On the surface, it appeared the Licking Valley girls 3,200 relay did not have the expected showing at the Division II/III indoor state meet.
That happens when the relay’s top runner is pulled to rest for individual events. The Panthers, however, continued to show significant improvement. It is a small group for coach Lori Guest that is flying under the radar.
With senior Mackenzie Butler off placing runner-up in the 1,600 and sixth in the 800, Valley competed in the 3,200 relay with senior Cara Dillon (replacing Butler), junior Natalie Hurst and freshmen Haylee Zigan and Bethany Rutherford. The remaining trio dropped a total of 23 seconds from their previous meet.
Butler — a Morehead State signee — bumped up from the 800 to the 1,600 in 2012, and it paid off. She placed sixth in the outdoor state meet, achieving a personal best of 5:07.25 in the spring. Her time of 5:18.35 indoors was four seconds off the pace set by West Liberty-Salem state champion Meghan Vogel, who is the defending outdoor champion in Division III.
“We were teasing her because her college coach planted the seed for the (3,200),” said Guest, whose team opens the season Saturday at the River View Relays. “I am not surprised at all. She will end up running the 3,200 and probably the 5,000. With her speed and endurance, I don’t blame him.
“Like I told (Butler): ‘You need to try anything that is feasible because you never know what is going to be your best.’ She didn’t want to run the (1,600) until we planted that seed.”
Valley’s cross country team just missed qualifying for the regional meet, and that success from the fall has carried over.
The Panthers already have had a bit of adversity this season. The track program lost equipment in the recent fieldhouse fire. It also has forced the annual Dick Houston Relays scheduled for April 4 to be moved to Heath.
“We are so thankful,” Guest said. “It is just amazing generosity on their part. Watkins also offered, and (Newark coach Randy Noftz) also offered that Newark would help in any they could. Denison donated some of their old blocks. The track people around the area have really been kind.”
NC motivated by fall performance
It is not often someone trades in orange for green, but Newark Catholic distance coach Zak Holland did that. Holland, a Heath graduate, helped Rennie Bare coach the Green Wave during the cross country season, and the Green Wave advanced to the Division III regional meet.
Junior Tanner Ernest would have been in the state if not for a controversial ruling during the regional race. Holland has since stuck with the Green Wave as they attempt to climb back up the ladder in the competitive Mid-State League-Ohio Division.
“It left a bitter taste in their mouth,” Holland said. “All of cross country season, they spent day in and day out begging me to come over and coach track. How often do you get a group of high school kids, saying: ‘Come over. We want somebody to push us, so we have the opportunity to get to the state meet?’ That is not something you hear often from high school kids.”
Classmates Carl Williams and Chris Meek and sophomore Blake Baker joined Ernest in qualifying for the 1,600 relay in the indoor state meet. The Green Wave finished 14th, but they were within 10 seconds of champion Lakewood, Licking Valley and Heath.
Holland struck up a friendship with Ohio track legend and former U.S. Olympian Scott Fry while he was at Tiffin. Holland recently brought Fry to Newark talk to the NC middle school and high school teams for more than an hour.
“The sprinters as well are busting their butts,” Holland said. “They are starting to understand what it is to train and the kind of potential for success they have. It is kind of neat watching them grow.”
Watkins’ Robb in rarefied air
Watkins Memorial senior Stephanie Robb had not had a big drop yet, so she was nervous she would not be able to qualify for the Division I state indoor meet two weeks ago.
Once there, Robb — the school-record holder in the 400 — flashed some of her top form. She placed fifth in a time of 58.50. It was a mark she did not eclipse until early May 2012.
Robb, who is one of the few upperclassmen on a team loaded with sophomores, leads the Warriors into their season-opening Watkins Icebreaker on Saturday.
“We are doing some pretty intense workouts right now, so my body is a little tired,” Robb said. “But I feel so much stronger this year than where I was at this point last year, so I think it is going to progress through the season.”