Regionals are supposed to be hard. It is supposed to be a challenge as the region’s finest athletes come together to compete for the right to advance to the big show, the state finals in Columbus.
Smithville senior and defending state 300-meter champion Cole Smith made it all seem like a walk in the park during the Div. III finals at Perry High School on Friday, May 25.
Smith led a cadre of Smithies to a fantastic finish at Perry, and he will headline a large contingent of Smithville athletes who hope to do some special things at the state meet.
Smith said that rather than focus on winning the regional meet, he came into it simply wanting to focus himself on being solid, performing up to his capabilities and doing what he does best. “I can’t control what anybody else does, so I have to focus on running a clean race, and that should take care of it,” he said. “We have a lot of the top runners in both races right here in our region, so this is a good experience to run against them.”
Smith left Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium at state last year with gold around his neck as the winner of the 300, and he added a bronze in the 110s, where he placed third. That left him a little bit hungry to improve ever so slightly this year, where he hopes to turn that bronze into gold.
His recent district effort of 13.95 saw him go sub-14 for the first time, so he appears poised to challenge for that honor, even as he set a new PR in the 300.
“I know I can cut more time. I know I have it in me,” Smith said. “The finals of the middle of the 110s was probably the fastest I’ve ever been. The hurdles were coming at me so fast. It almost caught me by surprise.”
Smith’s double victories in the hurdles paced Smithville to a tremendous day overall, where they placed second behind defending Div. III state champion East Canton. The Hornets racked up 105.5 points as Smithville’s 80-point effort was the only school anywhere near them.
While Smith was dominating the hurdles, a pair of teammates went one-two in the 1600.
Justin McKeal led the whole race until teammate Lucas Clark was able to reel him in at the wire on a fantastic final 50-meter push. The entire field had to deal with diabolical heat, something they haven’t had to fend off all season. It took a toll and made keeping pace with the lead pack tough.
“I have not felt like this all season,” McKeal said as he tried to overcome the ferocious heat after the race. “Battling the elements is really tough, and we haven’t had very many of these kinds of really hot days this track season. At this level it is already such a mental thing, and races can be decided on the last lap or down the final stretch, so you have to bring your A game against this kind of competition.”
McKeal found himself running at the front of the pack, a place he feels comfortable with. He knows he can’t keep a continual eye on the guys behind him, but he knew some quality talent was lurking including his teammate Clark.
Clark’s mad dash over the final 50 meters was inspirational as he showed off that signature kick that he has become so well known for. He managed to move past the third- and fourth-place finishers and zeroed in on McKeal. The two ran to the wire side by side, and Clark’s lunge allowed him to capture the regional title.
“I never really thought I was going to win it, even at the end,” Clark said. “I wasn’t comfortable with where I was because I was pretty far back.”
Clark said having a teammate as talented as McKeal to run with has proven to be advantageous in many ways, and for both to have run at regionals and now at state together should help each of them.
“We run very differently, but training together is definitely an advantage,” Clark said.
As for edging out his teammate at the wire, Clark diplomatically said, “I was just trying to secure a spot at state. I am glad we are both moving on.”
The trademark kick at the end is something Clark said is nice to have in reserve, but he said it also has its disadvantages. Clark would go on to nab third in the 800, where his time of 1:57.64 was one second off the winning time of 1:56.41 by East Canton’s Josh Conrad but easily ahead of the time needed to move on.
“I don’t like being well known for that because everyone knows and they are trying to fend it off, but it is nice to have that to fall back on at the end,” the now three-time state qualifier said.
The two 1600 men also are heading to state in the 4-by-800 relay, where the Smithies placed fourth in 8:17.97, a time that easily advanced them to state. That quartet of Smithies included Simon Yochheim, McKeal, Owen McNally and Clark.
Trent Kauffman earned a sixth-place podium finish in the pole vault by clearing 13 feet while Smithies junior David Massaro suffered the toughest of all fates, finishing fifth in the discus to just come up shy of a state berth. Massaro’s throw of 148-00 was 2 inches shy of earning him a fourth-place finish that was needed to move on.
The 4-by-400 team of Clark, Trent Shane, Kaleb Tilton and Smith also will run at state, the team placing fourth in a time of 3:26.44. The heat did take a toll on McKeal, who ended up placing fifth in the 3200, where the earlier 1600 run took enough out of him to keep him out of the front pack of four runners.
The 4-by-100 team of Jace Watts, Kauffman, Bryce Ullman and Casey Tipple qualified for the finals and picked up a point with an eighth-place finish while the 4-by-200 relay team of Tipple, Smith, Shane and Kauffman ran second to East Canton, finishing in 1:30.54, advancing them to state.