Maybe it is a blessing, maybe it is a curse, but at the state track and field meet, the runners in the 800 don’t have an opportunity to run in the prelims to advance to the finals. In one sense it is good because everyone makes the finals, and therefore everyone has a chance to do something special. On the other hand it is bad because it marks the only chance to run, and competitors have to deal with all of the jitters that accompany running at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in front of a massive crowd of cheering fans.
Big-time track welcomed one Katie Sprang to the big show on Saturday, June 2, where the West Holmes freshman lined up with the 15 top 800 runners in Div. II in the state to vie for a spot on the podium and All-Ohio status.
A moment like that can eat a young athlete up inside as nerves play tricks and doubts creep in, but all day long the freshman seemed poised and collected.
It resulted in a seventh-place finish that propelled Sprang to the podium, where she got to soak in the love of the Knights Nation that turned out in force as well as the thousands of people who came to watch this spectacle.
While she was absolutely spent, the feeling of earning All-Ohio status was more than enough to keep her fired up.
“The energy is absolutely crazy; it is so intense,” Sprang said following the race. “It is definitely one of the most intense things I have ever been a part of. It’s really exciting being down there, and the nerves run through your body, but you have to turn that into adrenaline and put it all on the track and leave it there.”
Sprang fired out early, grabbed the indie lane and never let it go. Her split time of 1:05-flat left her in second place at the halfway point, although the field was packed in behind her, waiting to pounce.
As the runners rounded the final turn and headed to the back stretch, Sprang found herself in a massive flow of runners, who were jostling for position to make their final push. It seemed for a moment that Sprang might get boxed in as she clung to that inside line, but at just the right moment it was like the sea parted and Sprang found an opening. Somehow finding an extra reserve, she darted by a pair of runners and lunged for the line, finding her way to the podium at the end, finishing in a time of 2:17.03, a time just a tad over her regional time but one that was good enough on this hot day to snag one of the eight spots that made her an All-Ohioan as a freshman.
Catherine Coffey of Chagrin Falls sizzled in winning the race in 2:13.63, but after that the pack was jammed together, the runner-up Ella Gilson of Hawken coming in at 2:16.07 and ninth-place finisher McKenna Heimlich of Shelby coming home in 2:17.57, showing just how close this field was.
Sprang somehow mustered up the reserve energy to fight off her body screaming at her, and her impressive kick in the end moved her past enough runners to grab seventh.
“Around the 100-meter mark I was feeling the pain, and I was questioning my ability to finish, but something about being here and feeling this energy drives you, and it was pretty much all heart in that last 100 meters.”
The podium effort makes Sprang one of very few Knights to make it on to the podium at state. She said it was something she had focused on since the track season began, and to be able to finally revel in that moment was a dream come true.
“I am proud of myself for getting here, and this is something everybody should get to experience if they put in the dedication and the hard work to get here,” Sprang said. “It’s amazing.”
From countless distance runs and intense sprints to help her improve her kick to lifting weights when the body is begging to go home, Sprang has proven her work ethic is what helped her achieve greatness.
“It’s a lot of work, but it is all worth it,” Sprang said. “This is something I have always dreamed of, but there is always room for improvement.”