Darl Keller has coached state champions during his career.
It is not often the Heath coach, however, speaks with as much admiration as he did for his athletes Saturday. Heath’s 1,600 relay ran a season-best 3:22.92, but the Bulldogs finished fifth in gut-wrenching fashion at the Division II regional meet at Lexington.
“I am not ashamed at all,” Keller said. “I am proud of them. It means something. In reality, it is a great accomplishment to come to this regional and do well here. It gives a lot of fuel.”
Senior Chris Cohagen, juniors Freddie Stinson and Josh Lines and freshman Carlos Rencher placed eighth in the Division II/III indoor state meet in March in a time of 3:34.48. The Bulldogs have since replaced Cohagen with junior Matt Kaser, and they dropped time at an alarming rate.
Heath finished second to Watkins Memorial in the Licking County Honor Roll meet and third to Granville and Columbus Academy in the Mid-State League-Ohio Division meet. The Division II postseason was supposed to be the Bulldogs’ time to shine in the event which Heath won to wrap up the state title in 2007.
“They are chasing a legacy, but they are trying to make their own,” Keller said. “They feel that sometimes. They use it as drive, but they are developing some great chemistry and have great character.”
The race quickly became a race of five teams for four spots. The Bulldogs never were in the lead, but they never were far from it. Lines was beaten out by a stride at the finish.
Two of his teammates immediately went to the ground in devastation. Heath chopped 2.5 seconds off its district-winning time, but it would not be enough to get them to Ohio State.
“They have a lot of things they want to achieve,” Keller said. “They are the ones putting the pressure on themselves. Hopefully, they will learn to back off each other and have fun. They need to be kids.”
The Bulldogs were fifth in the 800 relay (1:32.12), too.
The Granville girls had a better fate in their 1,600 relay. Anchor Rachel Blumling held onto fourth place by a half-second as the Blue Aces qualified the 400, 800 and 1,600 relays to next weekend’s state meet at Ohio State’s Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
Juniors Blumling and Allison Brunn and freshmen Micaela DeGenero and Taylor Beitzel finished in a season-best 4:04.51. Less than two seconds separated the Nos. 2-5 finishers.
“That was a close race. I knew that I had to get out,” said Blumling, who also placed third in the 400 (59.50). I knew I could not give up. I had no idea. I had a feeling someone was there, but woo. I am glad I did not look back. That would not have been pretty.”
The 400 relay continues to be a remarkable story. Granville lost Amanda Frey to an injury during the 100 hurdles preliminaries Thursday, so the team replaced Frey with Beitzel on the 400 relay. They have not missed a beat.
Erika McCort, Lizzie Gabel, Ainsley Harmon and Beitzel placed second, breaking the 50-second barrier for just the second time this season at 49.98. Beitzel barely had time to be stressed about her new role.
“I was very nervous, but I was willing to help out my team,” Beitzel said. “I was glad I got asked.”
The Blue Aces finished eighth in the team standings with 34 points, but the Granville was only 10.33 out of fourth. The 800 relay of McCort, Gabel, Harmon and Brunn was third (1:44.94).
DeGenero finished right behind Licking Valley standout Mackenzie Butler in the 1,600 for the fourth consecutive week to place fourth and qualify (5:16.44). Butler did not run her best but she has another week, placing third (5:14.67).
“I am excited for next week,” Butler said. “I am kind of fighting a cold right now. I knew these races were going to be hard because I haven’t been feeling too great these past couple days.”
Butler was shooting to pull off a difficult 1,600-800 double but she fell short of qualifying, placing sixth (2:26.16). In the 1,600, she is aiming to improve on her sixth-place finish from 2012.
“I am looking to run even laps,” Butler said. “I hope to speed up the third laps, the laps that have been slowing me down.”
Heath’s Kayla Carmichael was sixth in the 100 (12.61). Carmichael, Claudia Allen, Amber Brown and Hailey Ferguson set a school in placing sixth in the 800 relay (1:46.13), and the Bulldogs were seventh in the 400 relay (51.02). Granville’s Claire Lamb was seventh in the 3,200 (12:09.89).