PDT Sports Writer
Along with participants from Portsmouth High School and Valley High School, both Minford and Piketon will be sending athletes to this weekends State Track Meet at Jesse Owens Stadium in Columbus.
Kenton Gullion and Chris McCallister will be competing for the SOC-Champion Minford Falcons. Gullion will compete in the high jump on Saturday, and McCallister will be running in the 200-meter dash. Both are juniors who will be making their second appearance at state.
“The fact that they were there last year, I don’t think the nerves will get to them as much,” said Jesse Ruby, Minford track coach.
It should come as no shock to area jumpers that Gullion will be competing in Saturday’s state finals. According to Ruby, Gullion has failed to place first at just one event this season. He’ll look to improve on his 11th-place finish in last year’s final.
“His whole goal this whole year is to grow and get better from how he did last year,” Ruby said.
Gullion will look to top his personal best of 6’7” on Saturday. Last year, 6’7” was good enough for third place and a spot on the podium. Ruby says he’s been working with his jumper’s approach to try and propel him to new heights.
“We’re trying to get him to be as consistent as possible so he cab be clean in his jumps,” Ruby said.
After finishing 14th in the state last season in the 4x100 meter relay, McCallister hoped to make it back to state for a second year in a row. As the weather began to get warm, so did McCallister. Last Saturday at the regional meet in New Concord, McCallister set his personal best in the 200 meters with a time of 22.72 seconds.
“Individually, he’s done really, really well,” Ruby said. “He’s just gotten better each and every week.”
Ruby credits McCallister’s improvement partly to his Falcon teammates. As conference champions and district runner-ups, both McCallister and Gullion have been competing daily with some of the best in the region.
“They’ve got really good teammates that push them,” Ruby said. “They’re always competing against each other, which helps them.”
Ruby is confident that both Gullion and McCallister’s experience and preparation will do them well in the state finals.
“I think they’re going to step up to the challenge and they’re going to perform,” he said. “They’ll probably set some new personal bests. The adrenaline rush at the state meet will help them preform their best.”
Piketon will be sending six athletes to Saturday’s state finals: The 4x800 relay team of Kane Dixon, Seth Farmer, Jordan Pendleton and Zack Varney; high jumper Timothy Trawick and pole vaulter Maddy Reed. In addition to running the relay, Dixon will run the 800 meters and Farmer will run the 1600 meters.
Juniors Varney, Farmer, Pendleton and Dixon have been running the 4x800 relay the final few weeks of the season. Though they had strong showings through their first few weeks, disaster nearly struck in last Saturday’s regional finals in Lancaster.
With the Redstreaks trailing as heading into the final leg, Dixon, the anchor for the Redstreaks, took it upon himself to carry his team to state. But after completing the first lap at a blazing 53-second pace, his legs began to give out. Dixon fell twice in the final 100 meters, but was still able to finish fourth and qualify Piketon for state.
“He tried to make everything up at once, and with a lot of courage he was able to get up,” said retiring Piketon coach Greg Shepherd. “A lot of times, when runners go down like that from exhaustion, they don’t get back up.”
Both Dixon and Farmer will need to pace themselves when they compete in two of track and field’s most taxing events: the half-mile and the mile. Dixon finished first in Saturday’s 800 meter regional final, running a 1:57.31 in the finals. Farmer also finished first, running the 1600 in 4:26.33 in order to qualify.
“They’ve gotten faster in the last two or three weeks, when it matters the most,” Shepherd said.
In addition to the experienced distance runners, Piketon will also be bringing a fresh face in Trawick. The freshman high jumper qualified by finishing second in regionals. clearing 6’4,” a personal best.
“He just keeps getting better,” Shepherd said. “Nothing seems to bother him. Best freshman we’ve had in a long time. Best freshman high jumper we’ve probably ever had.”
Trawick, an SVC and district champion, has yet to wilt under the pressure yet, so Shepherd feels confident that he’ll be able to deliver in Columbus.
“Up until this point, he’s had a lot pressure on him,” he said. “When things matter the most, that when he seems to performs the best.”
At this time last year, Reed could barely hold a vaulting pole. Now, she’s headed to the state finals after finishing second with a personal best of 11’0” in Saturday’s regional final. Working with her father, a former pole vaulter from Texas, Reed has picked up the sport quickly.
“She’s a pretty amazing kid,” Shepherd said. “Last April she couldn’t get off the ground. She has a work ethic like I’ve never seen.”
The state finals will mark Shepherd’s meet as Piketon’s coach. Throughout his 27-year career
“It’s been pretty up and down emotionally,” he said. I feel very fortunate, very blessed. It’s something that I’ve always loved to do.”
As he makes the trek to Columbus one final time, Shepherd is confident that eight more of his athletes can earn All-Ohio honors, adding to a long and esteemed list.
“I think all of them want to get on the awards stand. I think it’s realistic that they can all get in the top eight,” he said.
Alex Hider can be reached at (740) 353-3101 ext. 294 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter