WESTERVILLE/PICKERINGTON — Valley was throwing, two county ladies were high jumping, and the Northwest Mohawks simply — and speedily — blitzkrieged their way into school history on Friday.
Oh, and two Scioto County girls hurdlers have their own shot at the awards podium on Saturday —following their solid semifinals appearance.
No doubt, as the heat and humidity picked up inside Central Ohio’s beltway, the county’s state track and field athletes packed a serious podium punch —as three schools were represented by eight individuals on the two awards stands, with the annual Ohio High School Athletic Association state meets returning after being canceled last June.
Without the use of Ohio State University’s Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium this weekend, the Division II state meet is taking place at Pickerington North —with Division III’s competitors taking over at Westerville North.
But no matter the driving distance, no matter the location, and no matter the event on Friday, one of the southernmost counties in the entire state simply overtook in awards.
In individual events, Wheelersburg senior Maddie Gill and Northwest senior Haidyn Wamsley were fourth and fifth respectively in the Division II girls high jump — both clearing the bar at five feet and four inches, as Gill remarkably tied a personal-best and made the most of her statewide at-large selection from the regional meet.
Meanwhile, in Westerville in the morning, a pair of Valley boys brought some Division III shot put purple power —as senior Ryan Benjamin placed sixth (55 feet 2 3/4 inches) while sophomore Justin Moore made eighth (51 feet 3 1/4 inches).
Then, back in Pickerington, and after battling each other in meets all season and even competing in the same semifinal heat for Friday, both Wamsley and Wheelersburg senior Lauren Jolly qualified for Saturday’s finals in the 100m hurdles.
The two have traded places winning with or finishing slightly ahead of each other, but both get one last hurdles race together —as Jolly ran 15.37 seconds in the semifinals, while Wamsley was at 15.50.
The top two in each of three semifinal heats, plus the next two fastest times overall, advanced to the finals.
The headliners, of course, were the Mohawk men making up the 4x800m relay unit —considered one of the pre-race favorites for the state championship.
And, did they ever come oh so agonizingly close.
That’s because Northwest, in absolutely torching its own school record set just last week with the Division II Region 7 meet in 8:02, was the state runner-up — in a mind-blowing and trailblazing seven minutes and 54 seconds.
The seasoned foursome of seniors Josh Shope, Gabe Morrell and anchor leg Landen Smith and junior Mason Breech smashed last Saturday’s time by a full eight seconds —and actually led, and even dominated, for seven and three-quarters of the eight-lap race.
Morrell, Smith and Shope also advanced twice (2018 and 2019) together in the 4x800m to the outdoor state meet, as their sophomore seasons saw that trio —along with Chase McClay —capture seventh-place and all-Ohio accolades in 8:04.
But Friday’s race, they destroyed that time by 10 seconds —and ran the perfect race to within an eyelash of winning a state title.
Just how good were the Mohawks?
For starters, all four ran an 800m PR.
It actually took the anchor leg of state champion Peninsula Woodridge, which as a team ran a fiery 7:52.40, to run an 800m in a kamikaze minute and 53 seconds.
The highly-decorated Mohawk Smith himself pulled off a personal-best leg, motoring the two laps in a 1:55.
Truth be told, the Mohawks —as all four runners held sizable leads in their laps at some point — lost to the only team better for one singular race.
“I’m just proud of them for executing like we thought they could. It was so close to a state championship. I mean they dropped eight seconds (8:02 to 7:54) from regionals and that’s a big race, and you just can’t ask for more than that,” said outgoing Northwest assistant coach Adam Schroeder, who worked exclusively with the distance runners. “Those four kids ran phenomenal, and I’m so proud of them. They are studs. All four of them. We felt we could drop eight or nine seconds, which we did. Just wish we could have dropped 10. Our goal was to get out in front and give Landen (Smith) a chance at the end. We gave him a chance, and it took someone to run a 1:53 800m to beat him.”
Morrell, bound for Marietta College to run, concurred.
“It’s nice to know we did everything we could to win. Every one of us went out there and did the best we could have. Couldn’t ask for anything more. The other team (Woodridge) just did better than we did. We knew Woodridge was one of the top dogs we were going to have to compete with. It came down to us and them and it was a good race,” he said. “We did exactly what we planned on doing. We went out, tried to get the lead and hold it, tried to give Landen a little bit of a lead and see what would go. Their anchor just ran a phenomenal time.”
So although these motivated Mohawks had high hopes of winning the state championship, a runner-up effort in front of a capacity and boisterous crowd at Pickerington North is not bad either.
“It’s sad we didn’t win today, but at the same time, it’s super exciting and a big deal still,” said Shope. “How many state runner-ups do you know in your life?”
Schroeder said they are winners, and legends, in his scorebook.
“On the biggest stage, when the lights are brightest, they just shine and always show up. They put the work in and no one outworks them,” said the coach. “It’s about executing that day and they ran great. That 7:54, I don’t see that being broken at Northwest any time soon.”
A complete report on the other Day 1 final events competitions will appear in Tuesday’s edition of The Portsmouth Daily Times.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved