Tahj Johnson Is State Runner-Up; Sommers Finishes 9th

Posted on June 5, 2018 in Boy's Track, Spring Sports

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This image requires alt text, but the alt text is currently blank. Either add alt text or mark the image as decorative. Sophomore Tahj Johnson runs to a state runner up finish in the 400.

BY SCOTT HUNT – shunt@chronicle-tribune.com
BLOOMINGTON—If there was any question about Tahj Johnson being one of the elite 400 meter runners in Indiana, the Oak Hill sophomore squashed any doubters Saturday evening in the Robert C. Haugh Track complex at Indiana University.

Johnson shook off of a sluggish start to the third of three heats featuring the 27 fastest 400 meter runners in the state with a blistering final 100 meters to track down all but one and finish runner-up with a new personal best and Oak Hill record of 48.42.

Senior Braden Corazon of Chesterton won the race with a time of 47.41 seconds.

Johnson wasn’t the only Grant County athlete bringing home hardware from the state championship, as his junior teammate Sammy Sommers claimed ninth in the long jump and Eastbrook senior Connor White made a spirited dash to the finish of the 1,600 meter race and claim eighth to earn a place on the podium.

As Johnson made his way past the 200 meter mark he found himself in the middle of the pack of the nine runner heat. As he turned for home in the last 100 meters he found himself another gear and ran past all but Corazon.

“That’s definitely something I have to work on for next year is my starts. I would run a lot faster times if I had good starts,” Johnson said. “I was overthinking everything that first 200 so coming into that last two everything shut down, my mind went blank and I decided to take off and go.”

And off he went blazing towards the finish line in a dash that had Oak Hill coach Paige Brunner searching for superlatives about his ultra-fast sophomore. Brunner state bluntly that the 400 meter state championship race is “a man’s race” so Johnson backing up his 10th-place finish as freshman with his runner-up run on Saturday is an incredible feat for a 15-year old that’s still learning on the fly.

“You’re literally sprinting for an entire lap. If you break down the splits those guys are running 100 speeds,” Brunner said. “For him to be as young as he is and physically to be nowhere near, in my mind, done growing and maturing – he’s a fighter, you’ve got to fight in that event and you saw that case in point today.”

Brunner has seen Johnson’s closing speed all season long. Often times he’s simply running a race against the clock as he completes his lap dash. It appeared Johnson found a couple more gears while mired in the battle for the state title.

“We knew if we’d get some people around him it would be interesting,” Brunner said “I couldn’t be prouder and I still don’t think he realizes the level he’s at. I think a day like today you realize he’s not just a good athlete from Grant County, he’s one of the state’s best. He’s got two more years to expand upon what he did today.”

While Johnson became the highest finishing runner at a state meet in Oak Hill history, his dash to the finish line wasn’t the only memorable one of the day.

White kept himself in the top five and on the heels of the leaders for the first three laps during the 1,600 meter finals. The hotly contested race kept an intense and fast pace throughout, and in the final lap White fell outside a medal position for a time.

But with a medal on the line and seeing who he needed to pass in front of him, White summoned the fortitude fitting of a senior and made his was back up to eighth to finish his career as a state medalist with a time of 4:15.9.

“We went out hard, way harder than at regionals. That was the front guys trying to lose each other,” White said. “Obviously they all stick together but it went out faster and kind of settled in. That last lap was just who had the most guts. It was fun.”

White described his thought process during the final 400 meters.

“At first panic, but after that, I knew I had the training and I knew deep down I wanted it and I went for it,” he said. “I’m in absolute awe. It’s amazing to finish my high school career like this. I didn’t think four years ago I would be anywhere close to this.”

Oak Hill also has the potential to return next year to state hunting a top-10 finish in boys track, with Johnson and Sommers leading the way.

Sommers made his second consecutive trip to state in the long jump and showed a marked improvement with a leap of 22-7.50 to claim ninth place and a podium finish with a state medal. Sommers was just three inches away from finishing fourth.

After a season that saw him improve his Oak Hill school record to over 23-feet, Sommers left IU with a bit of disappointment and a lot more fire to improve entering summer competition and his senior year.

“I’m pretty much not at all pleased. I wanted to get out here and do really well, but that’s not what God had in store for today,” Sommers said matter of factly. “I’ve just got to look at the positives from today. I finished ninth and I actually made it this year to the finals. I’m all state this year.

“It’s not at all what we wanted or what we expected, but you’ve got to jump well on that day,” he added. “I just couldn’t pull myself through the last bit of my jumps.”

Mississinewa junior Brennan Butche made his first appearance at a state track and field finals and for a big portion of the 3,200 meter state championship looked like he may be the fourth Grant County athlete to bring home a medal.

Using his trademark fast start, Butche led the first lap and after dropping back some positions through the middle portion of the race but maintaining contact with the leaders, he ended with a 13th-place finish but shaved more than four seconds off his Ole Miss record to finish with a PR of 9:25.35.

Butche said it was an aggressive style of race from the start and that’s how he raced.

“It was a pretty physical race, my dad (Chris Butche) told me beforehand I’m going to have to get out of my alley then get over because this is a violent race,” Butche said. “If you don’t get the spot you want, you might as well call it a night because you’re not going to get back where you want to be.”

Although a bit disappointed he didn’t add a state track medal to the two he’s won in cross country, Butche said he was pleased with the way he raced.

“It was very similar to cross country, with all the noise and the toughness of the runners,” Butche said. “I was hoping to find a hill in there to kind of break some guys down but it didn’t happen…I’m happy with my time but I would have liked to got a medal.”

The Marion 4×100 relay team came to Bloomington with hopes of earning a medal after recording the fifth-fastest time in the state during regional competition. But it wasn’t to be for the Giants on Saturday, as a false start led to the team being disqualified.

Marion’s Zaimar Burnett, the only freshman in the field of 27 in the 100 meter dash, clocked an 11.34 in his preliminary race and didn’t qualify for the finals. Burnett’s time was 22nd overall.

Oak Hill sophomore Gavin Holz had a rough day in the pole vault failing to clear the opening height of 12-6 through three attempts.

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