BLOOMINGTON – Two distinctly different roads were traveled Saturday by Fort Wayne-area relay teams, but both ended up in the same place: atop the podium at the IHSAA boys state track and field championships held here at Indiana University.
Carroll opened the meet with a dominating victory in the 3,200-meter relay, and North Side closed with an equally impressive performance in the 1,600-meter relay. In between those races, several area athletes earned all-state recognition with top-nine finishes in their respective events.
For the Chargers, it was a quartet of diverse training plans coming together on one day in one race, with the only thing in common being the baton they passed along. For the Redskins, it was four sprinters working as one unit for 365 consecutive days. Carroll was a surprise victor despite having the state's fastest time this season. North Side was expected to win, but had begun to crack under the pressure of holding the state's fastest time all season.
Carroll's combination of Eric Claxton, Alex Hess, John Hester and Jon Harper finished in 7 minutes, 41.29 seconds, cutting more than six seconds off their state-leading time and falling just short of the all-time Indiana high school record (7:38) set last year.
North Side's lineup of Mohammed Bangura, Tyvon Kelley, Ed Benson and Kersten Barnfield survived a lackluster day in their individual events to race to victory in 3:16.95 and break a 41-year-old school record.
One thing these two victorious relay teams had in common: They both claimed the lead late in the second leg and then handed off to their respective teams' fastest leg. Hess sat in third for the first 650 meters of his leg before exploding past his competitors and giving Hester a 20-meter lead at the exchange. Kelley also raced past two others in the second-half of his leg and gave Benson a few steps on his opponents
“I was inspired by my teammates,” Hester said of Claxton and Hess. “What they did, giving me the lead? It was incredible. I usually get (the baton) and have to chase people. Today, I just had to stay out in front.”
Said Kelley: “We were behind and I just tried to stay relaxed and bring it in (in first). Once Ed got it (in first), I knew we were going to win.”
As for the coaches, Carroll's Zach Raber and North Side's Andrew Schmitz, the races were the culmination of tinkering and managing training plans. Raber, long a successful cross country coach, is perfecting the art of 400/800 meter training with his distance runners. Schmitz, also a cross country coach, prepares his sprinters with distance training.
“(I've) got three different training plans for this relay,” Raber said. “Hester is a 400 guy, Hess is a 3,200 guy and Harper and Claxton are (1,600) guys. We were trying to figure out the best way to get these four guys ready to run great at the same distance on the same day.”
For Schmitz, it was easier than that. Sort of.
“They were all on the same page,” Schmitz said. “(Barnfield and Benson) came off the podium last year in ninth place and right away said: we are going to win this race next year. They were committed and we didn't even know who the other two legs were going to be.”
As for actually winning, both teams came into the meet with the state's fastest time in their respective events. Carroll's sectional record time of 7:47 was followed by a 7:58 at regional, so the the Chargers were dismissed on the Internet message boards and picked to finish 8th or 9th. For North Side, holding the state's fastest time all season was becoming a burden.
“We knew our guys (could repeat the sectional performance),” Raber said. “But there was a wild card in there. Would all four of them run great?”
Said Schmitz: “I think the pressure finally got to them. They've been working really, really hard since December. Every day. Then to have the fastest time and the newspaper articles about them, (the state meet) couldn't get here fast enough. Today, they didn't run well at all until the relay. There was so much focus on the relay.”
Snider's Mitch Dutton (fifth) and Adam Williams (sixth) placed in the 800 with times of 1:53 and 1:54 respectively.
Carroll's Ryan Cavender placed eighth in the 110-meter hurdles in a time 14.81. He narrowly missed (10th place) medaling in the 300 hurdles. Homestead's Trevor Stanley was in second in the fast heat before tripping on the second-to-last hurdle.
Northrop's Trevor Wright finished ninth in the discus with a toss of 164-8.
Snider placed fourth in the 400-meter relay (42.37) and fifth in the 3,200-meter relay (7:50.44).
Carroll's John Hester was sixth in the 400 (49.35).