Toby Hardwick swears he cannot run in the lead.
With his talent, the Newark senior pretty much can do whatever he wants during the first seven laps of the 3,200. By the eighth lap, he usually is nowhere but the lead.
Hardwick did it again, pulling away from three others Friday and the end result was a regional record, a title and one step closer to a state championship. Hardwick lowered his school record to 9:04.47 in winning the Division I meet at Pickerington North.
“I will be dead honest: I can’t lead a race to save my life,” Hardwick said. “I depend on whoever is in the race, and I hope to God my last quarter is usually better than theirs. That is usually my game plan.”
Hardwick will compete for a state title June 8 at Ohio State’s Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. He is attempting to match former teammate Anthony Johnson, who won the state title in the 800 in 2013.
Hardwick spent much of the race tucked in behind the Dublin Jerome duo Mitch Leitch and Jacob Mandel. Hardwick made his move with a lap to go, running the final 400 in an impressive 60 seconds.
Hardwick’s broke the regional record by almost nine seconds. Leitch at 9:09 and Mandel and Olentangy Liberty’s Andrew Johnston at 9:12 also were under the previous regional standard set in 2012.
“I try to trick my body that it is something a lot easier than it really is,” Hardwick said. “I will try to slow down my breathing as much as I can.”
Hardwick broke the mark set by Reynoldsburg’s Tsehaye Hiluf. He is chasing him again next week. Hiluf set the state record at 8:55.04.
“After indoor, I felt if I could do what I did on a 200- or 300-meter track, I can do incredible things on an outdoor track,” said Hardwick, who won the 3,200 in the indoor state meet in March. “Sure enough, it is working. All of the workouts (coach Randy Noftz) is making me do, it is paying off. I can feel it.”
Granville sophomore Micaela DeGenero used the same strategy as Hardwick in the girls 1,600, and she continued her impressive run. She slipped past four others on the final lap to win the title (5:00.83).
“It was hot and I wasn’t feeling great, but I knew I just had to push my way through it and do everything that I could to make it out,” DeGenero said. “I know that I have a strong kick at the end, and I was just kind of sitting behind everyone and letting them break the wind and use their energy early while waiting for my time to take the lead and fight for it.”
Watkins Memorial’s Josie Woosley led most of the way and placed third (5:01.57).
It was an impressive night for the Blue Ace girls, who capped the night with an eye-popping time of 3:52.80 in the 1,600 relay to place second to Pickerington Central.
“(Coach Bob Hollen) pulled me aside one day and told me we could go 3:52, and I was thinking: ‘OK, whatever,'” senior Rachel Blumling said. “Last year, we didn’t run any faster than like 4:04. It’s crazy to even think that we did that. I crossed the line, and I saw that, and I didn’t even believe it.”
Blumling was joined by freshman Natalie Price and senior Kaitlyn Logan and DeGenero, who each earned their third state qualification. Logan placed fourth in the 800 (2:15.98), adding to Granville’s championship in the 3,200 relay Wednesday.
The Blue Aces, who also hot a sixth from Blumling in the 400 (58.04) and a seventh from the 800 relay (1:45.79), finished fifth in the team standings in its first year in the division. Granville had 38 points, trailing New Albany’s 41 and Hilliard Davidson’s 49.
“It is really exciting for my senior year,” Blumling said. “I am glad that I get to leave with this legacy.”
The Warrior boys achieved four school records, including in the state-qualifying 400 (42.68), 800 (1:28.17) and 1,600 (3:19.79) relays. It was a bit of redemption for senior anchor Donovan Garrison, who did not make the finals in the 100 or 200.
“It shows that if I get into a slump, I will get myself out,” said Garrison, who was joined by Evan Caniff on the 400 and 800 relays. Jerrod Lyon and Chance Abbitt were on the 800 relay, and Hunter Holton and Tyler Culpepper were on the 400 relay.
“Even though I had a bad past few days, I managed to bounce back. It was just get out and run. That is what goes through my head.”
Abbitt and Lyon were joined by Gerald Brewer and Desmond Melson on the 1,600 relay. Sophomore Andrew Jordan also lowered his school record in the 3,200, placing sixth (9:21.24). Senior Jordan Rice missed the school record in the 1,600 by less than a second, placing seventh (4:23.79).
Watkins scored 31.5 points and finished seventh. The Blue Aces were right behind, scoring 29 and finishing 10th. Granville had a pair of runner-up finishes from Casey Lenfest in the 200 (21.19) and Tyler Otterstedt in the 800 (1:52.24).
Licking Heights’ Matt Gebremedhin placed third in the 800 (1:53.53), and Curtis Richardson placed seventh in the high jump (6-feet-6).
Other scorers in the boys meet were the Blue Aces’ Lenfest in the 100 (6th, 11.07) and the Warriors’ Holton in the 110 hurdles (8th, 15.37) and Brewer in the 300 hurdles (6th, 39.37).
In the girls meet, the Wildcats’ Takia Barrett placed fifth in the discus (116-feet-9). She was in fourth for a few seconds after achieving her best in her final throw, but Athens’ Gaza Odunaiya answered and took the spot on her final throw.
Other scorers in the girls meet were Watkins’ McKenzie Biniker in the 200 (5th, 25.44); Samantha Hyme in the 800 (8th, 2:20.31) and the 400 (5th, 49.09) relay and the Hornets’ 400 (7th, 49.70) and 800 (6th, 1:44.09) relays.