Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
June 1, 2017
With the top four spots separated by just 0.68 second, it was a mad rush to the finish in the boys 800-meter run during the Division I region track and field meet on Friday at Austintown Fitch High School.
For Kenston senior Sam Slezak, that meant putting it all out there for a lifetime best 1:55.81 – shedding 1.46 seconds off his previous best – to finish fourth and punch his first state ticket to the 110th edition of the boys track and field championships this Friday and Saturday at Jesse Owens Stadium in Columbus.
“I think, mentally, I was just really prepared going into this race to give it everything I had and really push all out when I needed to,” Slezak said. “And I think, going into that last 200, I really put that to good use and really told myself to finish through, no matter what.”
While Wooster senior Chris Cannon won the region title in 1:55.13, Slezak got the last spot out at just a couple strides behind. Solon sophomore Logan Esper took fifth in 1:56.54, and Solon junior Mark Shannon took sixth in 1:56.73.
Overall, nine guys ran sub-1:58 races.
“I tried to stay in the top four the entire way,” Slezak said. “And I really told myself that the 400 is where I need to start turning it up a little bit, and then again around the 250, and then just go into a full-out sprint at the 100.
“I really didn’t know how close or far the guys behind me were. So, I just told myself to keep pushing and really just kind of use them being behind me as a little energy boost, because finishing eighth (in the region) last year was one of the largest determining factors coming into this season. I was determined to not let that happen again.”
Slezak is the first Kenston track and field state qualifier since 2013, when then-senior Owen Norley finished 12th in the 1,600 run in 4:18.02.
Although Slezak has the 16th seed out of 16 runners heading to Columbus, the 800 meters is really anyone’s race with a field that’s separated by just 3.01 seconds from top to bottom – Hilliard Darby freshman Malachi McGill has the top seed with a 1:52.80 out of his region.
Last year, a 1:56.16 landed on the state podium. This year, every single runner in the field ran faster than that at the regional level.
“With everyone being so close and running around the same times, I definitely feel like I have to be in the front of the group going into the 300 to 400 mark,” Slezak said. “And then really I think that’ll allow me to perform my best being out and running from the front.”
While Slezak said his focus is on beating his competition this Saturday, breaking his school record would also be a nice finish to his high school career. With his 1:55.81 time at regionals, Slezak was just 0.12 second shy of Alan Gurd’s program standard from 1987.
“I would definitely say I gave it 100 percent effort at regionals, but I do think that I still have a little bit left to give for the state meet,” Slezak said. “I’ve been pushing it in workouts to new levels to really break through to that next level of competitiveness this season. And, to be honest, my goal is to try to win the state meet. If I have to run a 1:52 to do so, that would be my goal.”
Solon, meanwhile, is sending nine boys to the big dance, including the Comets’ four-by-200 and four-by-800 relays and senior Jacob Gross in the discus throw.
Gross marked 168 feet, 11 inches on his first attempt at the regional meet, which held up for third place. Last season, he ended his postseason run at the district level with a mark of 146 feet, 5 inches.
Gross owns the sixth seed entering the state tournament, while Ashland senior David Amstutz is the favorite with a mark of 185 feet, 7 inches out of his region.
In the four-by-800 relay, Solon’s team of junior Mark Shannon, senior Danny Cohen, senior Max Gross and sophomore Logan Esper finished regional runners-up in 7:53.30, bested only by Louisville’s quartet that turned in a 7:48.87.
That Comet foursome is seeded seventh headed to Columbus, while Wadsworth is a heavy favorite for the state title with a time of 7:44.60 out of its region.
In the 1,600 run, meanwhile, Cohen finished fifth in 4:20.57 to just miss a state berth by one spot during a re-run of that race, which followed the four-by-400 relays.
With about 500 meters to go in the original 1,600 run, about six runners went rumbling, stumbling or tumbling on a domino tangle up, and the decision was made by meet officials to re-run that event at the end of the meet.
In the four-by-200 relay, meanwhile, Solon’s team of senior Devon Brown, junior Thomas Wilks, junior Chance Culp and senior Logan Barr took fourth in 1:29.74 to punch their ticket out, besting Marlington’s fifth-place team by 0.09 second. They are seeded 13th heading to Columbus.
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