The West Holmes Knights saved the best for last in capturing the Eastern Div. II district track and field crown.
Perhaps West Holmes head coach Ty Harris summed up the Eastern District Div. II track and field meet at West Holmes High School best with one final sigh of relief.
“I wish these kids would stop putting me through this. It is exhausting,” Harris said following the Knights’ come-from-behind victory that saw West Holmes and Indian Valley go toe-to-toe the entire weekend before West Holmes pulled out the win late.
It got to the point where the WHHS coaching staff had to make a decision on whether to run Brady Taylor in the 200 meters or give him rest so he could anchor the 4-by-400 team in the event finale, knowing that every single point mattered.
It turned out the Knights had all the right answers in the event’s final few competitions, allowing them to actually push past the Braves, scoring 97 points to surpass Indian Valley’s 85. River View was third at 66.5, Ridgewood was right behind with 66 and Minerva rounded out the top five with 63 while Claymont was right there too with 60 in what proved to be a very balanced field of 14 teams.
“After prelims on Thursday we were down six,” Harris said of his team. “Then all day long we kept looking at every event, knowing it was going to be tight. Coach Bell does an excellent job at Indian Valley, and they are always good, but it was a strong field altogether. We had a lot of gutsy efforts, and we’re proud of what we did, especially since we are still getting healthy.”
As always the Knights found a ton of points in the field events. Lane Graham posted a pair of second-place finishes in the discus and shot, where he was runner-up behind Ridgewood’s J.J. Durr. Jacob Goudy also qualified for regionals in the discus, where he placed fourth. Then he turned around and took second in the high jump by clearing 6-02 to advance there as well, and Gavin Freeman added two points to the Knights’ total with a seventh-place finish in the long jump.
“Moving this many kids along to regionals is the ultimate goal,” throwing coach Eric Goudy said. “That is what we work for all year, and both Lane and Jacob PR’d in the discus, which is also exciting at this point in the year.”
“I’m looking to PR again next week at regionals now,” Jacob Goudy said of moving on. “And being there with another teammate helps us both.”
The pole vault proved to be another place where the Knights excelled. While Indian Valley state champion Zach Love set a new stadium record with a leap of 15-08, West Holmes’ Emmett Myers and Grady Hay both qualified for regionals with each clearing 12-06 to grab second and third.
“At this point you don’t think about it as anything special. You just go jump and do what you do and try not to add pressure on yourself,” said Hay, who qualified in the pole vault for regionals last year.
For Myers it is his first venture to regionals, and he said having an experienced teammate to rely on helps immensely.
“My goal was to move on, and I made it,” Myers said. “It’s always fun losing from Grady. We always compete with each other, and that helps.”
The Knights got the running events off with some points when the team of Caden Zeigler, Caiden Carter, Ian Jones and Cade Wagers placed seventh in the 4-by-800 relay. There was a lull in the sprints as West Holmes watched their key competition post good points, but the 4-by-200 relay team of Travett Boughman, Jonathan Kandel, Hay and Brady Taylor got them back on track with a third-place finish. The 4-by-100 relay team of Cale Ogi, Myers, Gavin Freeman and Sawyer Pritt then tacked on a couple more points with a sixth-place finish, but Indian Valley placed second and kept building its lead.
The Knights began to turn the momentum their direction in the 400 meters, where Taylor placed second and Boughman, struggling with an ankle sprain, finished seventh. Love returned the favor in the 300-meter hurdles, where he blew to victory with ease, leaving the Braves up by a handful of points.
With the meet down to four events, it was still anyone’s game, and the 800-meter race turned things the Knights’ direction and set off a fantastic finish for West Holmes. It began with Kandel, who waited patiently to make his move, then zoomed to victory in the 800 to put the Knights ahead. That was when Harris and company had to figure out whether to run Taylor in the 200 for the points, a race in which he would not have competed in regionals even if he had won it here, or saving him for the 4-by-400.
He withdrew from the 200, where he had qualified first, but the Braves didn’t have anyone in the finals. Then it went to the 3200-meters, where West Holmes had both Wagers and Carter running, and the Braves countered with Kris Jones and Joe Brown. Wagers ran an incredible race, placing third behind a pair of standout race favorite runners from Minerva. Carter found himself trailing both IV runners and knew the circumstances. His kick over the final 100 meters was inspirational as he flew past Brown to grab the one point for the eighth spot.
“It was so hot it hurt my lungs to breathe, but I was in ninth, and coach told me to go hard, and I went for it,” Carter said. “I knew I had to do whatever I had to so I could get to eighth.”
That left the 4-by-400 relay, and the Braves needed a big upset as well as for the Knights to struggle. Boughman, Hay, Kandel and Taylor were not about to let that happen. Having qualified second behind Tusky Valley, the Knights put together a fantastic race, and Taylor fended off TV’s Brock Haas down the stretch to claim a victory and secure a district title for West Holmes.
“It hurts a lot to run on a sprained ankle, but you still have to do what you can and give effort for your team,” Boughman said.
“For me it was about getting it to Brady in first place. Because if we did that, I knew we would win. That’s a fact,” Hay said.
“It felt kind of like state all over again,” Kandel said of the atmosphere. “Tusky Valley was fast. I think Grady ran the best race he has run all year, and Brady looked great at the end. We knew we just needed top four to advance, but that’s no fun. We want to win.”
Taylor made sure that happened.
“At the Knights Invite Tusky Valley beat us by a couple of steps, and I wasn’t going to let that happen again,” said Taylor, who PR’d in his 400-meter event. “Winning districts sets the whole tone for regionals and gives us a lot of momentum moving forward.”