The end of a grueling race brought hugs and pats on the back.
Watkins Memorial is not in Kansas … err … the Ohio Capital Conference-Capital Division anymore. Watkins got a sneak peek at Heath on Thursday at the Dick Houston Relays, and it has everyone excited for what the Licking County League meet could bring in May.
“It is good to have that kind of rivalry because you don’t get terribly upset if they get the better of you, but you can still have someone to race against,” the Warriors’ Chance Abbitt said. “We all know that we are going to be competitors when it comes down to the LCL, but in the preseason it’s nice.”
Abbitt first edged Heath’s Josh Lines in the sprint medley 1:36.3 to 1:37.2. About an hour later, Lines and the Bulldogs got their revenge in the 1,600 relay 1:27.0 to 1:27.4. Each time, the anchors high-fived and congratulated each other on a great race.
Watkins had a mutual respect with former OCC foes Big Walnut and New Albany. That was as far as it went. It has not taken long for a friendly rivalry to develop with Heath.
“It gives us a ton of confidence, especially because this time last year Watkins was handing it to us,” the Bulldogs’ Matt Kaser said. “It is good to know we can beat them this year.”
The Warriors won five events at Licking Valley to earn its ninth consecutive team title. Watkins scored 103 points, ahead of the Bulldogs’ 76. Hunter Holton was a part of four of the titles — shuttle hurdles (1:00.6), 400 relay (44.3), long jump (57-feet-10.75) and high jump (16-10).
Donovan Garrison, Tyler Culpepper and Evan Caniff joined Holton on the 400 relay, and they got the baton to Abbitt in the sprint medley. Garrison and Holton were joined by Brandon Rush in the high jump, and Jerrod Lyon and Luke Ronay teamed up with Holton in the long jump.
“It says we’re something special,” Garrison said. “Last year around this time, we were probably running 46s. Towards the end of the year, we slowly worked our way to the 43s. To start this year running 44s, it’s great.”
Heath’s foursome of Lines, Kaser, Carlos Rencher and Freddie Stinson in the 1,600 relay is a familiar one. The Bulldogs placed fifth in the Division II regional meet in 2013 in the event, and they have turned that disappointment into motivation.
“Oh, you don’t know,” Kaser said. “We have been working twice as hard and as you could tell, we are twice as good as we were last year. We are just so much farther along than at this point last year.”
Lines, Rencher, Stinson and Donnie Beistel won the 800 relay, and Dalton Brown, Sam Kucyznski and Josh Bradford won the discus (316-11).
Newark swept the distance events — 6,400 relay (19:33.6), distance medley (10:55.7) and 3,200 relay (8:35.8). In the distance medley, Toby Hardwick received the baton in third for the 1,600, but he raced past the Warriors’ Andrew Jordan and Granville’s Ryan Black in a 4:25 split.
“We had to run really fast,” Newark’s Issac Wheeler said. “(The Blue Aces’ Tyler Otterstedt) was my leg, and he was the indoor champ in the 800 by a lot. I tried to go with him, but he’s fast. Toby ran one heck of a mile to pull it out there at the end.”
Hardwick and Wheeler were joined by Patrick Williams and Owen Keith on two of the relays, and A.J. Oiler ran the 400 portion of the distance medley.
Lakewood was third in the team standings with 56 points, and the Lancers’ best finish was runner-up in the high jump (15-10).