Having a total of 10 athletes vying for a team crown is certainly no way to win a track and field title, but the Hiland Hawks didn’t let that minor detail stop them from giving their all at the 2018 Cowen Redbird Invitational at Loudonville High School on Saturday, April 14.
Competing with far fewer athletes, the Hawks churned out a pair of winners and rode that to an eighth-place finish in the 16-team field.
The champions were Declan Howell in the high jump and Brayden Gray in the 300-meter hurdles, and Hiland had a handful of other athletes make their way to the podium.
Gray struggled in the 110-meter hurdles, not coming close to his seeding time in the preliminaries. That was because he crashed to earth on the second hurdle, got up and still almost qualified for the finals.
“We knew coming in that he had a big-time advantage in the 300s, and he has been coming on in the 110s, but his starts have been terrible,” Hiland coach Mark Fowler said of Gray. “In this one he finally came storming out of the blocks and was so fast that it threw off his timing, and he hammered the second hurdle. Now that he is getting out of the blocks, he has to learn how to handle the speed and make a smooth transition.”
He ran a 19.74, well off his time of 17.80. However, he made up for that by blistering the field in the 300s.
Gray came in with a PR of 42.98 but left Loudonville with a new personal best in tow. He fired off a winning time of 42.54, beating runner-up Colton Riel of Fredericktown by a full three seconds.
“When he crossed the finish line, everyone else was coming over the final hurdle,” Fowler said.
Howell, who stands at 5-feet, 9-inches, performed at a personal-best level by soaring over the bar at 6-02, four-inches over his season’s best. That effort was 1-inch better than runner-up Kenny Carpenter of Hillsdale.
“Seeing Declan clear that height is amazing,” Fowler said. “He cleared 6-01 on his final jump, and I thought he was in trouble, but then he turned right around and cleared 6-02 on his first attempt. I think having to turn right around and jump first at 6-02 after being the last one to clear 6-01 benefited him. He thrives on that pressure.”
In the 4-by-200 relay, Gray teamed up with Evan Casey, Nathaniel Yoder and Jadon Yoder to help the Hawks run a 1:39.85, good for sixth place.
In the 1600 Tyler Kuhns churned out a 5:09.24, three seconds under his seeding time, to place eighth and pick up a point for the Hawks. In the 800 Kuhns was inched out of a scoring spot when he placed ninth in 2:13.87. That time left him three-one-hundredths of a second out of seventh place as he dueled with Travis Mentzer of Highland and Nathan Whitney of East Knox for seventh and eighth.
Aaron Chupp continued to excel in the pole vault, where he cleared 11-00, good for fourth place. Winner Tony Martinez cleared 12-03 to win it.
Casey leaped to a distance of 17-09 in the long jump, by far his best of the year, but that only earned him a solid 11th-place finish. Eleventh place also was where discus thrower Michael Yoder found himself after he unleashed a throw of 101-09.
Even seeing the 16-second improvement of the 4-by-400 relay team of Cordell Hershey, Casey, Gray and Yoder was enough to pump up the Hiland head coach.
“It’s encouraging to see that kind of improvement,” Fowler said. “Hopefully these guys start believing in themselves because they have been doing some really good things without a lot of confidence.”
The Hiland girls saw the team of Brooke Miller, Marissa Sommers, Hailey Miller and Nikki Yoder run a 56.34, well under their qualifying time, and that earned them a seventh-place finish.
Sommers narrowly missed qualifying for the 200s, where she placed ninth, one spot out of qualifying for the finals, running a 30.37.
Brooke Miller also came close to scoring for the Lady Hawks in the 400, where her time of 71.79 placed her 12th while Nikki Yoder placed 14th in the 300-meter hurdles.