AUSTINTOWN — Coming into the Youngstown Division I Regional on Wednesday, Wadsworth’s 4×800-meter team knew it could earn one of the four state bids.
The members of the unit shocked themselves in bringing home runner-up honors to earn that elusive trip to Columbus next weekend.
“I wasn’t expecting second place at all,” anchor leg Sarah Berger said. “I knew we had a good shot at making it, but it just feels good to come in second place. I don’t know what our splits were, but I’m sure we all PR’d. We all did a good job and came together.”
Thanks to a steady start by junior Courtney Palange, who kept with the lead pack, season-best runs were added from Michalla Gordon, Madi Salem and Sarah Berger en route to a finish in 9:26.42.
Fellow Grizzly Nick Seme also will be making the trip to state after a third-place finish in the discus.
“It’s amazing,” Palange said. “We’ve never even made it out of districts the last two years, so to make it out and qualify for state, it’s unreal.”
When Gordon got the baton, the team was in a modest seventh place, but the senior took the group to third after her first 400 meters and into first on her final lap.
“I was just like, ‘Well, I better start passing some people,’” said Gordon, who ran a career-best 2:20 split. “I went for the first group and there was some more people, so I went for that and, before I knew it, I was in first.”
Salem kept the Grizzlies steady and duked it out with Hudson before setting the stage for Berger just a step out of first.
“Personally, I was extremely nervous just being here competing,” Salem said. “Especially running the third leg, I feel like I have to get it to the anchor leg and have a lot of pressure pushing me to get there in time.
“Coming in second feels really amazing. I was really looking forward to the competition here and I knew that there was going to be a lot of challenging runners, so to be able to place second is amazing, honestly.”
Berger, who didn’t start anchoring until the postseason, battled North Canton Hoover’s Taylor Cropper, with the two trading the lead until the final lap.
“I was kind of like halfway blank-minded,” Berger said. “I just didn’t want to mess it up for everyone else.”
Over in the field, Seme punched a ticket to Columbus for the first time in his career.
The senior did it in record-breaking style. Having already broken the school mark in the event earlier this season, Seme shattered it on each of his first three attempts.
“I knew coming into it that I was going to have to throw my best throw,” he said. “The competition here is amazing and the intensity stepped up from last week to this week, and that brought out the best. The weather helped, too. Everything just felt right.”
After twirling the disc 175 feet, 4 inches and then 179-1, Seme broke out with a toss of 180-2.
With a rugged field that included Austintown Fitch’s Billy Price (187-11), an Ohio State football recruit, and Marlington’s Anthony Wilks (185-5), the Ashland recruit wasn’t sure if his throw would stand up.
“I actually was pretty nervous,” said Seme, who missed a state bid by 5-4 last season. “I was just waiting until it was done before I started celebrating.
“Everything was clicking. I haven’t hit throws like that in a while, but it all just felt right. I tried to keep as relaxed as possible.”
Wadsworth’s Zack Metz and Highland’s Mason Simmons came up short, as the county tandem tied for 10th in the pole vault. Metz and Simmons cleared 13-0 in a final that saw six competitors jump 14-0 or better.
In preliminary races, a pair of individuals and relays qualified for the finals.
Grizzlies sprinter Hunter Williams posted the fourth-fastest prelim time in the 200 (21.62), while teammate Ryan Looser advanced to the finals in the 110 hurdles. Williams came up short in his bid to qualify in the 100.
The Wadsworth girls 4×4 recorded the third-best time in its respective prelim as Palange, Berger, Leah Runkle and Gordon combined to clock 3:58.52. They will join the boys 4×2 on Friday.
Highland’s 4×1 missed qualifying by 0.50 seconds, while Hornets freshman Lauren Zuro failed to advance in the 300 hurdles.
Contact Dan Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.