Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
May 17, 2018
Entering the second-to-last race of the evening, the Kenston boys track and field team was on the brink of losing its league throne during the Western Reserve Conference meet last Thursday at Mayfield High School.
The Bomber tracksters were chasing their third straight WRC crown and 10th consecutive league banner overall, previously winning seven straight Chagrin Valley Conference titles under head coach Chris Ickes.
But heading into the 3,200-meter run, the Kenston boys faced a three-point deficit against Mayfield and would need to score all three of their runners in that event – the Wildcats were favored to beat Kenston in the ensuing four-by-400 relay.
Kenston junior Jakob McConnell, 9:52.16, sophomore Casey Pleune, 10:13.85, and senior Will Grendell, 10:17.31, said no problem during a two-five-six finish for 15 monster points in the 3,200 – the highest scoring event of the day for the Bombers – to take a seven-point lead in the team standings.
“Us distance guys, all day, especially in the 1,600, 800 and the 3,200, we all knew we were going to have to get a lot of points, because we have a really deep team on the distance side,” McConnell said. “So, before the 3,200, I was just telling the guys, ‘You have to pass every single kid you possibly can,’ because our team was counting on us. And our team did a great job of lining up around the entire track and cheering us on. It was just a really, really good race for us.”
While Mayfield came back and won the four-by-400 relay in 3:34.25, Kenston’s quartet of senior Nick Cordiak, senior Sam Markel, senior Michael Swartz and junior Bransen Stanley took third in 3:37.76 to secure the team title with 141 1/2 points, besting the runner-up Wildcats, 138 1/2 points, third-place Chardon, 97 points, and the rest of the eight-team field.
McConnell also finished runner-up in the 1,600 run in 4:28.42, while Markel took fourth in 4:41.30. Chardon senior Nate Kawalec won the race in a meet-record 4:27.20. He also won the 3,200 run in 9:42.07.
“Ten years is obviously a really long time,” McConnell said about the Bombers’ string of conference titles. “Going in this year, we knew we were going to have to fight a lot, we knew we were going to have to scrap for some points in different events, and all day we just kept stepping up. Everybody had big races. In the field we scored a lot of points. So, it was a good day all around.”
While the Bombers cleaned up with runner-up performances throughout the meet, senior Kee-shaun Merrill won the 100 dash in 11.23 seconds and the 200 dash in 22.97 seconds as Kenston’s lone male champ.
After losing dual meets against Mayfield, Chardon and Madison, Merrill said the Bombers felt like underdogs entering the WRC meet.
“We were the underdogs coming in by a lot,” he said. “A lot of people didn’t believe in us, that we would do it, but we all believed that we could. So, we all just ran our races and worked extra hard.”
Merrill defeated Riverside senior Jordan Dunnigan by 0.08 second in the 100 dash and by 0.06 second in the 200 dash, while Kenston junior Dorion Talley took seventh in the 100 in 11.85 seconds and Stanley took sixth in the 200 in 24.11 seconds.
Merrill’s personal-record time of 22.86 seconds, which he clocked in the 200 prelims, is tied for eighth among Kenston’s all-time performances.
“I felt good all day,” Merrill said. “I had a lot of confidence, and I didn’t feel fatigued at all. And in the 200, I had a pretty tight race (with Dunnigan), but I just used my start to my advantage. So, it felt good that I was able to compete at my highest level and do my best, because we’ve been working really hard as a team.”
Merrill was also a member of the Bombers’ runner-up sprint relays.
In the four-by-200, Talley, Merrill, junior Matt Iklodi and Stanley clocked a 1:33.77, bested only by Chardon’s meet-record 1:32.92.
And in the four-by-100, Talley, Merrill, Iklodi and senior Will Hill circled the track in 45.24 seconds, bested only by Brush’s quartet that clocked 44.86 seconds.
Both of those Bomber relays were regional qualifiers last season.
Individually, Stanley took runner-up in the 400 dash in 52.67 seconds, bested only by Mayfield senior Zak Mahdaoui’s victory in 50.74 seconds. Stanley’s season-best of 51.60 seconds ranks ninth among Kenston’s all-time performances.
In the four-by-800 relay, meanwhile, Kenston’s team of sophomore Joe Secura, junior Kyle Silk, senior Jacob Sandoval and sophomore Jordan Knapp took third in 8:32.42, while Chardon won the race in 8:26.75.
In the open 800 run, Markel finished runner-up in 2:04.06, bested by Mayfield senior Caleb Lardner’s triumph in 2:02.09, while Silk took fifth in 2:05.45 and Sandoval took seventh in 2:06.45.
Finishing runner-up in the 300-intermediate hurdles, Kenston senior Nick Cordiak clocked 42.48 seconds, while Hill took fifth in the 110-high hurdles in 16.56 seconds. Mayfield senior Bobby Casey won both events, clocking 15.01 seconds and 42.26 seconds.
A jack-of-all-trades, Casey set meet records in the pole vault, 14 feet, 6 inches, and long jump, 23 feet, 4 1/2 inches, to single-handedly score 40 of the Wildcats’ 138 1/2 points. Kenston’s Hill took sixth in the long jump at 18 feet, 10 1/4 inches.
Kenston senior Andy Dicker took runner-up in the pole vault at 12 feet, while fellow senior Brian Lesko took seventh at 10 feet, 6 inches.
And in the Bombers’ highest-scoring field event, Swartz cleared 5 feet, 10 inches in the high jump to finished runner-up behind Riverside freshman Mason Stephen’s clearance of 6 feet, while Dicker took fifth at 5 feet, 8 inches and Kenston junior Mark Bereck finished seventh at 5 feet, 6 inches.
Up next, the Bombers are competing in the Division I Austintown Fitch District meet that began Wednesday and resumes action at 5 p.m. Friday.
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