COLUMBUS — Brunswick’s Brianna Neitzel finally realized the 400-meter run is the event for her.
Medina’s boys 4×100-meter relay team proved it was for real.
Liverpool Township resident Anthony Young overcame adversity to earn a spot on the top of the podium.
Three titles and three entirely different races helped Medina County athletes walk away with a host of gold medals in sprinting events Saturday at the Division I state meet at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
While the destinations were the same, the journeys were unique.
She’s a believer
Since last postseason, Neitzel has been skeptical about the 400.
The lifelong sprinter raced in the event just four times a season ago — the Northeast Ohio Conference, Amherst District, Amherst Regional and state meets — and took fifth in Columbus.
In a year’s time, Neitzel has become dominant.
“This race kicks by butt so much,” she said. “I have to work so hard in this race, so it’s just a great accomplishment to actually finally prove what I can do.”
That she did as the junior capped her year with an impressive burst in the 50-75 meters to outkick Pickerington North’s Zena Kolliesuah by 0.07 seconds and finish in a career-low 54.70.
“I thought I would come in second,” she said. “I’m mean, I’m not even going to lie. I was actually thinking I usually I don’t hear anybody when I run, but seeing (Kolliesuah) next to me and seeing her slow down while I’m still going … Last year I hit that wall, but this year I wasn’t dying and I had that kick. I’m so accomplished in myself right now.”
It was something coach Melissa Wojtala knew for a long time and the main reason she placed her top sprinter in the grueling sprint.
While Neitzel is still running those shorter sprints — advancing to state in both the 100 and 200 — she knows the 400 is now her trademark.
“I’ve been always trying to get this in the 100, but I’m not running an 11.6,” said Neitzel, who placed fourth in the 100. “I’ll try, but this is probably the race I’m sticking with.”
So does she finally believe that the 400 is the event for her?
“I know, I know, I know,” Neitzel said with a chuckle.
She then paused, looked down at her gold medal that was hanging around her neck and said, “Yeah.”
One rough road
The road to Columbus is grueling for most athletes that get the opportunity to compete on the state’s biggest stage.
But Young, a sophomore at St. Edward, experienced more than just the various aches and pains of a long season both on and off the track.
“I just got out of hospital last week after a freak heart problem at regionals and my body temperature dropped to like 87 degrees,” he said. “So I got my heart tested on Monday before I came down and got a heart monitor. The EKG came out abnormal, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from coming out here and performing.”
Young outlasted Berea’s Donovan Robertson to win the 200 by 0.4 seconds with a personal-best 21.59. Young was so excited after getting the win he sprinted from the finish line to the tent in the middle of the infield at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium to wait for the awards ceremony.
Even the victory came with a little adversity.
“I felt really good about my race despite stepping on a rock out of the block and stuttered a little bit,” Young said. “Someone also took my shoes (Friday), so I just got these ones today and just broke them in during my 100.
“I looked up as I crossed and saw (that I won), so I just ran over (to the tent) so I could see my time really quick. I was so excited … This just feels so good.”
Shock the world
After Friday’s preliminary win by Medina’s 4×100-meter team, the buzz was already starting heading into the finals: Are they for real? Did they just have one good race or it was lucky race?
Whatever the naysayers had to say was silenced in 41.71 seconds as Sam Chester, Jason Suggs, Walter Bailey and Malik Tuck bettered their time and then some.
“We just used that as motivation,” said Suggs, who was inserted into the relay at districts. “We knew coming in that everyone was going to think it was a fluke and everyone was going to say that it’s just Medina.
“But we came out and won yesterday we knew that this was in our grasp and we needed to do the same thing — just a little faster.”
Just like they did to get the No. 4 lane the day before, it came down to precise handoffs from Chester’s clean start, to Suggs, then Bailey on the turn and Tuck closing the door on yet another school record.
“I was just running,” Bailey said with a big grin. “I didn’t think I made up any ground.”
Chester added: “Everyone did what we had to do. Everyone got out fast, our exchanges were really good … We just peaked at the right time.”
No matter what others might say, history can repeat itself.
“I saw Sam get out like he always does and, just like yesterday, I saw Jason break the stagger, and when Walter came around, it was like slow-motion for me,” Tuck said. “In my head I was like, ‘I can be a state champion right now or I can be anything worse than that.’ I actually left a little early because I wanted to get out before anyone else. I wasn’t going to let anyone pass me if I was ahead, and from there it was all adrenaline.”
The group was so excited to run Saturday it replayed the tape of the prelim run over and over.
“You can dream about all you want, but until it actually happens … you can’t explain the feeling,” Suggs said.
No matter what road any of them took to get there.
Contact Dan Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.