Local athletes rise to the challenge

State berths don’t come easily, which is kind of the point – you want the best against the best to bring out the best.

But getting to that point sometimes involves overcoming more than opponents. Sure, you have to finish in the top four at the regional to move on, but there are always challenges along the way.

It can be as basic as determination, or something a bit more substantial. It varies for each qualifier, but it’s there.

And this year’s area athletes heading south to Columbus are no different in that regard, just in what they’ve overcome.

In that vein, few can match Old Fort’s Molly Cleveland.

Coach Tony Miller expected his senior to do well this year as a long jumper and high jumper after a solid indoor season, but that was before a steer stepped in.

Lunged in might actually be a better description.

One day after competing in a March indoor meet, Cleveland was working with a steer in her barn in preparation for this summer’s county fair.

When the animal lunged toward her, Cleveland tried to leap over a fence to get away, but broke the tibia just above the ankle in one of her legs.

“She loves her steers. Just a freak accident,” Miller said.

After seeing a specialist, Cleveland finally received clearance to begin competing around mid-May.

She missed two months of competition but advanced to the regional in the high jump – the injury was to her non-plant leg – where she finished fourth.

Despite the injury and time off, Miller said the intangible aspect of her attitude gave him hope she could still succeed.

“I thought with her being out as long as she was, if we could keep her mental aspect into it, I thought we could possibly have a bubble shot of making it out,” he said. “She is a very talented high jumper. She’s proved that since she was a freshman.

“It seems like she has a good, positive attitude right now,” Miller said.

It’s the same with Sara Goddard. Kind of.

Granted, she didn’t have to rehab a broken leg, but the junior soared to new heights at the regional meet for St. Wendelin, breaking her own school record – going from 9-6 to 10-4 – to capture second and become the school’s first girls state-qualifier in the pole vault.

Not bad for someone who’s only competed in the sport for two years and has, with her coach’s blessing, sought guidance and equipment from those much more qualified than he in the event’s intricate techniques.

“The problem we had is, we didn’t have the poles to help her along. It’s kind of an expensive sport. We just really got into it. We’re still in the beginning stages. I know I don’t have the expertise to coach at the performance level she’s at,” St. Wendelin coach Fred Hay said. “She’s at the level where I’m not comfortable.”

To make up the difference, Goddard has practiced with coaches from Liberty-Benton and North Baltimore, and even used a North Baltimore pole at the regional when she went over 10 feet for the first time.

Along with athletic ability, Hay said Goddard has the ability to quickly put into action what she’s taught.

“You can just see she understands what you’re telling her. She can conceptualize it and put it into her performance. Some can conceptualize but can’t use it. Some can use it but not conceptualize it,” he said.

“She’s a wise athlete, she can understand it,” he said.

Another pole vaulter is the same way.

Of course, it’s been bred into him.

Old Fort junior Adam Alexander qualified for state for the second year in a row, making it the fourth year out of five an Old Fort Alexander as done so. Older brother Nathan vaulted in 2010 and 2011, while Nathan’s twin, Zachary added depth to Old Fort’s team as a middle-distance runner.

“It’s something,” said Miller, who vaulted for Old Fort himself a few decades ago.

“It’s amazing to have that type of talent to come out of one family, and the other brother ends up becoming a half-miler,” he said. “It’s been fun watching them.”

The latest Alexander is no different in that regard.

He didn’t win the regional, but he advanced to state out of one of toughest meets for the event – Alexander finished fourth, with the winner going 14-8 and the next three topping 14-4.

“Coming out of our regional, as tough as it was, it proves that he is very mature with vaulting. And he gets along well with all the vaulters,” Miller said, adding he has no doubt Alexander’s approach and mindset will be just fine.

“This year should be pretty good; nice, easy, calm feeling, like he’s been all year,” he said. “Just go out and do what he does.”

That’s the approach Lakota’s Kevin Crowe and Carey’s Jacob Goble will use. It’s served them well so far.

The seniors finished second and third in the shot with personal-best heaves, a fact overshadowed by Liberty Center’s Nick Demaline setting a Division III state record with a toss of 68-10 1/2, but still great personal momentum heading into the final meet of the high school careers.

Crowe got there after a throw of 51-5, two feet better than his previous best.

A switch from the shuffle approach to the spin definitely helped.

“He’s played with it at practice all year. He’s had decent success at practice and he decided it was time,” Lakota coach Dave Ritter said. “One thing about it, it’s gets him up throwing a whole lot better. He finishes nice and strong, nice and tall.”

Just where Ritter said knew Crowe should be.

“He’s always had the potential to be there, but this is by far the most serious Kevin’s ever been. Sure enough, he wasn’t wrong,” Ritter said. “He decided early on he wanted to make it to state, and he never shut her down. He wanted to make it to state.”

Goble’s third-place throw of 50-7 1/2 beat his previous PR by three inches, which was quite a step up for someone who didn’t even make the regional finals last year.

And there’s more to come, Goble said.

“I know there’s more. I can hit 52’s, 53’s. I’ve got to work on that,” he said. “I know I can hit it.”

Of course, a little extra motivation helped.

Two days prior to the shot put, a teammate finished one spot and four inches short of reaching state in the discus. From that moment on, Goble said his focus for state really zeroed in.

“There was a lot of pressure on me since my buddy Kyle Schwartz didn’t make it out the other night,” Goble said. “I feel really bad for him, so I just told myself ‘Do it for him, make it to state for him.'”

The area’s other state entry also came in a selfless manner.

Hopewell-Loudon’s 4×200 team of sophomore Elancio Velasquez, junior Patric Gase, sophomore Noah Breidenbach and senior Eli Tooker finished fourth in a school-record time of 1:32.14 despite only running together for a short time.

“This is very unexpected. We’ve been putting different people in the spots. And then at district we put them together and it finally all just clicked,” coach Jill Welty said. “We were sixth going into regionals and we didn’t think we had a shot.

“They work extremely hard. This is kind of like icing on the cake,” she said. “To finish out going to state is exceptional.”

In the Division II meet, Bellevue girls track coach Lee Booze knows the experience of the state meet can be a jolt for some athletes.

So the coach is working with his runners to simplify things.

Bellevue has athletes in two events this weekend: The team of Kylie Vogel, Mariah McPeak, Elizabeth Ish and Lauren Turner will be competing in the 4×400. Turner – a freshman – will return Saturday to compete in the 800.

Booze said the state experience can be an unfamiliar one, with athletes going against runners and teams they don’t know.

So Booze has localized each race.

In the 4×400, the mentor has instructed his team to focus on competing with Oak Harbor’s squad. In the 800, he wants Turner to run against Genoa’s Carly Gose, a runner she has beaten and lost to in recent weeks.

“We talked about that today … it’s better for her to not focus on the big picture but (rather) give her something to focus on,” Booze said.

That’s where Gose comes in.

“I think if we can hang with her, beat her, it’s a pretty good day,” Booze said.

It’s the same philosophy for the 4×4 squad. Bellevue comes in with a seed time that’s eight seconds behind Oak Harbor. But Booze said his team had to drop seconds just to get to Columbus. It is scheduled to run in Lane 1; the same lane it ran in at the Lexington regional.

The Lady Red were seeded eighth; they finished fourth.

“A pleasant surprise,” Booze said. “We dropped a lot of time … I think our No. 1 goal is to cut more time, run a little faster than (we have).”

Also in the Division II meet, Clyde is sending five athletes. Paula Wollenslegel is coming off a regional high jump championship.

“Well like I think Paula has a chance to be at least top three,” Clyde coach Mike Martin said.

Wollenslegel’s seed height is 5-5; the best height coming in is 5-6.

“Oh, yeah, she’s definitely very excited,” Martin said when asked if Wollenslegel thinks she can win the event. “She was there last year. She knows what it’s all about.”

Also going to state is Clyde’s 4×200 team of Thomas Davis, Alex Webber, Kaleb Herrera and Collin Rieman. The team has the seventh-best time coming in, but as Martin said, are only a second and a half out of the top three.

In addition, Davis is to compete in the 200. It’s his first time at state.

“I believe having the other three guys with him will take some of the nerves away,” Martin said of Davis. “He’ll have a feel for the track and an awareness … He’s a junior, hopefully this is gonna be great experience for the future.”