After a season of great performances and record-setting efforts, the West Holmes Knights track team members found themselves at the Div. II state tournament as their core of sprinters prepared for the biggest races of their lives.
All season 400-meter master Brayden Chaney had dominated his race, and the 4-by-400 relay team of quartet Michael Taylor, Jonathan Kandel, Travett Boughman and Chaney had set the school record and then continued carving time off of their own school mark with great regularity.
By the time districts rolled around, they were ready and dominated their respective races. At regionals they followed suit, making a huge statement in winning, the relay team with a school-record time, Chaney in dominating fashion.
Then came a defining moment in the track career of Chaney, who had his heart set on a 400 title.
Like always, he bided his time over the first 200 meters, then cranked it up about 12 notches and started pushing past people. By the time he rounded the final corner, he had a lead, a lead that was pretty healthy against everyone aside from his one lone challenger, Thurgood Marshall’s Jaylen Zachery.
The two seniors had set the tone in the prelims, where they made it known that they would be the two guys battling for the title, the rest of the field an afterthought.
As they came down the homestretch, Zachery started to inch his way up behind Chaney. At 50 meters Chaney had the lead. He held it at 40, 30 and 20 meters, but Zachery was closing. At 10 meters Zachery had pulled up on Chaney’s right shoulder and was closing further. Chaney searched for another gear, and in an attempt to stay in front as the finish line approached, he leaned … too much. His momentum sent him tumbling as the two runners reached the finish line. Zachery hurdled over Chaney and reached the line first, Chaney rolling across the line six-hundredths of a second later.
Chaney’s golden goal was so close, and he saw it disappear. He was devastated. While most would have been thrilled at winning silver at state, Chaney was fighting back tears.
But that is not the defining moment of Chaney’s season. He had one last chance, one more race, the 4-by-400. The question was, could he pull himself together after the devastation?
The relay team that had set the school mark in the prelims and qualified second took the stage in the state tournament’s biggest and final race.
Taylor lit out and ran a solid leg, handing off to Kandel, who sprinted around the track and handed to an eager Boughman, making his first appearance at state.
The junior had a fantastic leg, surging past runners and giving the Knights a shot. When Chaney finally got the baton, he came around the final turn needing a huge surge to move past several teams.
He navigated around a pair of teams, and although Thurgood Marshall with Zachery leading the final leg was going to be unstoppable, a talented Dayton Dunbar team was several feet ahead of Chaney with only a few meters left.
Somewhere, somehow, Chaney found yet another gear and inched past Dunbar to secure a silver. No, it wasn’t the gold he wanted, but it was a testament to his commitment to his teammates, whom he was never going to let down in this key moment.
“That was pure heart,” Chaney said of his final push in the relay. “These guys have worked their butts off this year, and I couldn’t just not give everything I had. I have some blisters on my feet, and my legs are tired, but I had to go at the end. I am really proud of this group for what we accomplished.”
Boughman had to fend off first-state jitters in front of the huge crowd at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. He said that was what the prelims were for.
“Yesterday was the day to be nervous,” Boughman said. “Today was the day to run hard and forget everything else.”
He had little problem, perhaps running his best 400 of the year. He said what makes this team special is that it is less a team and more of a family, and they want to do well for the other guys more than for themselves.
“We push each other and all work together,” Boughman said. ‘”It was amazing to see our times drop throughout the year. I wish there was more to go.”
Kandel said they have dreamed of this moment, and he credited Chaney with setting the tone at every meet and every practice, continually talking up the opportunity that some time might come.
That time came, and this team responded.
“He’s been a great mentor and a great leader,” Kandel said of Chaney. “He has given us a great example of what we need to do next year.”
If Chaney was the mentor, the elder Taylor was the inspirational leader. Time after time he set the tone as the lead leg, and he was the vocal leader of the group.
“This season has been amazing,” Taylor said. “This group is special, special not just because of what we did, but because of how we did it. It’s a tight-knit family, and what we have been able to accomplish is something no one is going to forget. To be the first team to make boys team top-10 is incredible. The five guys we brought down here left it all here, and we hope this inspires the underclassmen to strive for greater things.”
“This has been an amazing year,” Chaney said. “We put this group of guys together in the beginning of the year, and our times kept getting better and better and better. Near the end of the regular season we realized we had something special.”
Chaney stood in near tears on the podium after the 400. Not long after, he stood there again in the same spot, but this time it was different. As Chaney stood with Boughman, Kandel and Taylor on the podium accepting their silver medals, it was a different look. The smile was there, his teammates around him celebrating an accomplishment no team before them had ever done.
That final run allowed the Knights to not only take second in the race, but also the seventh-place overall team finish was the first time the Knights have ever earned a top-10 finish.
“I couldn’t be prouder of these kids. They did very, very well,” Knights head coach Ty Harris said. “I know how much Brayden wanted that win in the 400, but it just didn’t happen. He ran one heck of a PR in the race, but the other kid ran great too. But what a fantastic career, and what a fantastic moment for this group overall this year. These guys worked so well together. They understood their roles, and they recognized how to get better. They wanted to run great for each other, and they didn’t care who did what as long as they ran well.”
Harris said Boughman and Taylor’s brother Brady, who was part of the All-Ohio 4-by-200 team that finished fourth, were already talking about next year, about who they could bring along to continue to excel in these relays and make it back to state.
They are going to find whoever is willing to push hard and work at it, and those three kids are already very excited about the future.
While the boys were setting a team record, their teammates on the girls side were performing well. Freshman Katie Sprang looked right at home with the upperclassmen in the 800 meters. She ran in the front pack and ran a smart race, and although she was exhausted, Sprang managed to muster up the courage to push herself over the final 20 meters, where she drove past three runners into seventh place and an All-Ohio medal.
“Katie did a fabulous job,” Harris said. “She was not overwhelmed by the environment, and all year long she has talked about wanting to compete with the best. She absolutely did that.”
Meanwhile over in the throwing pits, three-time state-qualifier Madison Kandel was competing in the shot put. While Kandel’s weekend didn’t end the way she wanted, her best throw of 37-02.75 feet placing her 10th, one spot outside of the finals, she did wrap up a career in the shot and discus that has been one of the best throwing careers ever at West Holmes.
“She threw well, but coach Goudy said it was just really great competition,” Harris said. “Madison’s career was one that any athlete would love to have. She has just had a special four years.”