There was plenty of drama Friday night at the Three River Athletic Conference track and field championships at Clay.
With the boys team title on the line in the final meters of the final event, the 1600 relay, Whitmer senior Chris Boykin outdueled St. John’s Jesuit sophomore Jake Barnes by less than half a second on the final leg for second place in the race.
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That 8 to 6 difference in points in the event was enough to lift Whitmer over the Titans 119-118 for the team crown, its third straight title. St. Francis de Sales was a distant third at 97 points, and Fremont Ross and Lima Senior tied for fourth at 91.
“We were down by one to St. John’s and coach [Jeremy Elliott] told us it didn’t matter if we won or not, all we had to do was beat them,” Boykin said. “So, we all came out and ran a good race.
“At the beginning I just came out as hard as I could to pass [Barnes], and at the end I tried to get in lane one and kick as hard as I could. We came out on top and showed we’re one of the best teams in the area.”
Added Elliott: “It doesn’t get any better than that. Our kids just fight. They come to compete. That [1600 relay] was an incredible race, and Chris Boykin, a senior, finished it. There’s a lot of heart on this team. These guys rise to the occasion.”
One event earlier, the girls competition also came down to the final race.
Fremont Ross, which was looking to dethrone two-time defending TRAC champion Notre Dame, did edge the Eagles for second place in the 1600 relay, also by less than a second.
But by placing third, Notre Dame was able to hang on for a 129.5 to 127 victory over the runner-up Little Giants. Whitmer was third at 114, and host Clay was fourth at 105.
“We knew it was going to be real close between Fremont, us, Clay and Whitmer,” Notre Dame coach Ray Strassner said, “and that we’d battle to the last race, and that’s what we did.
“Most of our girls had personal records today, and we’re a balanced team. We seem to score in most every event, and that’s the key. This our third year in a row, and we were very concerned at the beginning of the year because there’s some really tough talent in this league.”
Individually, boys champion Whitmer won only three events, with Boykin taking the high jump (6-feet, 2 inches), Tylor Miller winning the 100-meter dash (11.08), and the Panthers’ 400 relay team placing first.
St. John’s, Fremont Ross and Lima Senior each won four boys events.
The Titans got a distance double from junior Tevin Brown, who ran a meet-record 4:21.2 in the 1600, and a 9:37.40 in the 3200. Also winning for St. John’s was Barnes (1:58.02 in 800) and Shon Layson (21-3 ¾ in long jump).
Ross got an impressive throws double from senior Jared Ballenger, who set TRAC record in the shot put (60-6 ¾) and discus (190-5), and the Little Giants also got titles from Jalen Oman in the pole vault (14-0) and from Jeffery Barnett in the 300 hurdles (40.14).
Lima Senior got wins from Bryan Mays (22.32 in 200), Rico Stafford (49.86 in 400), and its 800 relay and 1600 relay teams.
Rounding out the boys event champions were Andrew Bonfiglio of St. Francis (14.67 in 110 hurdles), and the Knights’ 3200 relay team.
Ballenger was named the TRAC’s field-event athlete of the year, and St. John’s Brown and Lima Senior’s Mays shared the running-event athlete of the year award.
“I just prepared myself to throw the best that I could,” Ballenger said. “I knew if I did that the record would come. At 6-1 and 195 pounds, I’m not the biggest guy you’ve ever seen throw the shot and the disc that far. It’s just really good technique and a lot of practice.”
On the girls side, the only individual event athlete to record a running double was Clay junior Grace Winckowski, who won both hurdles (15.74 in the 100, 47.00 in the 300), and also placed second in the long jump.
“I’ve been training really hard lately,” Winckowski said. “I don’t enjoy training, but I know that it’ll pay off in the long run. I felt really good in the hurdles today. I PR’d in both of them. I knew if I tried my hardest it would come out as a win.”
Winckowski’s sophomore teammate, Haley Hess, was voted running-events athlete of the year. She won the 1600 (5:07.34), and was part of the Eagles’ winning 3200 relay team.
Adding a title for the Clay girls, which had five event wins, was senior Erin Gyurke, who won the 3200 (11:17.25).
Team champion Notre Dame picked up its only event titles from Chantalia Young (12.58 in 100), and its 800 relay team.
Whitmer, which matched Clay’s five event crowns, got two titles from Kaitlyn Barber (59.19 in 400 and 12-0 in pole vault). Also placing first for the Panthers were Tityana Gardner (124-1 in discus) and Alaya Hayes (41-5¼ shot put), and Whitmer’s 1600 relay team.
Hayes was named TRAC field-event athlete of the year.
Fremont Ross got wins from Mariah Mathews (26.10 in 200) and Dejsha Pettiford (16-4¾ in long jump), and won the 400 relay.
The other girls event titles went to Central Catholic’s Megan Hanenkrath, who set a meet record in the 800 (2:20.48), and Findlay’s Haley Haas, who tied a meet record in the high jump (5-1).