PLYMOUTH — In order to promote some friendly competition among his athletes, Wawasee head coach Doug Slabaugh has started awarding a sort of traveling trophy, the Warrior Belt, to one standout at each meet this year. Wawasee may have lost both legs of its Northern Lakes Conference three-way at Plymouth Thursday — the Warriors fell 91-41 to the host Pilgrims and 91.5-40.5 to top team Concord — but the good news for the Warriors is there were plenty of athletes who put in belt-worthy performances at the NLC-opener.
First-year sophomore Jayden Boyer wound up with the WWE-style belt for his personal-record turn running anchor for the Wawasee JV’s 4×400 — a full five-second PR that saw him take the lead on the backstretch of the track and hold off Plymouth’s Preston Cleveland by a little over a second at the finish line — but several other standouts recommended themselves with strong performances Thursday.
“It’s fun when you’ve got coaches arguing — ‘Well, what about this kid? What about this one?’ That’s awesome,” said Slabaugh.
“It’s fun to see people step up and leave it out there on the track, and that’s all you can ask for as a coach.”
While Boyer raised the Warrior Belt Thursday, junior Luke Griner made a pretty compelling case for himself, too. In fact, he convinced several other Wawasee athletes as well as they argued on his behalf after his own anchor turn for Wawasee’s varsity 4×400.
Griner — who finished ninth in the 800 meters at last spring’s IHSAA state track meet and earned himself another state finalist berth at the association’s cross country state finals last fall — collected two wins Thursday. He broke tape in his specialty in both the 800 (2:10.58) and as anchor for his team’s winning 3200 relay squad (8:40.22), overtaking Concord’s David Arvidson on the final lap and building to a more-than-five-second Wawasee win.
Griner wasn’t done yet, either, taking second running the 1600 for his team with a 4:53.20 behind Concord’s Luke Owings and his 4:47.77 stop, but he saved possibly his best performance for last, mounting an epic comeback on the final lap of the varsity 4×400 and nearly propelling the Warriors to a second relay win before narrowly falling short of Plymouth’s Jorge Calix, who collapsed over the finish line to hold off Griner by a razor-thin .01 of a second as the hosts recorded a 4:09.86 stop ahead of Wawasee’s 4:09.87.
When he was all done competing, Griner took one final lap around the track at Plymouth as the rest of his team congregated in the infield.
“Luke is a selfless kid. He’ll step up and do whatever the team asks him to do, doesn’t complain one bit about it,” said Slabaugh. “Obviously, he leads by example, the energy he brings. I’m a lucky guy to have him on my team.”
Another state finalist, albeit as a heavyweight for Wawasee’s decorated wrestling team, Elisha Tipping also put up big points for the Warriors in Plymouth.
Tipping won both the shot with a 45’03.5” put and the discus with a 134’02” throw. Younger brother Isaiah gave the team some depth in the shot put with a 43’07.25” toss for third behind his big brother, meanwhile.
“Elisha coming in taking two wins, that’s big. He’s somebody that we can kind of count on, week in and week out,” Slabaugh said. “I joked with him a little bit, he threw 134’ and won disc, but he had an over 150’ today, and I watched him step out of the ring. Obviously he’s got potential to do quite a bit more. And I think he’s enjoying having his brother around. This is the first time his brother has ever done track so that’s kind of fun, and it’s nice having a little one-two punch. That helps.”
In yet another standout performance in the throwing events, junior Will Geer placed fourth in the discus with a 118’09” throw, a PR of better than 15 feet, and he was one of the athletes under consideration in Thursday’s Warrior Belt competition. Eric Yankosky finished fifth in the 100-meter dash with an 11.94 time and ran the opening leg of Wawasee’s 1600 relay race, Blake Albright took fifth in the high jump (5’03”), and Xavier Ortiz was fifth in the long jump (18’04.5”).
Concord’s Jakale Conerly claimed first in the 100 meters (11.14) — where the Minutemen swept the top three spots — and second in the 200 meters (23.67) behind Plymouth’s Blake Reed (23.55) as Concord took second through fourth there. He also ran a leg on Concord’s winning 400 relay (44.21) and claimed top honors in the long jump with a 19’11” leap. Owings won both the 1600 (4:47.77) and the 3200 (10:24.47) — a little over a second ahead of Plymouth’s Jeff Oliver (10:25.88) — and Jamyris Rice and Harold Moon went one-two in the 110 high hurdles for Concord, which topped Plymouth 71-61 for two wins.
Sam Tanner, Preston Cleveland and Kobe Johnson finished in order in the top three spots of the 300 intermediate hurdles in a clean sweep for the hosts, and defending state champion Nate Patterson cleared 6’10” ahead of Concord senior Caleb Smith’s 6’08” in a high-flying high jump competition. In addition to his win in the 200, Reed also ran a leg for Plymouth’s winning 1600 relay and its second-place 400 relay.
Wawasee’s boys are back in action alongside the girls team at the Jeff Showcase today at 5 p.m. and will have a short turnover before the Northside Relays Saturday at 10 a.m.
“I think we’ve got some new kids that are stepping in and making progress. At the same time we’ve got some maturing to do,” said Slabaugh. “We’ve got to be tougher, and there’s got to be more heart and want.”