CAREY — With the exception of one of its six athletes headed to the state track and field meet this weekend, Carey has been there before.
An experienced group of Blue Devils will compete this weekend against the state’s best in three events at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. Three of Carey’s four 800 relay team members ran on last year’s state-qualifying team, while Cory Larick competed in the pole vault in 2011 and Dana Newell was in the state meet in the high jump as a freshman two years ago.
“They really understand where their at and what they’ve got to do and what it’s going to take to move on,” Carey girls coach John Knickel said.
Senior Oriana Billock and sophomores Lauren Wenner and Gwen Wentling teamed up last year with Lauren Jacoby last year in the 800 relay, missing the finals by posting the 12th-best preliminary time. This year, freshman Amber Spurlock has replaced Jacoby.
“I do feel more comfortable and I feel more secure with our team,” Wenner said. “It’s a better feeling know that I’ve done this before.”
Last year’s Blue Devils entered the state meet at a long shot to make finals, but this year, they seem to be in the mix with the eighth-best regional time of 1:46.26.
“It’s really nice to be going back again with kind of a new team, adding Amber, and knowing that we dropped two seconds from our qualifying time from regionals, it’s a really nice feeling,” Billock said.
After placing third in the regional meet, the Blue Devils will compete out of lane 2 in the second heat of the event Friday. The top two in each heat, plus the five next best times qualify for Saturday’s finals.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Wenner said. “Hardly anybody gets the experience and to do it for a second year, it’s a big deal.”
North College Hill, which competes in the first heat, enters with the best regional time of 1:44.69. In Carey’s heat, the top two times are Garfield Heights Trinity’s 1:44.76 and Norwalk St. Paul’s 1:44.99.
Only a few weeks ago, the Blue Devils were running considerably slower than those times, but in recent weeks, they have put things together to rank as among the state’s best. Knickel said part of that has to do with weather and conditioning, but another part of it is the fact the team members have been able to concentrate on fewer events.
“Some of it was some of those girls were four-event people and they’ve never had it where they’ve had only one or two events,” he said. “We always look at that. ‘When we get down the road, we’re going to cut you back,’ and when you do, it’s just like the body is fresh and it’s more relaxed.”
The same group of girls were in position to possibly qualify for state in the 400 relay also, but a false start in the regional finals prevented that from happening. However, Knickel said that could work to Carey’s advantage to be able to stay focused on one event.
With that in mind, Knickel said he thinks the Blue Devils can continue to lower their time this weekend, which he also said they might have to do just to make the finals. He said he thinks the team is capable of running a 1:45.7.
“I think in good weather, I think it’s going to take a 1:46.1 to get out and get to finals,” he said. “They’re going to have to run a little bit better than they did to even get to finals.”
Spurlock, who said she was just hoping to make one of Carey’s relay teams this year, ended up competing on four of them.
She said the team is shooting for a season-best time that probably would put it within reach of its goal to place.
“We definitely need to PR to do good at state because I’m hoping we can get on the podium and get close to the school record,” she said.
Billock said she has faith in her younger teammates.
“I have a lot of confidence in these girls,” she said. “I think we can do it.”
The only other senior among Carey’s state qualifiers, Larick enters with possibly the highest expectations after taking sixth in the event last year.
He finished just fourth in the regional meet in Tiffin this past week, but it was good enough to make it back to Columbus.
“At regionals, after I realized that there was only four of us left, I was pretty relieved,” Larick said. “Coach told me it’s a good accomplishment to make it, but it’s a greater accomplishment to make it back.”
And in the difficult regional in which Larick competed, that was even truer. His regional height of 14-4 is better than all but three vaulters at the state meet.
“Word around town is the top four placers at regional will be the top four at state,” Larick said.
Old Fort’s Nathan Alexander and Columbus Grove’s Tyler Wolfe, both from the Tiffin regional, enter with the top height of 15-0. The only athlete entering with a better height from a different regional is Ridgewood’s Chris Saylor, who cleared 14-6.
Having competed against the state’s best last week, Larick said he feels he is good enough to hang with them.
“I haven’t had my best jump of the year yet,” he said. “There’s always been something wrong. At regionals, we thought I would do pretty good and PR, but it got hotter as it went on and my pole basically turned into butter and I couldn’t get vertical enough.”
Heat is not expected to be an issue Friday with temperatures not expected to make it out of the 60s.
Larick made 13-6 at last year’s state meet and has cleared as high as 14-6 this year, but he said he thinks he can do much better.
“I think I can go a foot higher than that actually, but my goal is 15,” he said. “I just want to get 15. If I get 15, wherever I place, I’ll take it.”
To maximize his place, Larick will have to avoid misses on lower heights, he said.
This experience will be different that last year.
“The first time I went down, I really didn’t have anything to lose because it was my first time going down there and placing was pretty good,” he said. “Now I know I’m good enough to place and I expect to.”
Newell, a junior, is hoping to place in the state meet for the first time. Her first experience as a freshman did not go as well as she would have hoped as she failed to clear the opening height, but she gets another chance Friday.
“It means a lot to me,” she said. “It’s exciting because around here, there’s a couple people to compete against, but when you go to the state meet, there’s a lot more competition and it makes me try harder and try better.”
She finished third in the regional meet by clearing 5-3, which ranks as the seventh-best height entering the state meet.
Rootstown’s Ashleigh Pickens topped 5-7.5 and Parkway’s Bailey King went 5-6 in regional competition to lead Friday’s field.
“I don’t care if I get eighth place; I just want to get on the podium,” Newell said.
Missing the state meet last year was tough for Newell, who had a good season up until the regional meet.
“Last year, it was heart-breaking because I really wanted to go again,” Newell said.
By comparison, this season probably has not gone as well until recently, Knickel said.
“The season has been very tough for her,” he said. “She’s missed the pit a couple times. She’s beat herself up. She left part of her face on the track in Ada. She’s been through a lot. That girl has been through more than most girls, as far as the physical part of it, and she just keeps coming back. Now, she’s jumping well and you can’t ask for anything more.”
It all was made by possible by getting back to the fundamentals of high jumping.
“We went back to high jump 101,” Knickel said. “We just went back to lower heights and technique and a couple of fundamental things. It kind of hit me like a bolt of lightning, ‘By God, Dana, we’re missing this one technique we always do. What happened there?’ She was like, ‘I don’t know,’ so we put all our techniques together from the basic on up and it just all came together.”
Newell said the experience as a freshman was “intense,” but she expects to be less nervous this time.
Knickel said he thinks his jumper can top 5-4, and even 5-3 should be enough for her to reach her goal of placing.
All of Carey’s state qualifiers have made it this far with the right attitude, Knickel said.
“It’s been a big thrill with these kids,” he said. “They came out with an attitude early on that they were going to be pretty good and they had the right frame of mind for it, and they’ve done real good this year.”
The preliminary heats of the girls 800 relay are set to begin at 10:30 a.m. Friday, while the girls high jump and boys pole vault are set for 4 p.m. at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
By LONNIE McMILLAN