WARSAW — Boxed in and sitting all the way back in sixth place during a strategic first lap of the 800 meters, Wawasee junior Luke Griner kept his cool.
The defending regional champ stayed patient until his opening appeared with around 300 meters to go on the backstretch of the Warsaw track, and then he made his move. And what a move it was.
Griner passed the front of the pack like it was standing still, then easily held off Northridge’s Tanner Sallee and Culver Academy’s Callway Bird at the finish, both of whom somersaulted across the finish line trying to cross the line first. Griner’s 1:55.15 — more than two seconds better than his regional-championship time as a sophomore at last year’s Kokomo Regional — earned him the repeat championship, while Sallee finished second at 1:55.48 and Bird wound up third with a 1:55.51 in a dramatic finish at the Warsaw Boys Track and Field Regional Thursday.
“I was never worried about what was going to happen,” said Griner of the first lap Thursday. “I knew I have it. I just had to make sure I got out of the box-out and made my move. I was relaxed.”
Griner now gets the opportunity to reprise his ninth-place finish at last year’s state meet as the IHSAA State Finals convene next Saturday, June 2 at the Robert C. Haugh Track and Field Complex on the IU Bloomington campus. It will be his second straight state appearance in the 800 meters and his third straight state finals berth after making the cut during the cross country season last fall.
“This has been on my mind all year, state. The most important race for me, for sure,” he said. “I’ve just got to do everything I can to prepare for it — eat right, sleep right. There’s nothing else I can do but run my hardest next week.”
While Griner’s was Kosciusko County’s lone championship Thursday, a number of area athletes earned themselves the right to advance with top three finishes at the regional meet, where Elkhart Central won the title with 68.5 points ahead of Goshen, which put up 56 points for runner-up honors a week after winning its first sectional championship since 1943.
Host Warsaw punched a trio of tickets to the track and field finale in Bloomington, two by its distance corps and one in the field.
Nolan Groninger, Francisco Ramirez, Taylor Mills and Tanner Stiver clocked 8:02.94 in the 4×800 for third place there, while Justin Fleming finished third in the 1600 with a 4:25.63 stop, and Hunter Metzger cleared 13 feet for third place in the vault.
Tippecanoe Valley’s Dakota Parker collected his second straight state qualification with a 50.54-second time and third place in the 400 meters, and he’ll be joined this year by fellow Viking senior Jameson Baker, who bettered his seed in the shot by nearly five full feet for a 53’03” measurement in the finals and third place there.
NorthWood senior Terrell Pratcher stumbled off the blocks in the 200-meter dash, and Central’s Adam Moon handed him his first loss of the season in the race, but his 22.31 was more than good enough to earn him an appointment at state next week as he finished second in the half-lap. But Pratcher first had to endure a heartbreak in the 4×100.
The Panthers’ 400 relay crew of Pratcher, Landon Parker and Bronson and Brayton Yoder entered Thursday’s regional meet with a top seed time nearly a second better than anyone else in the field, and they made it stand up on the track. But the handoff from Pratcher to Bronson going into the race’s third leg was ruled late, disqualifying the would-be champions. Even though he knew there was little chance at having the ruling overturned, coach Mark Beemiller appealed it anyway, and his fear was confirmed as NorthWood’s time was ultimately wiped from the board, clearing the way for Central to claim the 4×100 title.
“According the rules, it’s very difficult to overturn a judgment call, and that violation is a judgement call. What’s unfortunate, this is a regional meet, and you’ve got two guys watching the zone that aren’t officials. At the NLC we had three. And then you can’t look at video,” explained Beemileer. “Going into the appeal we were kind of dead in the water, but we went through it anyway. Everybody was very kind and helpful. It was a good process; we just kind of ended up on the short end of it.”
It was a heartbreaking decision to be sure, but Beemiller tried to keep it in perspective.
“That’s what just hurts because it wasn’t like we were battling for the third spot. Probably one of the top 10 relay teams in the state, and I told the judges and the appeals group I just hope they’re darned sure that it was definitely out,” he said. “I hope they were sure because the baton has to be out, and we take that exchange to the end. We want Terrell to run as long as he can. Bronson Yoder is the smartest guy out here. If he sees that yellow chevron coming up he’s going to back off it. It is what it is.
“You do this long enough, and you have a chance to work with great kids and you hate to see things taken away like this. They’re great kids, and they’re going to have great lives.”
While there were a number of impressive performances at Thursday’s regional, none was more impressive than Plymouth senior Nate Patterson’s.
The USC commit not only easily won his third straight regional championship in the high jump, but his final high school regional performance was special even by his lofty standards. Patterson set new state and regional records with a 7’3 1/2” jump, a mark that also represented the fifth best jump by anyone in the nation.
“It was just a great feeling to finally get over it. I’ve tried the last five meets to get over that, over and over again,” said Patterson. “I had great conditions. After I cleared 7’1” on my first attempt, I told myself ‘You know what? Today’s the day. I’m getting it.’
“I came here tonight expecting the best out of myself, and that’s what I did. And now I’m expecting that going down to the state meet. I just got the all-time state record with that jump, and now I’m hoping to get the state meet record next weekend.”
Patterson also won himself a second regional championship in the long jump Thursday, where his 23’02.5” set the standard. That jump was only a foot better than runner-up Luke Beehler of LaVille’s best, but the twist is that it was only Patterson’s fourth meet competing in the event since his freshman year.
“My coach asked me at the beginning of the year if I was interested in doing long jump, and at first I was skeptical about it because my freshman year I tore my meniscus doing it,” Patterson recalled. “I talked to my mom about it, and she told me it would be good for me to take my mind off of high jump a little bit because I focus so much on it. I told myself that as soon as I get good weather I’ll try it out. At my first meet I jumped like a 22 flat, and I was like ‘Alright, I could be pretty good at this.’ Last week at sectional I broke our school record at 23 even, and (today) I jumped 23’1/2”.
“Today was just a perfect day for me. I’m happy.”
Also Thursday, Bronson Yoder finished on the bubble in fourth place in the long jump with a 21’08.75”, and brother Brayton placed fourth in the 100 meters with an 11.25-second stop. Wawasee’s Elisha Tipping wound up sixth in the discus with a 138’06” toss, and brother Isaiah Tipping was ninth in the shot with a 48’11.5” put, while Michael Hammer finished 12th in the 800 with a time of 2:04.76. Warsaw’s Eli Owen finished fourth in the 300-meter hurdles with a 39.86 time, while teammate Lucas Howett placed sixth in the two-mile with a 9:48.56 time.