When the Garaway Pirates boys track and field team was forced to compete at the Div. II level when the number of boys at the school dictated that Garaway had surpassed the numbers that allowed it to compete at the Div. III level, head coach Zach Mottice knew they were in for some seriously big competition.
That was why he tempered his team’s goals as the Pirates headed into the Div. II districts at West Holmes on Saturday, May 20 at West Holmes High School.
And while there were plenty of massive hills to climb, perhaps nobody exemplified the Pirates heart more than sophomore Julian Shrock. The diminutive distance runner tried valiantly to keep pace with the lead crew, although Carrollton superstar Cole Lovett left no doubt as to whom would win the 3200 as he got out in front and cruised to victory.
That left a core group of six athletes vying for the final three spots to advance to regionals, and among them were Indian Valley senior Cody Booth, Minerva’s Joey Stafford, Carrollton’s Quinton Huggett, Zach Henry of Harrison Central and Shrock.
After the pack clung together through five laps, during the sixth lap Booth and Stafford pulled away, and eventually Booth pulled away from Stafford to claim second place. Stafford would grab third, leaving just one spot open.
The problem was that in the fifth lap Shrock began to labor. He momentarily dropped behind the pack and was on the verge of falling well off the pace.
Facing a disappointing finish that would leave him out of the coveted fourth spot, Shrock got a break when Huggett faded. That left Henry, now in fourth, looming up ahead.
Shrock seemed to find renewed strength and slowly reeled in Henry. He then was able to hang on, earning himself a regional berth.
“I wanted to stay with the four guys in the group that broke away early,” Shrock said. “I started to fall back, and then I saw the Harrison Central kid was starting to slow, so that kind of gave me strength to pass him. It feels amazing to advance. I did not come in here thinking that was going to happen.”
In order to accomplish that, Shrock carved his Inter-Valley Conference time of 10:18 down to 10:11.
Shrock wasn’t alone in qualifying for regionals. He was joined by 800-meter star Austin Miller and senior pole vaulter Jarrod Hunt, but unlike Shrock’s feel-good story, neither of them were too thrilled with their performances.
Both seniors placed fourth to grab the final qualifying spot, but both had what they termed as “sub-par performances.”
“I just never got comfortable and didn’t jump well at all,” Hunt said. His jump of 13-00 got him into regionals, but with the winning height going at 13-04, that is a height Hunt clears with ease on a regular basis.
“It wasn’t his day, but he did enough to get through,” Mottice said of Hunt.
Miller’s story was much more harrowing. Through the first lap of the two-lap race, he found himself in 10th place and well back of the lead pack. It was nowhere near where he wanted to be, and he knew he was in trouble.
“I wanted to be about fourth or fifth at that time, and everyone got out so fast. I was just too far back,” Miller said. “That was definitely not how I drew it up coming in. It was a poor strategy, and I was way too far back. I didn’t have enough track to make it up.”
Miller is a big finisher, and while he left himself with little chance to win, the opportunity was still there to grab a spot for regionals. He made his move just after the first 200 meters of the second lap, and he came storming around several runners during the final turn. He still had to make up two spots down the back stretch, and he did so, slipping past a pair of runners and actually taking fourth with some relative ease. He then nipped West Holmes’s Jonathan Kandel for third, finishing in 1:59.6, beating Kandel’s 2:00.37.
“I knew (Miller) was back their lurking somewhere. I knew he closes great, so my goal was to pass the guy in third for sure,” Kandel said. “I knew he’d be coming hard, and I didn’t want to chance anything.”
“My effort was there, and I had plenty left down the back stretch, but it was disappointing the way it played out,” Miller said. “It was a good lesson to learn, and I can’t make the same mistake next week.”
The other Pirate to qualify really did exactly what he was expected to do. Senior Carson Troyer put the hammer down and roared to second in the 110-meter hurdles in 16.07, barely getting edged out by Indian Valley’s Brandon Leggett, who won in 16.01. Troyer then duked it out with another Braves standout in the 300-meter hurdles, where he and Zack Love went at it. Love won in 40.92 with Troyer second in 41.85.
“Carson had a really solid day,” Mottice said. “He did exactly what we talked about doing coming in.”
The rest of the day was spent trying to garner as many points as possible and put up good numbers. The 4×800 team had high hopes of pulling off an upset, but the team of Nathan Wicker, Shrock, Christian Stocksdale and Daniel Mast could muster only a seventh.
The foursome of Connar Angel, Kyle Dunn, Dakota Ross and Dillion Donaldson placed eighth in the 4×200, and Stocksdale was just out of the points, placing ninth in the 1600.
Garaway had one last chance to make a run for regionals in the 4×400, the day’s final event. The team of Troyer, Andrew West, Colin Hochstetler and Miller has found success all season and came in with high hopes of moving on. They did not disappoint, running a 3:32.06, placing third a few scant inches in front of the West Holmes team of Kandel, Michael Taylor, Grady Hay and Brayden Chaney, who ran a 3:32.09 and also moved on.
That helped push Garaway’s point total to 43, which placed them seventh in the 14-team field.
“Overall it was a good day,” Mottice said. “Some guys ran better than others, but right now it’s all about moving on, and we had some success there. I was really pleased with Julian. He really ran a gutsy race, and he has improved so much from last year. Austin didn’t run the race he wanted to run, but he will learn and get better next week. That was only the second time he has run the 800 this year.”
West ended up eighth in the high jump, clearing 5-06, and while he didn’t score any points in the shot, the other Austin Miller, a freshman, did have a good showing, firing it 39-09 to place 13th.
“He almost went 40 feet as a freshman, and he is going to develop into a really good thrower over the next couple of years,” Mottice said of the freshman.
While the Pirates will drop back to Div. III next year, they can take solace in a great effort at the Div. II level that saw plenty of Pirates move on.