Thursday’s boys track and field sectional was an electric affair from start to finish, one that saw all the Grant County teams show out and perform in impressive fashion.
There were a plethora of season-best performances and exhilarating finishes throughout the evening at the Terry Lakes Track and Field Facility, but in the end, Oak Hill’s depth and experience, combined with some clutch points down the stretch, proved to be the difference as the Golden Eagles won their second straight sectional with a score of 90.66 points.
Oak Hill finished with one individual and one relay sectional champion, while 12 other Golden Eagles either qualified or were called back in seven other events. With their sectional championship victory, Oak Hill’s cross country and track-and-field teams have combined to win at least a sectional or regional title in the last 10 calendar years.
“It was ugly [at times,]” Oak Hill Head Coach Paige Brunner said. “I told [Mississinewa Head Coach Ean] Van Winkle that in mind Mississinewa probably deserved to win this meet over us and Marion, but I’m sure as heck not going to give the trophy back.”
As the meet progressed, Oak Hill, Marion, and Mississinewa all jockeyed for position in the top three, with the lead switching hands on numerous occasions.
But it was Oak Hill’s seniors, at the meet’s most crucial juncture, who delivered.
“We knew in the two-mile we were going to put points on everybody. We knew in the 800 we would put points on everybody. We knew the 4 x 4 would be competitive, and we knew that, based on how meets go, shot put would be the last thing standing,” Oak Hill Head Coach Paige Brunner said. “We knew we had two throwers better than anybody Marion or Frankton or Mississinewa had.”
Mason McKinney won the 400 Meter (50.70) while also picking up a crucial six points in the 200 Meter with a third-place finish (23.08). In the shot put, Trey Castanon took home third place honors (44’3”), and Kasey Smith, though he did not qualify for the regional, placed fifth, giving Oak Hill the cushion they needed.
Smith did advance in the discus, placing third with a throw of 129’8”.
“We had some panic. Our kids had some panic. I thought our field events were a disaster tonight up until the shot put…but Mason brought it, Jacob Winger brought it late, and then for Kasey and Trey to go over there with the meet on the line…and go 3-5 [in the shot put,] that’s the meet,” Brunner said. “Two seniors, those are guys two years ago who were winning the regional. That’s something to be said.”
As has been the case throughout Brunner’s tenure at Oak Hill, the Golden Eagles’ distance runners helped to set the tone. Star freshman Owen Jackson (4:39.58) and steady senior Sol O’Blenis (4:40.80) placed 2-3 in the 1600 Meter, while O’Blenis also qualified for the regional in the 3200 Meter with a third-place finish (10:26.18). Additionally, Oak Hill’s 4 x 8 squad of Jackson, O’Blenis, Landon Biegel, and Winger finished as sectional champions in 8:12.41.
“In terms of distance programs in this meet, we are the pedigree. We are the best program,” Brunner said. “Our kids showed it in the 4 x 8, the mile, the 800, and the two-mile. Those were huge points.”
In large part due to stout performances in the long jump and pole vault, along with some strong running in the shorter races, the Giants finished in second place with a score of 79.
“Our second-level kids just performed out of their minds,” Marion Head Coach Nate Larson said. “We were preaching stealing points the last two weeks, because we knew we were going to have to. They performed amazingly. The effort, we can’t be prouder of what the guys did.”
Kainen Malone-Johnson and Aden Fisher went 1-2 in the pole vault, each vaulting 12 feet even, while Zaimar Burnett’s first sectional championship came in the long jump, where he recorded a jump of 21’8.25”.
Cubie Jones, who has had a tremendous junior year on the track, qualified in two events, placing second in the long jump (21’3.5”) and third in the 110-meter hurdles (15.62) despite limited experience in both coming into the season.
“He’s incredibly athletic, and when he started to put it together, we knew it was going to come,” Larson said. “His track IQ this season has really skyrocketed. He has started to understand where he needs to be. He is a phenomenal athlete.”
The Giants did have some costly mistakes, which included disqualifications for Burnett in the 100 Meter and the 4 x 1 due to false starts. However, Marion’s electric senior made up for it in the 200 Meter, winning it in a blazing time of 21.8.
“He was juiced up. He was ready to go today,” Larson said. “It got the better of him in the 100 and the better of him in the 4 x 1, but he did a great job of putting it behind him.”
Of all the schools competing in the Marion sectional, Mississinewa, arguably, put together some of the most impressive performances of the evening, particularly in the final 4 x 4 relay.
With some usual runners pulling themselves out due to hamstring tightness and other ailments, seniors Josh O’Connell and Andre Sallade stepped up to the challenge. Despite not having much experience running together, the group, which consisted of O’Connell, Sallade, Ty Newsom, and Karver Jones finished in second place in a time of 3:32.70, much to the delight and joy of Mississinewa Head Coach Ean Van Winkle.
“That was the happiest I was all night,” Van Winkle said. “And I had joy beyond elation, and then I had that happen. That’s what you want to see – people stepping?? that you don’t even expect.”
Additionally, sophomore Hayden Nelson won the 100 Meter (10.74) and placed second in the 200 Meter (22.61), while Trevon Hess ran one of his best races of the season in the 100, qualifying for the regional with a third-place finish (11.24).
Overall, the Indians finished in fourth place with a score of 77, but Van Winkle could not have been more pleased with his group’s performance.
“Their confidence is through the roof,” Van Winkle said. “This is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had coaching, and I’ve had a lot of good ones. First full year of coaching track, I couldn’t have asked for anything better.
“I got fourth for something like that, and it feels like I won the Super Bowl.”
In other results, the Indians’ 4 x 1 team of Nelson, Hess, Jayden Crick, and Peyton McPeak remained undefeated, winning in 43.51, while Crick also finished third in the 400 (52.05).
Eastbrook rounded out the Grant County teams with a seventh-place finish and 47 points, led by the stellar performance of Hayden Raikes. Raikes won both the 110 meter (15.29) and 300-meter hurdles (41.74), while also placing third in the high jump (6’1”).
“Hayden had a great night,” Eastbrook Head Coach Stu Goble said. “It’s stuff we expected from him. That 110-hurdle time was really good. He had three really nice events.”
Braxton Bowser also qualified for the regional, placing second in the discus with a distance of 132 feet.
“Braxton Bowser had a nice night tonight and had a nice PR,” Goble said. “He missed it on the last throw by about eight inches from winning. But he had some great practice this week.”
The 2021 Track and Field Regional will be held at the Terry Lakes Track and Field Facility on Thursday, May 27. Meet time is set for 6 p.m.