ST. MARYS — The St. Marys boys 4-by-200 meter relay team went into last Saturday’s Division II regional track meet at Welcome Stadium with one goal in mind: break the school record time.
A trip to Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium this week was simply a byproduct. A rather rewarding byproduct.
The Rider quartet of senior Will Walter, junior Cam Swanson, sophomore Austin Tester and freshman Eric Spicer will run in the preliminaries on Friday at 2:40 p.m. The top eight teams will advance to Saturday’s final at 1:25 p.m.
Swanson finished off the record-setting relay at the University of Dayton last Saturday.
“We surprised ourselves. We wanted the school record. That’s all we wanted,’ Swanson said. “We would’ve been satisfied by that. We broke the record, plus we get to go to state. It’s a double-positive.”
“As soon as he passed the finish line, Cam had that fist pump and we were excited, going crazy,” Walter said.
“I kind of did a double-take, saw we were fourth and had to look back again to make sure,” Spicer said. “It’s just rewarding to know that all these weeks, all these hard practices since February have paid off. Sometimes you hate doing the work, but standing on that podium you knew it was worth it. It was a great feeling.”
The relay team has one runner from each grade, with the senior Walter the most experienced of the four sprinters. The 800 meter relay team from St. Marys finished 10th at the Western Buckeye League meet in 2013. Now that event is a state qualifier for St. Marys.
“As a senior, it means everything,” Walter said. “The last three years our program hasn’t been the greatest, so to get here now it’s the perfect way to get to state to end my senior year.”
Sophomore Austin Tester and freshman Eric Spicer were newcomers to the St. Marys track team. While there were growing pains at getting the timing and technique down of running in a relay team, they helped raised the level of the sprint portion of the Rider track team and now will compete in Columbus.
“It’s me and Eric’s first year running track,” Tester said. “If coach would’ve told us we were going to state at the beginning of the year, we would’ve said he was crazy. But it all came together.
“I had no idea what was going on at first,” Tester said, laughing. “When they mentioned me being on the relay team, I had no idea what that even was. So we came together and had this core group. They’ve made being a first-year runner easy. And the success is nice, too.”
“Cam and Will have been awesome,” Spicer said. “When I first came out here, I didn’t knowwhat the triangles or the zones were even about. They guided us along.”
Walter appreciates what the newcomers brought to the event and the whole team.
“Going into the season, I didn’t know Eric or Austin were going to come out for track, so it was a blessing to have a freshman and sophomore to come out for track, come out of nowhere and be part of a state relay team. They added so much to our team.”
The four runners were working with St. Marys sprint coach Nick Page on the facility near Memorial High School on Tuesday, prepping for Friday’s race.
“He pushes us hard and he knows what he’s talking about,” Tester said.
“The biggest thing was they bought into the system,” Page said. “Every day, they showed up and did the little things right. That’s what it takes. You can see the result as the times have dropped throughout the season.”
Spicer said the relay team felt like it really reached the next level at the Western Buckeye League championships. “Our P.R. was about 1:35 before that and we got to the WBLs and ran that about 1:32 and it clicked instantly. There was no going back. We felt we could keep shaving off time after that and got us to where we are now.”
Page said he knew mid-season that this group had a chance to go far in the postseason. “The past couple of weeks we’ve dropped about four seconds,” Page said. “Which is really surprising. I knew that had it in them, but it’s impressive to drop that much time. It shows their will to win.”
This week or preparation is just about shoring up the basics.
“We’re just working on form and making sure we’re not getting sloppy and working on handoffs,” Walter said.
Swanson and Walter alluded to this sort of success on the track as part of a revitalization of the athletic programs at Memorial High School.
“We’re kind of getting things back on track,” Swanson said. “We’ve been derailed for a few years, so maybe this is the upswing.”