Hiland’s 4×800 foursome of Joe Wengerd, Lorin Hershberger, Hunter Yoder and Matt Troyer knew they weren’t going to win the Navarre Div. III regional 4×800 Wednesday, May 25.
In the meat-grinder that showcases a handful of extremely talented teams, even a fourth-place state qualifying effort was a big reach for a team that came into the meet with just the ninth best qualifying time form this season.
But one goal was attainable, and the Hawks made sure they did that by grabbing the eighth and final spot on the podium for a regional medal.
Hiland got out in ninth place and stayed right there for the entire race, as it battled with Independence, Steubenville Catholic Central, Magadore and Newton Falls for the final podium spot.
As each of the runners took their turn, Hiland kept a precarious hold on the eighth spot. By the time Troyer took the baton, Hiland was where it needed to be in eighth, so it was a matter of holding on for the junior who has had to fight past the mental anguish of a major knee injury this offseason.
For Yoder, the goal was simple: Don’t fall down. Yoder took a tumble during the Inter-Valley Conference race, and wasn’t about to let that happen again.
“I just wanted to run my hardest and know that in the end, we all did our best,” said Yoder. ‘The thought of falling did go through my head, but it is exciting to be on the podium and realize that you are one of the elite teams.”
He did, and actually zeroed in on the East Canton team right in front of him down the backstretch, nearly picking them off in the process.
“I got the baton in the place we needed to be, and as soon as I got it, I hear this guy yelling at the guy right behind me, “You are our star. You are our best.’ So I kind of panicked,” said Troyer with a laugh.
“These guys have picked me up all season with my struggles, and they are incredible. I didn’t have anything left in the tank, but it was enough.”
When Troyer crossed the line, the Hawks quartet had run an 8:29.32, beating the school record they had set one week earlier by two seconds. They had pulled away form all four of their challengers for the final podium spot, winning by an eight second edge.
“Lorin and I were talking before the race, that this was going to be our last weekend of racing ever,” said Wengerd. “To making it our best effort ever and to set the school record was incredible.”
Wengerd also said that being able to perform as well as they did as a unit was also quite gratifying.
“This is an event where you not only have to trust yourself, but you have to trust your teammates as well,” said Wengerd. “It’s not all about you. As soon as you give up the baton, you become a cheerleader.”
Which is exactly what he did for the final six laps after running the first leg.
“The last run is the best run,” said Hershberger. “We’ve been talking about doing that for the past two years, and we did it. The thought that we peaked at the end of the season is a lot of fun for me.”
And the act of seeing his name on the big record board at Hiland’s track stadium is also something he will cherish, considering he feels as though he has come a long was as an athlete.
“It’s pretty amazing, because I never thought I’d be any good when I started my freshman year,” said Hershberger with a laugh. “I think when I started that year I was the worst runner ever, and now, here we are.”
There they were, on the podium, and there they now are, on the big record board, where all can see their great accomplishment.