Senior distance ace Lauren Benzing helped Solon put the finishing touches on a state runner-up finish Saturday at the state track meet. Benzing was nothing short of magnificent in winning the 800 meters in the morning and finishing second in the 1,500 in the afternoon.
She provided critical points for the Spartans, who accumulated 63 to finish 20 behind Davenport Assumption and 13 ahead of third-place Waverly-Shell Rock.
“We came down here as a large team, a good team with a lot of people we can count on,” Solon coach Brent Sands said. “When something doesn’t go right for one, then we’ve got someone else. That’s kind of the way it worked out. Some things we thought we had a good shot at didn’t quite pan out, and then other people stepped up and made the difference.”
Benzing started the day with a scintillating win the 800. She was back in the pack early and was fourth as late as the 350-meter mark. But with 200 left, she had taken the lead and she did it by doing what most runners fear to do.
“There was a lot more jostling than I expected,” she said. “I didn’t want to run as much on the outside as I did, but sometimes you have to make a little sacrifice hoping that it will give you a better position in the end. That’s kind of what I did on this curve (pointing to the 350 curve).
“God just helped me to get through this and give me the strength even though I might be running a little more distance. I’ve learned the inside lane is good, but sometimes the outside can end up being better. So you find your own position.”
“She kind of got penned in there early, and they came across that first half slower than that previous heat did,” Sands said. “But boy she put the hammer down on the back stretch and no one was able to go with her.”
She made it through the mess and took the lead with 200 left, but in the process the worry was that she might have expended too much energy.
“I was thinking, ‘God, please run in me and give me the strength to do this to glorify you.’ That’s my only thoughts,” she said.
In the last 100, she had to hold off longtime rival Anna Holdiman of WSR.
“I know Anna has a good sprint,” Benzing said. “I’ve been trying to get better at my finish, too, and I told myself to be tough. I’m just as strong as all of them. Just to focus and not tighten up.”
While Holdiman ran off and hid in the 1,500, Benzing fought off challenges the whole way to finish second in 4:49.93 and conclude a remarkable state meet. She was second to Holdiman in the 3,000 on Thursday and anchored the winning distance medley relay on Friday (beating Holdiman’s WSR team).
After coming into the meet without a state meet victory, she walked away with two and two runner-up spots and a team trophy. Her breakthrough this year was a matter of training and experience.
“Just being a senior, I have a lot of experience under my belt, so I don’t get as nervous for races and I know what to expect,” she said. “Like when I was a freshman I would get really psyched out, ‘Oh my gosh I’m getting hit, I don’t like running on the outside,’ all those things will get into your head when you’re younger. But as a senior it doesn’t get to you as much.
“We’ve probably been doing a lot more speed work because of little injuries that I’ve had; I haven’t been able to do as much distance.”
“I’m so happy for Lauren,” Sands said. “Most people know she’s a great kid. Unfortunately she’s had to take a back seat a couple years and it’s just incredible for her to get a chance to experience a victory.”
Solon’s sprint medley was eighth and Rylee Smith scored points with a sixth-place finish in the 100 hurdles. Smith surged in the final part of the race and after the final hurdle she made up at least one place.
Solon is becoming a track power and Sands tipped his hat to Solon’s multi-sport philosophy and the support and encouragement of parents and coaches.
“Kids can compete in everything,” he said. “We rely on that. We can’t afford to have kids specialize.”