Toby Hardwick’s work was done early Wednesday.
For the next six minutes, he went through a dizzying range of emotions. The junior Hardwick led off Newark’s 3,200 relay, then sweated through every one of his teammates’ steps. He was allowed to breathe a sigh of relief when the Wildcats punched their ticket to the state meet.
“I was petrified. I was excited,” Hardwick said. “Every feeling that was possible I probably went through about four times just in the three legs I was watching. It was one of the most exciting things I have ever seen.”
Newark placed second in the Division I regional meet at Pickerington North with a time of 8:01.50 to qualify. The Wildcats compete at 5 p.m. June 7 at Ohio State’s Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
Westerville North ran away with the title, then the battle was on for the final three qualifying spots. Hardwick handed to junior Isaac Wheeler, and senior Anthony Johnson — who has the state’s best 800 time this year — then ran Newark from fifth to second.
Classmate Kameron Carpenter did his best to run away from the pack. Five others, including Granville, finished within 10 seconds of the Wildcats. The Blue Aces were fifth for the second consecutive year at 8:07.47.
“It is a great feeling. I can’t believe it,” Carpenter said. “I owe it to Toby and Anthony. I think they are two of the best runners in Ohio.”
Newark coach Randy Noftz has been unconventional with his order much of the season. Moving Hardwick to leadoff and Johnson to third in this race paid off as the Wildcats stayed a step ahead of much of the competition.
“I am just amazed at how good our team did,” Carpenter said. “Noftz said we had to get the lead, and then they gave it to me. I saw them coming for me, and as I was running, I kept hearing them cheer for third place. I thought he was going to get me, but at 300 left, I said: ‘I am not going to let that happen.'”
Newark’s girls finished 10thin the 3,200 relay (10:13.60), but the Wildcats almost had another state qualifier.
Freshman Tana Barrett continued her ascension in the high jump. She cleared a personal-best 5-feet-3 and finished fifth, losing out on a state berth because of a miss at 4-10.
“I was surprised I got this far,” Barrett said. “That is pretty good for a freshman. Some days I couldn’t even get over 4-6.”
Barrett cleared 4-10 in junior high, but she battled inconsistency earlier this season. She found a groove in May, clearing 5-2 to finish as runner-up in the Ohio Capital Conference-Ohio Division meet.
“I have been pushing really hard at practice, changing different things and really focusing on my form,” Barrett said. “(Being at the regional) pushes me more than jumping with people at my height would. They are really good athletes.”
The boys pole vault appeared to be a free-for-all coming in, and it became a war of attrition. Licking Heights junior Bryan Justice was one that survived.
Only four vaulters cleared 14-0. Justice did not approach his personal-best mark of 15-0 from the district, but it was enough to advance. Justice tied for second and Granville’s Byron Spruill tied for seventh (13-6).
“We were counting misses, and everyone was putting their fingers up,” Justice said. “We all looked at each other and said: ‘I think we made it.’ After that, we were just in it for fun. Next week at state, it is go big or go home.”
Granville senior Cody Lenfest held onto his qualifying spot this time in the long jump. Just like in 2012, Lenfest set an early pace, and this time his mark stood.
Lenfest placed third with a best of 21-7.5. Lenfest also competes at noon June 2. Watkins Memorial’s Nic Eader was ninth in the discus (147-9), Brandon Oney 10th in the pole vault (13-0) and Jerrod Lyon 11th in the long jump (20-6.5).
The rest of the field events will be contested at 4:30 p.m. Friday. The running finals follow at 6 p.m. Johnson (800), Hardwick (1,600) and Granville’s Tyler Otterstedt (1,600 and 800) will be among top athletes in action. Granville’s Casey Lenfest had the top preliminary time in the 200 (21.89).