditioning, getting ready for those 300 hurdles,” Hodge said. “
“Spring sports in Ohio, because we get out of school so early…you have to be very dedicated to continue on to this point,” Fell said. “He’s really picked it up in the last three or four weeks.”
Hodge, who signed to run collegiately at Witternberg last month, qualified for the state tournament by running a 14.61 in the 110 hurdles and a 39.27 in the 300 hurdles. He will run in the 110 hurdle preliminaries at 10 a.m. on Friday, and run the prelims for the 300 at 11:30 a.m. If he has one of the eight fastest times in either event, he’ll move on to the finals on Saturday.
Hodge’s goal throughout the season has been to place in both the 110 and the 300 hurdles. He hopes to run the 110 in 14.2 seconds and the 300 in under 38 seconds. Fell expects nothing less from his star sprinter.
“If he runs times that he’s capable of running we expect him to be on the podium in both events,” he said.
With Portsmouth’s storied sprinting program, it’s impressive enough that this year’s 4x200 relay team is smashing school records. What’s shocking is that they’ve only been running together for a little over a month.
After suffering an ACL injury for the second time in as many football seasons, the Trojans weren’t sure if Darion Robinson would be able to run this year. But after months of rehab and strengthing, Robinson was able to begin running competitively in late April. He slid into the second leg of the 4x200 relay alongside starter Terril Lattimore, Darray Richardson and anchor Alex Dickerson just in time for the SEOAL Conference Meet. Four meets later, and the team is headed to Columbus.
“They realized, individually, they’re good. But when they all work together, there’s no weak links in there,” Portsmouth track coach Chuck Burke.
Though the 4x200 team had already broken the 15-year old school record earlier in the season, the team of Lattimore, Robinson, Richardson and Dickerson continued to lower the bar. Even when they ran into problems with handoffs, as they did in the district meet in Washington Courthouse, they still found their way to the podium.
“When we get the handoffs, we’ve improved pretty dramatically, like a second and a half,” Burke said.
In last Saturday’s meet, the four reset their school record with a time 1:31:27. On Friday, they’ll run in the preliminaries around 2 p.m. If they finish in the top eight, they’ll move on to the finals on Saturday.
“What our goal has been all year is ‘Do the best that we can do,’” Burke said. “It’s all you. All we can do is try and get a little faster, and get as much out of ourselves as we can. Hopefully, that’s enough to get us to Saturday and get us on the podium.”
Alex Hider can be reached at 353-3101, ext 294, or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter