ARMAGH — The most exciting event at a track and field meet lived up to its billing Tuesday at the Heritage Conference Championships.
The 1,600-meter relay — typically the final event to be completed at most meets — carried huge implications for the Ligonier Valley and Homer-Center boys’ track and field teams at the conclusion of Tuesday’s conference championship meet at United High School. Or so both teams thought at the time.
Under the impression that the winner of the final race would clinch the team title for their school, both relay teams delivered their season-best runs to cap one of the more exciting Heritage Conference Championships on the boys’ side in recent memory.
Ligonier Valley won the relay with a thrilling final-lap comeback and claimed the team title for the second straight season with 145 team points, finishing 14 points ahead of Homer-Center, which was hot on the Rams’ trail all meet long. Marion Center finished third with 95 points.
“I can’t remember a more exciting one, the way it went down with the 4x4,” first-year Ligonier Valley coach Dylan Jackman said.
Unbeknownst to the runners on the 1,600 relay teams and most of those in attendance, Ligonier Valley had already clinched the team title before the final event. But the Rams didn’t leave anything to chance.
Running the anchor leg, Elliot Rost posted an unofficial time of 48.3 seconds and rallied on the final lap to seal the Rams’ victory in a time of 3:33.71. Lucas Rashilla, Kyrie Miller and Josh Haines ran the first three legs.
It capped an impressive day for Rost, who also won the 100 (11.07 seconds) and 200 (22.10) and ran a leg on the winning 400 relay team (43.89) that also included Zach Beitel, Lucas Rashilla and Aaron Tutino.
“He was phenomenal,” Jackman said of Rost. “I couldn’t have asked anymore from him. It was awesome what he did, and he carried his team through that 4x4. It was just awesome to see something like that.”
He set the school and meet records in the 200, and the 400 relay team accomplished the same feat. Four days earlier, the Rams had set the school record in the 400 relay (43.93).
“I was really hoping to get the records in general,” Rost said. “I knew I was close, came really close last Friday.
“I was so surprised to see that in the 200. That was a (personal best) and a school record. 4x1, we even messed up our handoffs on one leg pretty bad, and it was still a pretty good time.”
“I’ve been running all four years,” Rashilla said, “and it’s just been really cool to have the opportunity to win the (regular-season) Heritage Conference (title) every year, and we’ve won the past two years at the big meet here, and I’ve just had such a blast running track.
“We’re really excited for the 4x1 and the 4x4. We just shaved about four seconds off our time for the 4x4. And we keep dropping in the 4x1, we’ve just got to get our handoffs perfect. We’re well on our way, so we’re having a great year this year.”
Ligonier Valley and Homer-Center were neck-in-neck all day even though the Wildcats claimed more first places. The Wildcats had six first-place finishes while Ligonier had five.
Homer-Center’s Caleb Learn won the high jump (6-2) and the long jump (19-10).
“It feels pretty good,” Learn said. “It’s nice to be able to get to the top around the conference.”
A first-year long jumper, Learn couldn’t have foreseen a conference title in his future at the start of the season, or jumping anywhere close to 20 feet.
“My first jump, when I got 16,” he said, “I didn’t think I was going to be able to get close to the anything like that, so it feels good to get up there and start doing well.”
Marion Center also had a pair of multiple-event winners in Hunter Armstrong and Seth White.
A long-distance specialist, Armstrong comfortably won the 3,200 with a time of 10:39.66 and the 1,600 in 4:46.72. White won the 110 hurdles by more than a second (16.01), and he also won the triple jump (38-11ﾽ).
Other individual champions were: Homer-Center’s Logan Williams (400, 51.68), Zach Zelensky (pole vault, 12-6) and Teagan Sharp (discus, 123-11); Marion Center’s Brant Lydic (300 hurdles, 44.26) and Connor McGrady (800, 2:04.57); and Purchase Line’s Quinn Scalese (shot put, 51-2ﾼ) and David Fyock (javelin, 163-11).
Marion Center won the 3,200 relay (8:46.50) with the team of Armstrong, McGrady, Lydic and Anthony Scott.
Williams went head-to-head with Rost on the final leg of the 1,600 relay, and he ran a personal-best split of 50.1 seconds, but it wasn’t enough for Homer-Center.
“That’s actually our school record, give or take,” Williams said. “Obviously, its hand-held, but still around there. That Rost pushed me. He’s a very good runner, fantastic, and he just kind of pushed me and he came out on top in this one, but he’s a very good runner.
“It’s disappointing because obviously you want to come out on top, but at the same time, as a team, our 4x4 team knocked nine seconds off our PR this year, so obviously we’re satisfied with that. We’re just kind of focusing on districts right now. We’re ranked second now after we ran that amazing race, and give a big credit to Ligonier because they ran a really good race as well. It was just a battle of two powerful 4x4 teams.”
In the end, Ligonier Valley prevailed because of its contributions from up-and-coming athletes, in Rost’s opinion.
“We had a lot of surprises today, actually,” Rost said. “First of all, this Miles Higgins kid, who’s throwing jav, has been getting us first places all season, which is incredible. And other freshmen. We have Donnie Reim, running the 3,200 and the (1,600) and placing. Even Tucker Klotz, who’s a freshman, I believe was either fifth or sixth. Those small points add up, no kidding. It’s really good to see the underclassmen are starting to do well at these high-level meets.”