COLUMBUS — Before this season, Leah Runkle didn’t know exactly how to run the 400-meter dash.
A 100 and 200 runner for most of her career, the Wadsworth junior has not only learned the techniques of running the event, she is a key leg on one of the state’s top 4×400 relay teams, along with fellow Grizzlies Courtney Palange, Michalla Gordon and Sarah Berger.
The relay team will compete today in preliminary action for a spot in Saturday’s finals at the Division I state track meet at Jesse Owens Stadium.
“I just started running the 4×4 this year, so I really don’t know how to run it that well,” Runkle said. “I always tend to run at the beginning like the 100 and pass everyone I can and then I just try to keep the lead I have.”
While Runkle is still learning, the Grizzlies recorded a season-low time to earn the fourth and final state qualifying bid at last week’s Youngstown Regional, finishing in 3:54.73. The time is ninth on milesplit.com’s state rankings, with the other three finishers at Youngstown also clocking season-best times in Massillon Perry (3:50.91), Solon (3:53.81) and Geneva (3:54.53).
“Right now, there is nothing major we can change,” Gordon said. “It’s just little stuff. It’s just good to be up with (the other top teams) knowing that’s who we’re going to be running against at state.
“Our goal is to just get on the podium one more time and see what we can do.”
The county will be well-represented in the event, as Brunswick and Medina also have 4×4 teams in preliminary action tonight. The Blue Devils’ Bailey Lack, Gabby Maslowski, Alyssa Biedron and Amber Neitzel come in with a time of 3:58.27, while Medina’s Morgan Wickey, Alexis Smith, Anna Francis and Sarah Pack enter with a 3:58.73.
Over too soon
In mere seconds, Keith Yohman’s season was over. Twenty-five meters into his 100 dash prelim at the Amherst Regional, Yohman strained his hamstring, ultimately bringing the Brunswick senior’s season to a close, as he missed out on a third straight trip to state.
While many elite athletes would be more concerned about themselves, Yohman was disappointed he couldn’t help the 4×1 and 4×4 relays in their respective prelims.
“I knew I had four events that day and I was disappointed I couldn’t finish them out,” said Yohman, who also was slated to run in the 200 prelim. “I felt sorry for my relays, because I couldn’t run.”
Teammate Brandon Emert, who filled in for Yohman last week on the 4×4 relay, will keep that spot as the team, which also includes Austin Fallon, Alex Hartill and Tyler Laffin, competes in the 4×4 prelims tonight.
Yohman traveled with the group to Columbus, but the chances of him being able to compete were considered miniscule.
In the field
The area will have a busy Saturday as seven locals will take part in eight field event finals. Liverpool Township resident Autumn Young, a Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy sophomore, will open the action in the D-II long jump.
The afternoon D-I field events will have Medina’s Cari Pallini competing in the shot put and discus, while fellow throwers Mike Hierholzer of Medina and Nick Seme of Wadsworth will take part in the shot and discus, respectively.
All three throwers are making their debuts at the state meet, highlighted by Seme breaking his own school record to advance after missing a state berth as a junior by 5 feet, 3 inches.
“That’s always in the back of your mind, especially when you’re training in the offseason,” he said. “To come out (at regionals) and compete at the level that I did, I’m very excited about it.
“I’ve got to focus on a couple more things and there are definitely places to get better, but I’m excited about what’s in store.”
Medina’s Kyle Hutchinson and Jenna D’Errico will take part in the pole vault, while the Bees’ Alyssa Acevedo will compete in the long jump.
Medina’s girls team will be well represented. It’s nine representatives tie for third-most in D-I with Solon out of the 110 schools sending participants. The Bees are behind Gahonna Lincoln (11) and Mason (10) in the big-school division. Smith and Pack and the lone returnees to the state meet, after they helped the 4×8 team to a state championship last season.
• After helping St. Edward claim the school’s first state championship last June, area products Anthony Young and Steele Wasik will be busy in qualifying races today. Young, the reigning D-I state champ in the 200, will run in prelims for the 100, 200 and 4×4 relay, while Wasik competes in the 110 hurdles, 300 hurdles and 4×4.
• Montville Township siblings Mick Iacofano and Rachel Iacofano will be the first area athletes to hit the track today as they will run in the D-II 4×8 relay finals for St. Vincent-St. Mary. Mick Iacofano, the reigning D-II cross country state champ, anchors the sixth-fastest 4×8 in the field, while Rachel Iacofano’s 4×8 relay team has the second-fastest time behind CVCA.
• Buckeye’s Ryan Gallagher and Black River’s Gus Kazek will run against each other for the final time in their prep careers in the D-II 3,200 final Saturday. The two have had a friendly rivalry as Patriot Athletic Conference counterparts over the last four years. Gallagher was fourth in D-II last summer, while Kazek is making his first trip to Columbus.
Contact Dan Brown at email@example.com.