Little in numbers but large in heart, the Hiland Hawks track and field team displayed plenty of guts in putting forth a quality effort at the district meet.
A pair of Hiland juniors in Declan Howell and Brady Gray highlighted the Div. III track and field districts at St. Clairsville High School. Both placed first and second in events and helped the Hawks’ nine-man team work its way clear up into fifth place.
“I was getting a lot of congratulations all weekend on the effort of the kids, and for us to finish fifth with just nine kids is a testament to their work,” Hiland coach Mark Fowler said.
Howell made a nice splash in day one when he went 19-06 in the long jump to place second. He then came back on day two and became the lone competitor to clear 6 feet to win the high jump.
“He’s performing with a lot of confidence right now,” Fowler said.
Howell placed fifth in both events in the Inter-Valley Conference championships, so he said it was nice to turn around and find success at districts.
“The IVC was a rough day for me, so I was glad I could turn it around at districts,” Howell said. “Hopefully that carries over to regionals.”
The undersized Howell laughed at always being the short guy at the high jump pit.
“Everyone was long and lanky, and they were a foot taller than me. It’s rough; it’s rough,” Howell said with a laugh.
Also moving on was the 4-by-200 team of Gray, Evan Casey, Nathaniel Yoder and Jadon Yoder, who rolled to third in 1:36.55, trailing just Buckeye Trail and Garaway.
“That 4-by-200 team surprised me a little bit, but we are at the point now where these kids understand that it is going to take everyone’s best, and we got it,” Fowler said. “We weren’t expected to even make the finals, so it was nice to see us step up like that. I want these kids to realize that now they have to have nothing left after they run because that is the kind of effort it takes.”
The tough one to swallow for the Hawks was that the 4-by-400 team didn’t qualify for regionals. Hiland finished sixth but had to run without its anchor Gray, who was simply exhausted after battling illness all day.
“I had to pull Brady out because he was done,” Fowler said of Gray. “He was gassed. When it came time for him to sign in, he could barely walk after the 300 hurdles and the 200, so I pulled him.”
Fowler said in retrospect, he felt like he could have told Gray to back off a bit in the 300s, but then again, he said backing off is not exactly in Gray’s DNA.
The 300 was another story. Gray simply dominated the field as he went for broke and won with ease in 40.76. In the 200, where he ran second in 22.94 to winner Jack Nash of Rosecrans’ 22.83, Fowler said he exploded out of the gate to take a commanding lead.
“He was all by himself by about 10 yards at the corner,” Fowler said of Gray. “The kid caught him at the wire, but it was one of the ‘oh my’ moments early on.”
As for the 300 hurdles, Fowler said Gray came out so fast after four hurdles that he was in command there too, and despite the win, he said Gray struggled and didn’t post his best time because his steps were off and he had to stutter-step the final several hurdles.
Fowler also was thrilled with the effort of Tyler Kuhns, who finished eighth in both the 800 and 1600 to score points for the Hawks.
“Tyler ran well, and it was really fun to watch him compete,” Fowler said.
Aaron Chupp narrowly missed a regional berth when he cleared 11-06 in the pole vault, a height good enough to tie for fourth, but he lost out on a spot on the tie-breaker of jumps missed.
Howell said both he and Gray have huge expectations as they enter regionals.
“We both feel like we can get to state,” Howell said. “Our regional is really good, but we both have a chance if we do what we are capable of doing.”
The Lady Hawks, with all of four competitors, still managed to finish 15th in the 19-team field. Fowler had high praise for the crew of Brooke Miller, Hailey Somers, Hailey Miller and Nikki Yoder.
“They ran with everything they had, and that’s all I can ask of them,” he said.
Sommers took 12th in the 100 while the foursome missed qualifying for regionals by half a second in the 4-by-200, finishing fifth. Sommers got a bit of retribution by making the finals in the 200, where she would go on to run a 28.84 and finish eighth.
Yoder qualified seventh in the 400 and then went on to post a 1:07.80 to place sixth in the finals. The four then teamed up to make the finals in the 4-by-400, where they churned out a 4:43.98 to finish eighth.
Buckeye Trail would win the team competition with 97 points, fending off runner-up Steubenville Catholic (68). Garaway got third (58.5), Shenandoah got fourth (55) and Hiland got fifth (52), rounding out the top-five teams in the 19-team field for the boys.