July 25, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Neitzel adapts to 400

Brianna Neitzel didn’t waste time proving she is one of the top sprinters in Northeast Ohio.

The Brunswick standout won Northeast Ohio Conference titles in the 100 and 200-meter dashes in her first high school season and bettered that as a sophomore by being named league MVP.

So when Blue Devils coach Melissa Wojtala introduced the idea of competing the 400-meter run to her star runner, it came as no surprise that Neitzel was a little apprehensive.

But after winning the NOC and Amherst Division I District and Regional titles in the 400 — followed by a fifth-place finish at the state meet — the question still remains: Is she sold on the 400 being the race for her?

“You would think that, then she won the 60-meter dash (at the indoor state meet) and that didn’t help the case,” Wojtala joked. “No, I think she realizes that it’s where the most success is for her and her 400 time has been impressive.”

Neitzel clocked a Medina County-record 54.97 outdoors for the regional title in just her third race in the 400. Last weekend, she finished second at the state indoor meet in a 56.61.

Now, Neitzel kind of admits that the 400 is for her.

“The 400 is my best race by far,” Neitzel said. “I know I’ve said plenty of times that it’s not my favorite, but I’ve gotten over it. It’s a great race to run. I love the way it feels winning. I love hearing everyone cheer and it’s one that everyone loves seeing me run.”

While the 400 is a race that suites most change-of-pace runners, Neitzel runs it the same way she does all of her races — full go.

“She’s not one of those runners that changes a gear,” Wojtala said. “She had a gear, but usually has a two-second difference be-tween her split. She just runs it smart.”

Little did Wojtala know that her light-hearted nickname for Neitzel of “Pretzel” describes her runner’s versatility on the track.

Along with her success in the 400, the junior ran the quickest time in the area in the 100 (12.09) and 200 (25.48) last spring, along with having the second-best leap in the long jump (17-feet, 2¼-inches). She was fifth in the D-I 100 final a year ago.

Still, Neitzel knows the race she once loathed won’t go away.

“I’ve realized that the 400 is something I’m going to be running most likely throughout the rest of my high school career and all throughout my college career,” Neitzel said. “So whether I like it or not, I have to appreciate it sooner or later. I pick sooner.”

“She is one of the better track athletes, absolutely,” Wojtala said. “(Two-time Gazette MVP) Alissa Klaehn was great in the hurdles, but (Brianna’s) pretty good. She’s definitely making a name for herself.”

Contact Dan Brown at sports@medina-gazette.com.