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GOSHEN – The path is clearly marked at the beginning of the track season. Conference, then sectional, then regional, then state. After Wawasee took its steps Thursday night at the Goshen Boys Track Sectional, the path is yet to be defined for several athletes.
Wawasee head coach Scott Lancaster, using his famous line, had no illusions of grandeur of what was in front of his team in Goshen. Warsaw were the clear favorites in most every event, and were decidedly the best in winning 11 of the 16 events run. The Warriors, which had a fantastic dual meet season and conference tournament, looked to be strong contenders in at least meeting top-four requirements in several events.
“I set the sectional up much different than conference,” Lancaster said. “We really don’t care how many points we score unless we’re in a race for a team championship, and nobody here is in a race for a team championship. We just trying to advance kids from sectional to regional and give them the best shot to get them to state.”
Unplanned events, however, marred what could have been a very big night for the Wawasee program. Dealing with the suspensions of five seniors to start the week, Wawasee not only had to restructure some of its events, but may also be without an injured Clayton Cook for the regional.
Cook came up lame in the 200-meter dash, which he had the top time in the prelims (22.58) and one of the top times in the state coming into the meet. Motioning to the stands after the 200, which he did finish the race despite the injury, Cook claimed he didn’t pull his hamstring, but it’s not an ideal situation for the 110-meter hurdles champ (14.55) as well as the anchor for the 4×100 relay team, which took third at 44.09.
“There’s not much I can say about it, it is what it is,” Lancaster said of Cook’s injury.
Lancaster decided during the week to pull Cook from the 100-meter dash and the 300-meter hurdles. Cook holds the school record in the 100, which was set May 1 at 11.07. Warsaw’s Michael Miller won the 100 Thursday at 11.17. Lancaster also didn’t like the workload the 300 hurdles would put on Cook given the proximity of the other events Cook runs.
Wawasee’s Zach Cockrill qualified for the regional in two events, but will race next Thursday in just one. Cockrill battled his way to second place in the 800 with a time of 1:57.84, which was hotly contested for the top five positions. Cockrill then went out and claimed third in the one-mile at 4:27.09, but was scratched from the regional in the mile to focus on the 800.
JJ Gilmer also vacated one event to focus on another. Gilmer has been a staple in the high jump and long jump this season, but competed in just high jump at Goshen. Gilmer, as expected, was right in the middle of the championship scrum with long-time rival Stephen Kolbe of Warsaw and Elkhart Central’s Treyton Harris. All three achieved 6-5, but only Kolbe could make a clean jump of 6-6, leaving the Warsaw senior the high jump champion, Gilmer taking second on jumps over Harris.
“He wanted that competition,” Lancaster said of Gilmer in the high jump. “I’m actually really happy for Stephen because he’s been around for a long time and he’s struggled some. It’s nice to see him win a championship as a former champion.
“JJ really wanted to jump knowing (Harris) and (Kolbe) would be here and what the regional would bring.”
Gilmer also ran the third leg of the 4×100 relay with Tyler Courter, Jake Hutchinson and Cook.
Discus produced two Wawasee throwers sailing to regional. Ethan Brown placed third with his best effort of 138-01 and teammate Jon Walker was fourth at 137-02.
The South Bend St. Joseph’s Boys Track Regional will begin at 6 p.m. Thursday. The top three individuals from each event qualify for the IHSAA State Finals, which will be run June 7 at Indiana University in Bloomington. Feeding into the regional are individuals from Goshen, Penn, Plymouth and Western sectionals.