Smithville Smithies

Clark and McKeal earn All-Ohio honors: Smithies relay team enjoys a trip to the podium

Justin McKeal raced to the podium with a great effort at state

Smithville junior Lucas Clark has been through the rigors of the state track meet before. Last season the then-sophomore was a prerace favorite in the 800 but struggled to keep pace with the lead pack, and while he did make it into the top eight to take home a medal, he wasn’t pleased.

This year at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus June 2-3, Clark erased those memories and painted some new ones, and in addition to a third-place finish in the 800, he took home a second medal, thanks to the efforts of the 4×800 team, which took fourth.

Clark’s time of 1:55.44 trailed only champion Mount Gilead senior Austin Hallabrin’s time of 1:52.54 and East Canton junior runner-up Josh Conrad’s 1:53.83.

“After all season of not PRing, I finally moved down into the 1:55s. I finally ran what I wanted to run in terms of time, and I worked my way up the podium,” Clark said. “To PR here is special. It is what every person here wants to do.”

Clark came into the event seeded fifth, which was actually lower than he was seeded coming into the state meet last season. He used that as a personal challenge, knowing he had something more in him.

He reached deep and found it when he needed it the most. His split time of 57.87 had him seventh at time mid-way point, but the Smithies junior is well known for his big kick down the final stretch, and he turned it on as he rolled past several runners late to sneak up into third.

“I know I can finish strong, and that is a big part of who I am,” Clark said. “It feels good to come down here and perform the way I know I can.”

The 800 medal wasn’t the only hardware hanging around Clark’s neck. The Smithies 4×800 team also made its way to the podium with a fourth-place finish in 8:03.02. The team of Jeremiah Butler, Justin McKeal, Noah Riggenbach and Clark bolted to a fourth-place finish to snag their All-Ohio medals.

McKeal said the Smithies were in the hunt for one of the top spots based on their time coming into the event, and their effort didn’t disappoint.

“We expected this to be a pretty close race with a lot of teams challenging us, but that didn’t distract us from doing the one goal we had in mind coming in, which was running our hardest regardless of where we ended up,” McKeal said.

He said the team did have two other goals coming in. The first was to break the school record of 8:05, which they did. The second was to crawl under the eight-minute mark, a goal they narrowly missed.

“That sub-eight would have been nice, but we are still really pleased with our effort,” McKeal said.

A junior, McKeal didn’t leave state with one medal. Like Clark, he grabbed an individual, his coming in the 1600, where his time of 4:22.25 was good enough for a fourth-place finish.

“It’s been an amazing experience,” McKeal said of competing on such a high level and coming away as a two-time All-Ohioan.

Butler, the lone senior among the talented 4×800 crew, said finally getting a chance to compete at state was a dream come true and the perfect way to put the wraps on a sensational season.

“Just this atmosphere, to hear all of these people yelling and screaming, is an awesome experience,” Butler said. “I thought one of the most important things for us was the way we all supported each other and pushed each other to always go faster and to do our best. We’re out there running on our own, but we are also running as a team, and that is always a fun thing for us.”

As they came down the home stretch on the final leg of the eight-lap race, Clark said he was keeping an eye on everyone around him as runners jostled for position to make their final burst to the finish line.

A monster closer, Clark held everyone in the pack around at bay, turned on the jets late and pulled away from a pack of four runners to easily secure the fourth-place spot.

“I knew what I had left in the tank at the end, and I was not going to let anyone get around me,” Clark said.

The 4×800 team’s effort kick-started a team effort that eventually saw the Smithies grab second place overall, the highest finish a Smithville team has had since 1962 when the Smithies finished tied for runner-up.

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