Regional times are not hung on the wall or stuck on plaques.
Licking County’s top runners did not achieve personal bests Saturday during regional races at Pickerington North and Troy. They lived to run another week, and the state meet is where those memories are made.
Newark senior Toby Hardwick had a goal of winning the regional title at Pickerington North. The third mile was not kind to him after he led most of the way. The windy conditions were the worst he experienced this season.
“He got out in that wind, and he let it beat him up a little bit,” Wildcat coach Randy Noftz said. “Those guys were sitting behind him a little, and I think he did some drafting for them.”
Hardwick’s fourth-place time of 15:58 is astounding for mortals. It was not, however, what he wanted. He races for an All-Ohio finish and just maybe a state title at 3 p.m. Saturday at National Trail Raceway.
It was the same story for Newark Catholic’s Mary Richardson. While Hardwick finishes the day, Richardson starts it, competing at 11 a.m. in Division III.
Richardson finished fourth in 19:36 at Pickerington North. She recently has been under the weather and simply wanted to advance.
“We had talked that the goal was to be in the top 16, but I know she wanted to be in the top 5,” NC coach Rennie Bare said. “She was happy with her race considering the conditions and so forth. But talking to her immediately afterward, she expects to run her best race of the year at National Trail.”
The way Richardson took the area by storm earlier in the fall, it is easy to forget from where she came. Richardson has chopped about five minutes off her 2012 average time. Her school-record time is four minutes better than her best before the start of the season.
Many runners have multiple chances at the state meet and take a year or two to ease themselves into the atmosphere and competition. Richardson does not have that luxury, but Bare has seen too much to doubt her ability.
“At the state meet, they go out like gangbusters, and she is not afraid to do that,” Bare said. “We are optimistic she can get off to a good start and get on the podium. I know she would love to do that.”
Hardwick broke the school record and just missed All-Ohio honors in the state meet in 2012. His outlook, however, changed in the spring.
Hardwick was the leadoff runner on Newark’s state-qualifying 3,200 relay and might have reached the state in the 1,600 had he not fallen during the regional race.
“He became a different runner in track season when he started popping those top times and getting some confidence,” Noftz said. “He trained all summer long, and he has had a pretty good season.”
Hardwick has not been beaten often this season. He won the Ohio Capital Conference-Ohio Division and district meets. Still, he has learned from the rare occurrences. One that stuck out to Noftz was when Newark ran at North Canton Hoover early in the season.
Hardwick started too slow and never was able to catch to the leaders. Now, he is running his first mile about 20 seconds faster, dropping into the 4:50 range.
“Early, we got beat by a couple of the best kids in the state and we figured out we were getting beat by them by the mile mark,” Noftz said. “Ever since the (McGowan Invitational at Watkins Memorial), he has been going to the front.”
Joining Richardson in the Division III race will be Granville Christian junior Lauren Keiser. She is the first athlete to represent the Lions in a state event.
Keiser, who finished ninth in 19:54, appeared headed for the state meet in 2012 until a stress fracture knocked her off course. She certainly rebounded and made good on a promise to herself.
“My goal is to make it past regionals, so that is really the only thing driving me through this,” she said after the season-opening meet in August.
In Division II, Granville competes after surviving a meatgrinder at Troy. The race featured five of the top 10 teams in the state, including the Blue Aces. Granville, tied for No. 8 in the final weekly state poll, finished in third ahead of No. 6 Kettering Alter and No. 7 Eaton.
The Blue Aces compete at 11:45 a.m., and senior Tyler Otterstedt and junior Robbie Weaver represent the Granville boys at 2:15 p.m.
Watkins Memorial junior Josie Woosley competes in her second consecutive Division I state meet at 12:30 p.m. Sophomore Andrew Jordan competes with Hardwick after edging out an Olentangy runner by .04 of a second for the final qualifying spot.