While they each had different paths to Columbus on Saturday, the trio of Medina’s Taylor Burke, Highland’s Natalie Zidd and Wadsworth’s Jake Hiltner had similar finishes.
Burke surpassed her own record at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium en route to a second consecutive state title in the high jump, while Zidd and Hiltner both won gold in the 800-meter run, marking the first time atop the podium for Zidd and the second time in as many days for Hiltner.
All three dominated their respective events this season in their own ways. Here’s a look at how each of them won individual Division I crowns on the final day of the state track meet.
A fierce competitor
As a nationally ranked high jumper, Burke is no stranger to competing at a high level. That being said, each meet has provided different challenges for the junior.
In the last couple of weeks, the University of Florida recruit hasn’t been pushed the way that she was on Saturday.
“Coming out being the defending state champ really puts a target on your back in that everyone wants to beat you,” Burke said. “In the back of my mind, I have little goals set for myself instead of having another person out there. It’s internal pushing me to do well.”
North Canton Hoover’s Maddie Morrow changed that mind-set.
After an early miss by Burke at 5 feet, 8 inches — her only miss of the afternoon — the two staged a battle that could only be reserved for the final meet of the year.
When Burke cleared 5-9, Morrow did the same. Ditto with 5-10, which broke the stadium record Burke set last June.
Then the three-sport Medina standout cleared the bar at a personal-record 5-11 and stood and watched as Morrow missed each of her three attempts at the height. The win made Burke the first Medina County female to become a multiple-year state champ in the sport.
It was the back and forth with Morrow that Burke really enjoyed.
“I was like ‘OK, give me a break here,’ ” Burke joked about Morrow matching her jump for jump. “But I think the good competition just pushes you even more and in the back of your mind it’s like, ‘Make it on the first attempt and you got it in the bag,’ and that’s the mentality you have to have.”
The championship marked the third state title for Burke this school year, as she played goalkeeper on the school’s girls soccer team and was indoor state champ in March. Combine that with a national indoor title a week before the outdoor season began, and it’s been quite a year.
“This feels really good,” she said. “I have three state championships this year just as a junior, so obviously, this feels good, and this is just the cherry on top on the cake.”
Even more impressive was Burke battled tendinitis in her left knee — the very same leg she jumps off of.
Her track season, however, is far from over she will be heading to the Nike Outdoor Nationals in Greensboro, N.C., on June 19.
Why not me?
That was the thought when Zidd had 100 meters to go in the 800 final.
After getting passed by Allison Peare of North Canton Hoover on the final turn, the sophomore wasn’t going to settle for being second-best.
“I was leading going into the curve and then Allison passed me and I remember thinking, ‘I’ll get second because I got third last year and that would be better,” Zidd said. “But at the end, I was like, ‘No.’
“So, I kicked it into another gear and gave it all that I had.”
That extra kick resulted in a personal-best 2:10.36 to beat out Peare (2:10.70) and win her first career title.
“I’m so happy,” Zidd said with a smile. “It’s hard to describe. The whole day, this was the focus and since 6 o’clock I’ve had all day to think about it.”
Zidd had a lot more time to think about the race than originally expected.
Originally scheduled for 5:55 p.m., the 800 was delayed by more than an hour because a torrential downpour in Columbus led to two delays — one in the morning and another before the start of the D-I running finals.
When rain was blown off the track and fans filed back into the stadium, Zidd was still prepared.
“I was ready to run before the rain hit and I had to sit in the car and wait longer, but I think it was good because I had the extra time,” she said. “I was nervous most of the day just thinking about what would happen if I got boxed in … like my strategy in the race. It all worked out.”
There also was some extra incentive for the 16-year-old to do well Saturday.
Zidd’s parents, Jim and Bonnie, made a promise that may have provided that extra push.
“After I turned 16, my parents promised me a car if I won state,” said Zidd, whose birthday was March 24. “Maybe tomorrow I will be able to go out for a car.
“I would like a Jeep, but they said that would be too dangerous, so, probably a Ford Focus or something.”
Best weekend ever
One state title is something to remember for a lifetime, but two in the same weekend is unforgettable.
A day after anchoring the Wadsworth 4×800-meter relay team to a state crown, Hiltner won the 800 and then led the 4×4 team to third place.
Where did the senior find all the energy?
“The 800 wasn’t as tough as it looked and that’s probably the best I’ve ever felt after it,” he said. “I think it was because my first lap was a 55 and came back with a 56, so it was evenly paced and my legs felt perfectly fine after. I definitely could’ve gone a lot faster.”
He beat Harry McFann of Gahanna Lincoln to win in 1:51.13. Hiltner has been faster this season in running a personal-record and school-record 1:50.63 earlier this spring, but it was more than enough to beat out the field.
That included the dark horse McFann.
“I didn’t even know who he was,” Hiltner kidded. “The only person I expected to be up there was (Revere’s Josh) Sabo because he told me he was dropping the mile, so I was expecting him to be the only one. But even if he ran the mile, he busted out a 1:52 last week, so I knew he would be up there.”
Sabo, who finished second in the mile, placed 11th after coming in with the top seed time.
While the individual gold felt nice around his neck, the first-place medal for the 4×8 relay and the bronze in the 4×4 made the final weekend of Hiltner’s high school career even sweeter.
“Three (members) of our 4×8 (are) going off to run track (in college), so nobody is done,” Hiltner said. “It helps ending the season this high and sending coach (Michelle) Farr off with a good year.”
Contact Dan Brown at email@example.com.