PDT Sports Writer
Saturday’s State Track Finals at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus marked Greg Shepherd’s final meet as the head coach of the Piketon Redstreaks. He hoped his athletes would send him out in style. They didn’t disappoint.
Kane Dixon placed fifth in the Division III Boys 800 Meter finals with a time of 1:57.53, and Seth Farmer placed seventh in the Division III Boys 1600 meter finals with a time of 4:25.45. The two juniors are just the latest in a long list of All-Ohio athletes that Shepherd has coached.
Backed by an army of supporters clad in “HurriKane” T-shirts, Dixon started strong, finishing the first lap at a pace of 54.8 seconds. But his legs couldn’t carry him to the finals, and he began to fade as he headed down the straightaway. Alex Clapacs of Gilmour Academy finished first with a time of 1:53.05.
Though Dixon expected a better finish, Shepherd was still proud of his effort.
“He had a great year, I don’t want to overshadow, but what he wanted to do was much better than fifth,” Shepherd said. “It wasn’t a terrible race, it just wasn’t what he expected.”
Farmer also started off strong in the 1600 meters. He ran in fifth place for the majority of the race, and seemed poised to make a move. However, his legs would fail him at the 1000 meter mark, and he would slowly fall back in the pack. Mason Moore of Cincinnati Summit Country Day would take first with a time of 4:16.27
“He’ll bounce back and he’ll be fine,” Shepherd said. “He’ll train in the offseason.”
Though she wouldn’t make it on the medal stand, junior pole vaulter Maddy Reed shocked everyone this season with her improvement. After picking up the sport last year, she improved her personal best from 7’6” to 11’ this season. She would finish tied for ninth place in the Division II Girls Pole Vault Finals.
“To come back last April and start building from scratch, and to make it to state and almost reach the podium, it’s pretty amazing,” Shepherd said.
It was a bittersweet feeling for Shepherd as each Piketon athlete stepped to the podium. After 27 seasons, it isn’t easy to walk away from the sport he loves.
“I hope to be back,” he said. “I don’t want to be out of their lives. I’ll still be involved in one way or another.”
Coming in to Saturday’s high jump finals, Minford junior Kenton Gullion didn’t know what to expect.
“Honestly, I had no clue at all,” he said. “I just wanted to do better than I did last week at the regional meet, and I did that. I think I reached my final expectations.”
By jumping a final height of 6’5,” with no misses, Gullion reached the podium by finishing in eighth place in the Division II Boys High Jump Finals. Though there were seven places between him and champion Jeffrey Floyd of Linden McKinley, the competition was much more intense than what Gullion usually faces.
“Especially around our area, there aren’t a lot of good high jumpers,” he said. “There’s a lot of good athletes here.”
That is, besides his teammates.
“I should mention [high jumper and teammate] Mason Harris,” Gullion said. “It was good competition all year long. He was right behind me all season.”
“Competition makes everyone better.”
Minford coach Jesse Ruby was quick to point out that Gullion also earned all-academic honors for his outstanding GPA.
“I think that’s a pretty big accomplishment,” Ruby said. “Not many people can balance sports and education at a level that Kenton does.”
Throughout his high school career, Valley’s Matt Hodge set a goal to place in both the Division II Boys 110 and 300 Meter Hurdles in the same season before he graduated. On Saturday, Hodge achieved that goal by placing fourth in the 110 hurdles and fifth in the 300 hurdles.
“I would have liked to have gotten third in the 110 hurdles, but I’m happy with fourth. Fifth is exactly where I wanted to be in the 300s,” Hodge said.
In the 110s, Hodge got out to a great start and ran a clean race until the final few hurdles. He clipped the last few gates, but still finished with a time fo 14.65 seconds. Reigning state champion Chad Zallow of Warren JFK defended his title with a time of 13.93 seconds.
“Those last couple of hurdles slowed me down,” Hodge said.
Hodge nearly ran into trouble in the 300 meter hurdles as well. After running a clean race for the first 250 meters, the runner in the lane next to him fell and pushed a hurdle into his lane.
“I’m not sure if I stepped on the hurdle or not, but it didn’t really bother me,” he said.
Hodge would finish with a time of 39.80. John Lint of Columbus Academy would take first with a state meet record of 36.32 seconds.
With his time at Valley done, Hodge will move on to Wittenberg having accomplished everything he set out to do.
“My sophomore year, I set a goal to place in a hurdles event. I did that (third place, 39.34 seconds). I set a goal to up my GPA. I did that. I set a goal to place in both the 300 and the 110s. I did that,” Hodge said. “I really couldn’t ask anything more.”
Alex Hider can be reached at 353-3101, ext 294, or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter