BELPRE - Six Belpre High School track athletes head for Columbus today to compete in the state track meet Friday and Saturday at Ohio State's Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
Three seniors, a junior, a sophomore and a freshman comprise the Golden Eagle contingent with senior long jumper Dakota Hoffman seeking a second straight state placing after finishing eighth in Division III last year. A jump of 19 feet, 10 1/4 inches in last week's regional, good for fourth place, earned him another trip to the state in the event.
Also qualifying for the state meet out of the regional were Belpre freshman sensation Cray Sistrunk, who came in third in the 1600-meter run in a time of 4:30.2, and the Golden Eagle girls 4 by 200 relay team of senior Allison Gherke, junior Taryn Carr, sophomore Sierra Barker and senior Sarah Walker with a fourth-place finish in 1:50.9.
STEVE?HEMMELGARN Special to the Times
Headed to Friday and Saturday’s Ohio state high school track meet from Belpre are, front row from left, girls 4 by 200 relay alternate Emma Williams, the 4 by 200 team of Allison Gherke, Sarah Walker, Sierra Barker and Taryn Carr; back row from left, head boys coach Chris Palmer, long jumper Dakota Hoffman, miler Cray Sistrunk, assistant coach Ryan Yates and head girls coach Jim Cunningham
Sistrunk had never run under a five-minute mile until this year. But Belpre head girls coach and the team's distance coach Jim Cunningham "told him at the beginning of the year, 'You're going to get it down,' and he did" to a personal best 4:30 in the regional to gain a state berth. "He's had just an absolutely awesome season for a freshman," added Cunningham. "He's quite a gifted runner. I think he's the only freshman in the Division III mile at the state meet."
For Sistrunk, his freshman year "has been better than I thought it would go," he said in an understatement. "I think I've gone above and beyond my original standards. But this week at state, I think I can drop my PR (personal record) substantially."
He's seeded 14th going into the D-III mile at state, but noted that "all the times are pretty close, and top eight get on the podium, so I'm not too far off - and anything can happen.
"I didn't have any expectations of getting to where I am right now, so it's a big surprise to me. But I'm happy for it."
Barker, in her first year of track, is "really excited" about going to compete in the state meet. "Basketball was my sport, but (head boys) coach (Chris) Palmer talked to me about trying track. He had us all do run-offs, and Taryn, Allison, Sarah and I just all clicked."
Meanwhile her 4 by 200 teammate Carr is "just trying to get through this week" to the end of track season with both Achilles tendons torn. "It hurts, but I want to go to state."
The injury started in the last month and "I began wearing a brace, but it kind of got worse as it went along because I wouldn't stop practicing," said Carr. "And the brace only makes the pain go away for a little bit."
The relay team took four seconds off its PR at regionals, "so we were very surprised," said Carr. "We did really good."
"I think we can do well at state, if we come out there with the same attitude we had at regionals - that even though we may not be the best, we can still accomplish anything if we do the best that we can. We'd need to run a 1:48 or 1:49, which I think we can do - hopefully."