Boys Track Wins Second Regional Title In School History

Posted on May 24, 2019 in Boy's Track, Spring Sports

BY SCOTT HUNT – shunt@chronicle-tribune.com
The Oak Hill boys track and field team was clearly the class of Grant County and the Central Indiana Conference in 2019.

In the Marion Regional Thursday evening, the Golden Eagles showed they are one of the top teams in all of Northern Indiana as well.

Severe storms that rolled through Marion early Thursday morning caused significant damage to the track and Indiana Wesleyan, where the meet was originally scheduled to be held, necessitating a change of venue to Marion High School.

But the switch did nothing to slow down the Golden Eagles, who were crowned as regional champions for only the second time in school history. Oak Hill slipped past Carroll (Fort Wayne), 66-65 to capture the team title for the first time since 1977 and brought the first regional trophy to a Grant County school since Marion won in 2006.

“I thought if we would come in the top five I would be thrilled to death. When (the PA announcer) started reading scores I was a little worried,” said Oak Hill coach Paige Brunner. “Travis Dowling got a call back in the shot put and scored two points so we knew Carroll would have to win the 4×4 (relay).”

And the Chargers nearly did win the second heat of 4×400 relay, the last race on the Terry Lakes Track and Field complex track in Dick Lootens Stadium. But Fort Wayne South Side won the event by nearly three seconds over Carroll’s quartet allowing the Golden Eagles to win the team title by the slimmest of margins.

“I challenged the boys the other day, we don’t want to look like a small school on a big stage,” Brunner said. “We’re trying to run a program that can compete at a high level against everybody and take pride in it and let the chips fall where they may. It’s by far the most state qualifiers we’ve had in a long time.”

Oak Hill claimed two individual regional championships and will send three athletes to Bloomington on May 31 to compete in the IHSAA championship in five different events, two in the same event.

Sammy Sommers captured the long jump by breaking his own Oak Hill record with a leap of 23-feet, 10-inches on his last jump of the preliminary round. Sommers struggled through his first two jumps on an unfamiliar runway at Marion High School and was in danger of not even making the finals.

“Trusting the process,” Sommers said was the key to his third jump. “It was scary jumping off the wrong foot the first jump, not hitting the board on the second but my mom (Oak Hill jump coach Kristin Sommers), the great coach that she is, said take your check point out and just trust your run and it happened.”

Sommers was just getting started with his win in the long jump, riding that third jump all the way to the win. He opted not to take a jump in the final round to save his legs for the 110 and 300 hurdles. That decision also paid big dividends for the senior as he ran to a third-place finish in the 110 and runner-up in the 300 to earn his way to state in both of those events as well.

Qualifying for state in three events, the first athlete to do so in Brunner’s 13 years coaching Oak Hill’s boys, further cemented the legacy of the Eagles’ all-time leading point scorer in track and field as the top performer in school history.

“You sit there in sports and talk about Sammy having so many school records for us, our all-time leading scorer, its kind of poetic for a kid thats been competing at that level to come out here and have the night he did,” Brunner said. “To put himself in a position to go to state in all three of his events, that’s been a goal all year.”

Sommers isn’t the only Oak Hill athlete to carry lofty goals through the 2019 season and junior Tahj Johnson will be making his third-straight trip onto the Robert C. Haugh Track at IU next week as well.

After finishing as the 400 meter state runner-up in 2018, Johnson entered this season as a favorite to hang the blue medal around his neck and picked up his third-consecutive regional title in that event on Thursday. He covered the 400 meter distance in 48.93 seconds to outrun a pair of runners from Fort Wayne South Side and will have his shot at a state championship.

Johnson will also compete for a long jump state title after topping the IHSAA standard (22-4.75) with a leap of 22-feet, five-inches on his first jump in the finals. Meeting the standard automatically qualified Johnson for a state spot and he earned third-place points for Oak Hill despite tying with Churubusco’s Sam Wood.

“I was very close to pulling him from long jump after trials,” Brunner said of Johnson. “Coach Sommers was adamant about letting him jump again. My focus for him is the (400), his focus in the four, he knows that. We were fortunate the official let him get one jump in before the 400 and he popped the auto and he was done for the rest of the night and ended up getting third on a tiebreaker.

“He had a lot going on tonight, same thing with Sammy,” he added. “Wish Tahj would have got that auto in the 200 but I’m not sure we would’ve focused on the 200 next week any way.”

Johnson finished fourth in the 200, just .05 away from qualifying for state in a third event. Still his focus for the night was how to be faster in the 400 next week.

“I’m excited about the long jump because I’ve never been to state in that before so that was a big blessing,” Johnson said. “But the 400 I felt like I could have ran a faster time. We’ve just got to figure out how to put a good race together.”

Oak Hill’s third and final state qualifier is also making a return trip. Junior Gavin Holz was locked in a battle with Churbusco’s Wood for the pole vault championship before settling for a runner-up finish and equaling his career best at 15-feet. Wood ultimately won with a vault of 15-4.

“I’m kind of happy, I feel like I could have done better,” Holz said. “The pole I had to get on for 15-4 I’d never practiced with before. If I would have had that pole mastered I could have got over that easy. But overall I’m pretty happy.”

While no one could immediately say for certain, Thursday’s regional competitions may have also been historical from the perspective that all five Grant County high schools will send boys to the state championship meet.

Fittingly, Mississinewa senior Brennan Butche will end his high school career at the state finals after finishing third in the 1,600 meters. Butche could also be in line for a call back after running fourth in the 3,200.

Marion’s ultra fast sophomore Zaimar Burnett ran to a runner-up finish in the 200 to qualify for the state in that event, after he was disqualified from the 100 for being wrongfully called for a false start. Cell phone video from the Lootens Stadium stands showed smoke from the starter’s pistol in the air before Burnett or any other runner left the starting blocks. Burnett launched from the blocks so quickly, a second starter from behind the runners deemed it an illegal start.

“He was really devastated,” said Marion coach Nate Larson. “He’s not an open book, let’s say, so we had to go in and get him (mentally) back in the next race. I think the best part of that was the (4×100 relay) was up and he didn’t want to let down his guys. He’s a leader in that 4×1 and a team player. If there was five more meters I think he hits that 4×1.

Indeed, Burnett ran the final 100 meters of the relay like he was possessed and was closing fast on Fort Wayne South’s anchor runner before the Giants’ settled for fourth place, just .07 behind the Archers. He then earned his state trip putting down a 22.30 second 200 to finish runner-up behind Carroll’s Jaron Brock (21.98).

“It could be a blessing in disguise, too, where now next week he can just focus on the (200) which may be his best race once he gets going with it,” Larson said. “I know he’s disappointed but I’m proud of him because he did come back like that. To take that adversity as a sophomore, that’s a pretty big deal and we’re proud of him for that.”

Eastbrook will be represented by senior Clay Dalton in Bloomington, who’ll make his first trip by qualifying with a third-place throw in the shot put. After finishing fifth earlier in the evening in the discus (138-02), Dalton was also sitting fifth in the shot put before he took his final throw. He certainly made it count and his 48-foot, 11 3/4-inch toss moved him into third, just an inch further than Alexandria senior Colin Bradford.

“It is special. I’m lucky to be there,” Dalton said. “I kind of choked on every other throw but that last one I got it where I needed to.

“I’m a little disappointed because I feel like I should have won both and I just had a bad night,” he added. “I’ll be ready for next week and one last go around.”

Dalton will see another familiar face when he gets into the shot put competition in Bloomington, a face he’s seen several times already this season.

Madison-Grant A.J. Jones, competing in the Kokomo Regional, threw the shot put 52-feet, 9 3/4-inches to finish runner-up and also earn the trip to state. Jones finished sixth in the discus. M-G senior Sinjin Turner finished off his career with a seventh-place run in the 200 meter dash in the Kokomo Regional.

Even with its heavy hitters performing at an elite level, the key to Oak Hill winning Grant Four, CIC and a Marion Sectional has been its depth. That depth and the Eagles’ athletes rising to the occasion is what led the to the Marion Regional crown.

Oak Hill’s 4×800 relay team of Dillon Mitchell, Colin Harts, Sol O’Blenis and Jacob Winger started the evening off by shaving nearly 10 seconds off its seed time, winning the first heat race and finishing seventh overall to kind of set the tone for the meet.

Caiden Lake, the 2019 boys state diving champion, had hopes of competing in the state pole vault competition but settled for seventh place in the event on Thursday.

Junior Gabe Overmyer and Dowling both needed a call back following the sectional to even compete in regional and neither was seeded in a point scoring position, but both put points on the board for Oak Hill. Overmyer finished fifth in the 110 hurdles while Dowling scored a sixth place in discus and the two points he earned for finishing seventh in shot put ultimately were the winning points for the Golden Eagles.

“I couldn’t be much happier with what our kids did,” Brunner said. “You get switched up venues at the last second and you won a sectional last week against a tough rival in Eastbrook and you wonder if we’ve lost a little edge. Tahj, Sammy and Gavin came out and set the tone from the get go, but our 4×8 drops 10 seconds to win the slow heat, simple stuff like that.

“Travis Dowling, a senior, was seeded to barely score in the disc and he scores in both the disc and the shot,” he added. “Gabe Overmyer is a call back in the 110s and ends up getting fifth. We scored well tonight.”

Eastbrook finished its season by scoring 20.5 points on Thursday to end up 10th out of the 39 teams represented.

Junior Nathan Brainer ran a personal best 1:58.22 and led for more than 600 meters of the 800 meter race. However, Brainer was shuffled back to fourth place through the final few meters to narrowly miss joining Dalton in Bloomington.

“Nathan did what he needed to do and he gave himself a chance. That’s what happens in good competition,” said Eastbrook coach Stu Goble. “He left it all out there. He PR’d and you can’t be upset with that.

“Zeke (Binkerd) had a great night. We said as goal just try to make it to the finals (in the 100) and he ended up scoring way higher than his seed,” he added. “That was good stuff there too. Zeke has done a good job this year. He’s competed really hard. Ben (Neideck) did well, it’s hard to run at your best every single week so get some experience and move it on to next year and hopefully he can do better and advance.”

Binkerd, a junior, scored a fifth-place finish in the 100 while Neideck, also a junior, ended eighth in the 1,600. Junior Alex Baker ended tied for eighth in the high jump.

Marion finished on Eastbrook’s heels in 11th place with 20 points. Eli Lootens capped a strong senior season with a fourth place finish in the 110 hurdles and also finished seventh in the 300 hurdles.

Mississinewa finished with 16 points and tied for 15th-place with Fort Wayne Dwenger and Fort Wayne Wayne. Sophomore Elijah Standridge ran to sixth in the 100 while senior Heisman Skeens was eighth in long jump and junior Jason Arbogast was eighth in shot put.

Following Oak Hill (66) and Carroll (65) in the team standings was Homestead (48), Fort Wayne Snider (42), Fort Wayne South Side (40), Westview (33), Bellmont (27.5), Churubusco (21) and Fort Wayne Northrop (21).

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