The East Canton Hornets had the unenviable chore of defending a state title in boys Div. III track this season, a feat that is never easy to accomplish.
However, armed with a load of returning talent, their trademark bright-blond hair and an attitude that they had what it takes to duplicate last season’s amazing title, the Hornets invaded Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus on June 2 and took care of business yet again.
By the time the Hornets were set to run the day’s final Div. III race, the 4-by-400 relay, they had already sewn up a victory. However, there was no way this team was going to sleepwalk through a race, and the Hornets put the cherry on top of the day by winning that event too.
It was a banner day for a team that has put its mark on the state record books.
The last school to repeat as champion in any division was in 2012-13 when Dayton Dunbar pulled it off. The last team to do it in Div. III was in the 1996-97 seasons when South Charleston Southeaster Yellow Springs did it.
While senior Josh Conrad experienced all kinds of success at state, where he perhaps should have been paying rent on the podium because he spent so much time there, he said it all starts and ends with head coach Tom Loy, who was honored after the meet for receiving the National Coach of the Year award.
“At the end of the day, Mr. Loy keeps us all together, keeps us focused, and everything we do is because of him and for him. He is the guy who drives the engine,” Conrad said of his head coach.
While Loy has racked up a healthy resume, perhaps his most lasting achievement will be the fact that he was instrumental in the OHSAA by adding two additional qualifiers to compete at the state track meet through at-large bids to fill the ninth lane at the state meet.
“We wanted to win the battles, and for the most part we did,” Loy said of his team. “Our three seniors — Josh, Mitch and Joel — all got four medals down here this year. I really think Josh gives all of these kids so much confidence, and we tell our kids that everyone needs to be ready to run because we can switch kids from semifinals to finals. That’s OK. Because at East Canton, track is not an individual sport. It’s a team sport, and we stress that every day. Most of the credit goes to my kids and the other coaches. I have done less coaching this year than I have ever had to because of these coaches and kids.”
Conrad got the points rolling on day one with a fourth-place finish in the high jump, where he cleared 6-06. The 4-by-800 relay team of Colt Hemphill, Demetrius Snellenberger, Tony Cappillo and Conrad also turned in a strong performance on day one, timing out at 7:54.49, a time that trailed only Worthington Christian’s winning time of 7:50.92.
Joel Berger kick-started Saturday’s finals with a third-place finish in the pole vault, where he cleared 14-08. Berger matched that third-place finish in the 110-meter hurdles, where his time of 14.74 produced six more points for the Hornets.
In the 4-by-200 relay, the quartet of Nathaneal Suntheimer, Wyatt Deutschman, Cody Vacco and Joel Berger rode their talent to another medal performance, where the team placed third in a time of 1:30.12. They were nipped at the wire by Youngstown Valley Christian and Liberty-Benton.
Points kept coming fore East Canton when Suntheimer, Vacco, Mitch Mitchell and Deutschman placed sixth in the 4-by-110 relay.
Berger struck yet again with a fine performance in the 300-meter hurdles, where he flew to fourth in a time of 38.92.
Conrad then went to work on the field in the 800, where the two-time runner-up didn’t settle for second this time. His effort of 1:53.99 put him atop the podium, having won the event with relative ease.
Mitchell carved out a seventh-place finish in the 200 to earn yet another All-Ohio nod for the Hornets, and Snellenberger placed sixth in the 3200 to set the table for the grand finale in the 4-by-400.
Running for nothing but pride after having wrapped up the state team title, the foursome of Mitchell, Vacco, Berger and Conrad reeled off a big win. Berger, a senior, ran a particularly impressive leg in his lap as he passed a number of teams to set up Conrad for the final push.
“I knew I had to give a big effort,” Berger said. “I had to give it my all for these guys. You don’t want to let your teammates down.”
Coming into the relay, Vacco had never run the race before, but his impressive times in the 300 hurdles gave his coach faith in him. Berger had run the race once this year, but he too rewarded his coach’s decision to trust him in the race.
The back-to-back titles is something that few athletes get to experience, but the Hornets were there celebrating that feat, and the seniors in particular were drinking in the aura.
“It’s amazing, the best feeling ever,” Mitchell said. “It has been an unbelievable two days, two days we won’t forget.”
With just three seniors gone in Berger, Conrad and Mitchell, the table is set for another great season next year.
“We’ve set the bar high for next year, but these guys have a ton of talent coming back, and I know they will work really hard to get right back here again,” Conrad said.
In 111 years of state track and field, no team has ever won three straight state titles.
That is what the Hornets will attempt to do next season.