June 27, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Stenger close to history in only his second year of high jumping

Dan Brown

The Gazette

COLUMBUS — More than a year and a half ago, Andrew Stenger was playing center for his CYO basketball team.

On Saturday, the Medina senior will be competing for a Division I state title in the high jump at the OHSAA State Track & Field Meet at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.

If it wasn’t for a coach coming up to the lanky Stenger after he threw down a dunk in a game, he might not be making the trip to Columbus this weekend to compete with 35 other MedinaCounty residents.

“After that, the coach was like, ‘Have you ever tried high jump?’” he said. “I was like, ‘That looks tough. I don’t know. Jumping over a bar backwards seems hard.’

“I went for it and I ended up getting hooked on it. It’s fun. It’s not a sport where you’re, like, sweating at the end of the day. It’s one where you test yourself, but it’s hard to explain.”

After clearing 6 feet, 2 inches a year ago, Stenger has added five inches to his jump after taking second at the Amherst Regional with a personal-best 6-7, which is three-quarters of an inch shy of the Medina record set in 1982 by Ron Pistor.

Stenger was stuck at 6-2 for most of the season before finally breaking through with a pair of 6-4 jumps. He then cleared 6-6 at districts and 6-7 last week.

Some of the credit for that improvement goes to Mike Caza, an athletic trainer out of Twinsburg who helped coach former Medina standout Taylor Burke to multiple state championships in the event.

“The first half of the year, I was consistently jumping 6-2 and I was honestly getting so mad about it,” Stenger said. “I was jumping 6-2 last year, so I went to see Mike Coza about it and asked, ‘What can I do to get a couple inches?’ I just applied what he told me and ended up jumping 6-4 twice and went 6-6 and I’ve been consistent like that.

“Jumping 6-7 is an accomplishment for me. It felt good, but I just have to jump higher at states.”

His seed mark is in the thick of the competition, as four others have cleared the mark coming in. Only Holland Springfield’s Emanuel Durden (6-10) and Canal Wichester’s Jermil Powell (6-8) have gone higher.

Twice as nice

Running for a berth in the state meet can take a lot out of any runner. Try doing it twice. That’s exactly what Wadsworth’s Leah Runkle had to do last week to claim the fourth and final state qualifying spot in the 400-meter dash at the Youngstown D-I Regional. Runkle earned a spot by beating Warren Harding’s Nautica Hill in a run-off just a half-hour after helping the 4×4 relay to another state trip.

“It gave me confidence,” she said. “It should mean that even after a long day and meet, I still had something in me to push me.”

Runkle and Hill had to sit around well after the 400, still wondering who was fourth and who took fifth, before officials deemed the video evidence inconclusive.

“I wasn’t sure what that meant,” Runkle said. “Once I realized what happened, I was, like, ‘Oh, my God, I have to run the 4×4.’ I then realized that (Hill) had to run the 4×4, too, so we would be even and I couldn’t make an excuse.”

Qualifying for the 400 makes it three events for the Bowling Green soccer recruit this weekend, as she will run Friday in the 4×8 finals and 4×4 prelims.

“There’s no other way that I would want to end my senior year. “I’m happy to make it state in three events. No matter what happens, I’ll be happy.”

Rhoads traveled

If this is a dream, don’t wake Highland’s Carlee Rhoads. The sophomore has put together an impressive postseason, winning titles in the 3,200 at the Suburban League and Lakewood District before taking the Amherst Regional in a school-record 10:49.42. Not only was the time good enough for her first state berth, but it is the fourth-fastest in the state, according to milesplit.com.

“I still don’t believe it,” Rhoads said with a smile. “I think milesplit is fooling me.”

Rhoads created a chart of times on the top of her hand that she writes out before every race, listing split times that she wants at every lap. It has worked so far, as she’s gone from running in the low 11-minute range to breaking 10:50 heading into the biggest race of her career.

“It’s like a dream,” Rhoads said of the season. “I keep checking milesplit every single day that I’m still there and I haven’t been bumped. Right now, training has been light and easy, so that’s messed with my head a little bit, too, but it’s been paying off.”

Cloverleaf senior Ashley Murray also will be running in the 3,200 for the second straight season. Murray, who placed seventh as a junior, was fourth at last week’s Youngstown Regional.

Adding up

What do you get when you take a hurdler, a thrower and a pair of distance runners and put them together on a 4×8? In Brunswick’s boys case, a state berth. In just the third time Tyler Laffin, Justin Swords, Brandon Emert and Andre Bollam-Godbott had run together in the event this season, they clocked 7:57.01 to finish third at Amherst.

“We were all just tossed into this event and we were just, like, ‘All right, we’ll all run our fastest,’” Emert said. “We ended up being pretty good at it.”

While it’s not the typical distance relay, with Laffin throwing the discus and running the 400, Emert hurdling, Swords running the 800 and Bollam-Godbott turning in an impressive postseason in the 1,600, the group has been the right combination.

“We’ve been pushing new guys in to see what the top four will be,” Swords said. “Now this is the one that’s got us here.”

Don’t get any of the four legs wrong. They’re not going to Columbus this weekend just to participate. They want the podium.

“Just making it (to state) is awesome and that’s all our coach wanted, but we’re going to race,” Emert said. “We’re not going to dilly dally and will do whatever we can do.”

Rookie(s) of the year

Medina thrower Carolyn Wilder is peaking at the right time. A week after tossing a personal record in the discus by a whopping 17 feet, the freshman will take on the state’s best in the finals Saturday. The competition will be tough, as three throwers come in with marks of more than 140 feet. Wilder’s approach is whatever happens, happens.

“I just need to relax,” she said. “Since I’m a freshman, I have three more years, so this is more of an experience.”

 Bollam-Godbott will be running in the 1,600 after clocking a personal-low 4:18.22 to take third at Amherst. The ninth-grader will be on fresh legs again for the finals Saturday and is the lone local distance runner on the boys side.

Final laps

Medina resident and St. Edward senior Steele Wasik will compete in four events, the most of any county athlete. Even more impressive is the UCLA recruit will have taken part in six different events at state over his prep career. Wasik is a repeat qualifier in the 110 and 300 hurdles and a first-time participant in the high jump and long jump. Prior to this season, Wasik also has been on state 4×1 and 4×4 relays.

 With a school-record 48.82 last week to win the Amherst Regional, Highland’s 4×1 of Sarah Carpenter, Sam Duale, Emma Grantier and Colleen Hoynes comes in with the third-fastest time in its heat and sixth overall.

 Hunter Williams of Wadsworth and Richie Norman of Brunswick have been one-two in the local rankings for the 100 dash all season and will compete in the same heat Friday in hopes of qualifying for the final Saturday.

 The girls 4×4 prelim will be an exciting way to end Friday night, as Brunswick, Medina and Wadsworth have teams competing. All three relays will run in the final heat, where Granville comes in with the fastest time in 3:52.80.

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