WARSAW – Matt Thacker has to force himself to say it.
It really is all about the individuals come Thursday night at the Kokomo Regional for his No. 7 Warsaw boys track team.
“The reality now is that it’s individuals first and team second at the regional,” said Thacker. “I hate saying that, but it’s the nature of the beast with track.
“The No. 1 thing Thursday is to get as many individuals to advance to state as we can.”
Warsaw, with that being said, is the favorite to win the team title Thursday.
The Tigers are expected to battle a familiar foe, No. 9 Penn, for the right to be called regional champions.
The two powerhouses know each other so well. Penn edged Warsaw 83-82 for the Kokomo Regional title in 2012. The Kingsmen also topped the Tigers 84-83 this season to win the Class A Division title at the Goshen Relays before Warsaw outpointed the Kingsmen by 17 points (122-105) to win the championship of their own Max Truex Invitational, both of those meets occurring in late April.
Thacker, whose team edged Kokomo 58-57 to win the regional crown in 2011, has crunched all the numbers for Thursday again and again and again.
“It’s going to be close,” said Thacker. “We want to win the regional for sure, but it’s not us versus Penn head-to-head. They have some strengths where we have some weaknesses and we have some strengths where they have weaknesses.
“I do think what happens in the field events will be the deciding factor in the team outcome. That part of the regional swung it their way last year.
“It’s a big meet and anything can happen. I know our kids will be ready to compete. They are not ready for their season to end. I do think the one-point loss at the regional last year is in the back of their minds.”
Warsaw and Penn was scheduled to face off early this season in a dual meet at Penn, but it was cancelled due to the terrible weather in April.
The Tigers will be led Thursday by distance stars Jake Poyner and Robert Murphy. Senior Poyner is the top seed in both the 1,600 and 3,200 after winning both at the Goshen Sectional last week. Senior Murphy is the top seed in the 800 and is seeded second in the 1,600. Poyner placed second in the 1,600 at the regional a year ago, while Murphy was fifth in the 3,200.
“I can’t say enough and Jake and Robert,” said Thacker. “We have such a special group of seniors this year and those two lead the way. Their preparation is impeccable.”
Warsaw expects big things in the regional from its two outstanding relay teams. The quartet of senior Wyatt Jones, junior Gabe Furnivall, junior Ryan Goon and senior Nate Kolbe are the top seed in the 4 X 400 after setting a sectional record last week. The 4 X 100 team of Jones, Furnivall, Kolbe and junior Tristan McClone is seeded second for the regional after a sectional title at Goshen.
“I expect them to step up and make things happen Thursday,” said Thacker of his top performers. “It’s another opportunity for all of them.”
The field events for the Tigers are led by junior Seth Fouts in the shot put and junior Stephen Kolbe in the high jump. Fouts, who earned a sectional title, is the top seed and Kolbe is tied for the second spot in the high jump. Kolbe cleared 6-7 at Kokomo in 2012 to win the high jump competition.
Warsaw will also look for key point from Jones in the 100, senior Taylor Cone in both hurdles races, Kolbe in the 200 and Furnivall and junior Chad Goon in the 400.
The Kingsmen, who won seven events to dominate their own sectional last week, are led by Tommy Grant and Tim Deal.
Grant broke a 59-year old sectional record last Thursday to win the 100 in 10.53. The news was not all good however as he suffered a muscle strain while competing for Penn’s winning 400 relay team and had to withdraw from his prime event, the 200, in the sectional. Grant won regional titles in both the 100 and 200 races in 2012.
Deal is the top regional seed for the Kingsmen in both the 300 hurdles and the long jump. Conner Sowders has the second fastest seed time in the 400 for Penn.
Wawasee will be led on Thursday by standout sophomores Clayton Cook and JJ Gilmer. Cook is the No. 2 seed in the 110 hurdles and Gilmer is tied for the second seeded height with Warsaw’s Kolbe for the high jump. Cook and Gilmer each claimed sectional titles in their respective events last Thursday at Goshen. Junior Adam Doll will also compete in the 3,200 for the Warriors.
Tippecanoe Valley and Triton each have a pair of individuals in the regional field. Michael Thacker (100) and Nolan Sponseller (200) will represent the Vikings, while Jeremy Jones (100) and Trenton Stackhouse (1,600) will compete for the Trojans.
Action begins at Kokomo Thursday with field events at 6 p.m. The 3,200 relay is also slated for 6 p.m. Track trials start at 6:30 with the track finals scheduled for a 7:30 start.
“It’s going to be close,” reiterated Thacker. “I’m a Nervous Nellie, according to my wife, the days before the meet. But, I won’t be nervous come Thursday. I’m never nervous on game day.
“I do want to thank all of my coaches for all of their hard work. I appreciate all of them. Without them, we would not be as good as we are and in the position we are as a program.”
Thacker’s coaching staff includes Jon Hoover, Rob Peters, Noel Howett, Leonard Wells, Jim Mills and Troy Furnivall.
The top three finishers in each event at Kokomo Thursday night earn a spot in the State Finals set for May 31 at Indiana University in Bloomington.