The road to the boys track and field state finals begins Thursday, with sectionals being conducted at 32 sites around the state. Second-ranked Carmel is the defending state champion, but several area teams could be in the mix this year to stake their claim to the title. The top seven ranked teams, and eight of the top 10, hail from the Indianapolis metropolitan area.
Here are five things to watch for as sectionals get underway:
• Carmel, which hosts a sectional that also includes No. 9 Hamilton Southeastern, No. 17 Fishers and No. 18 Westfield, has distance standout Ben Veatch. The defending cross-country and 3,200-meter state champion in track has state-best times in the 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs this season.
Veatch will focus on the latter two events in the tournament and has a shot to do something that’s been done just four other times over the past 36 years of the state meet: win the distance double.
“(It’s) probably the most difficult double in track and field,” said Greyhounds coach Ken Browner. “Ben is the ultimate competitor who refuses to lose, and nothing he does in the tournament should be a surprise. Achieving success in those races would put him in a rare category of Indiana distance running history.”
Jalen Walker (hurdles) and Ryle Lipe (pole vault and sprint relays) have also been big point-scorers for the Greyhounds.
“I knew (Lipe) had the potential to be a great vaulter, but he has made our (400 relay) a viable contender,” Browner said.
Hamilton Heights’ senior Michael DeFoe is another athlete to watch in the meet. He’s the top-ranked 200 runner and 110-meter hurdler in the state.
• Top-ranked host Ben Davis has won nine straight sectional titles. The last team not named Ben Davis to win the sectional was Pike in 2006. The third-ranked Red Devils have a shot to do it again, but they’ll need to come up big. Ben Davis won the Marion County title one week ago by 35 ½ points over the runner-up Red Devils.
The Giants are loaded in the field events, with Jalil Brewer ranked No. 1 in the shot put, Christian Powell with the longest distance in the long jump and Pompey Coleman with the second-furthest distance in the state this season in the discus.
Pike’s 3,200-meter relay team notched the state’s best time in the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference championships, going 7 minutes, 59.62 seconds.
• Avon lost several of its top scorers from last season, but the No. 5 Orioles have reloaded and look strong heading into the tournament.
“To be honest, we’re a little ahead of where I thought we’d be at this point in the season,” said Orioles coach Zach Toothman. “Our relays have really set the tone for the rest of the team.”
Senior Harrison Weber has been productive in both hurdle events for Avon and as the anchor for the 1,600 relay team. Senior Tony Newbern is another key member of the relays and has the second-fastest state time in the 800 this year. Senior first-year runner Brian Kipkulei has rounded into form of late after battling an injury most of the season, winning the 100 meters at the Hoosier Crossroads Conference meet.
Zionsville, ranked 19th in the state, figures to be the team that can challenge Avon. Senior Oliver Rigg is one of the state’s top distance runners. Brownsburg, also in the sectional, is ranked 20th.
• Whiteland hosts an intriguing sectional with No. 7 Franklin Central and the Warriors – who have been ranked in the top 20 this season – headlining the participants. Both will have to unseat unranked Warren Central, which has won 13 straight sectionals.
• Other ranked area teams competing include No. 4 Lawrence North in the North Central Sectional, and No. 6 Center Grove at Columbus North.
“The IHSAA tournament should be another exciting one,” said Avon’s Toothman. “It’s amazing at all the talent Indiana has in various events, and really fun to watch.”