By Josh Sigler
Austin Roark’s first season as the head boys track and field coach at Eastern High School just keeps getting better and better.
A week after guiding the Comets to their first sectional title since 1998, Roark will join six of his athletes at next weekend’s IHSAA state finals after advancing out of Thursday’s Kokomo Regional at Walter Cross Field.
“We put six through, and that’s not counting alternates. And we put two through in one event, so that’s great,” Roark said. “But, I gotta give all the credit to these kids. They come out and work every day. Especially the distance guys. They’re the first ones there and the last ones to leave [practice] every night.”
The Comets came into Thursday’s regional with the eighth fastest seed time in the 4x800-meter relay, sneaking into the final spot in the second, and faster, section.
The foursome of Lewis Duke, Adam Schaaf, K.J. Myers and Joshua Sommers shaved nine seconds off of their seed time despite unseasonably cold temperatures to finish second in 8 minutes, 11.37 seconds, :00.02 behind champion Goshen, to stamp the area’s first ticket to the state finals.
“It was great to see,” Roark said. “We knew we had to come out and run really well. We didn’t know that the weather was going to be this cold. So, we were shooting for 8:04 or 8:05. We know that would be close to putting us [on to state]. An 8:11 in this type of weather is outstanding.”
Comet seniors Grant Cole and Josiah Marx made it a long jump to remember Thursday, taking first and third, respectively, to both earn trips to the state finals, giving them one more meet as teammates.
Cole tied his personal-best leap, clearing 23 feet, 9 inches to claim regional-champion honors and return to the state finals for the second straight year in the event.
“I’m pretty excited,” Cole said. “We’re looking forward to going down to the state meet and doing as best as we can, maybe take home some medals. I’d say I can jump further because I’m a little congested and my leg wasn’t feeling the best. I could tell I was dropping one of my feet on my landing so I was cutting myself short from what I could’ve gotten, so I definitely see myself in the 24-foot range.”
Marx posted a career-best jump of 22-7 to also punch his ticket to the state finals.
“I was pretty happy with my results,” Marx said. “It was a little cold, but I’m happy I can go down to state with Grant my last year. My previous PR was 22-6, so I only beat it by an inch, but that’s still a PR. It’s hard to say how much the weather affected me. There was one jump where if I could’ve stuck the landing better I could’ve jumped another six inches to a foot. I just need to work on that and hopefully will do better at state.”
Kokomo senior Waylon Coulter was the area’s only athlete to qualify for the state finals in two events.
Coulter cleared 13-6 in the pole vault to claim a regional championship. He punched his ticket to state in his second event of the night by taking runner-up honors in the high jump, clearing 6-4.
“I’ve literally dreamed of this night,” Coulter said. “Honestly, Tuesday night I sprained my ankle, and that really scared me. [Wednesday], it was kind of bad and so I wasn’t sure. But [Thursday] I woke up and I completely felt better. The pain was just gone. It was like it was God-given. I knew the high jump might not be so easy but I came through. And in the pole vault I was really scared. I came in seeded at 13-0 and it took me until my third attempt to get 13-6. What a crazy night.”
Northwestern sophomore Darren Curry also had reason to celebrate, clearing 13-0 in the pole vault to finish third and also stamp a ticket to the state finals. That was six inches better than the 12-6 he cleared in the sectional, taking runner-up honors to Coulter last week.
“I’ve been working with a lot of coaches and I’ve been trying to get on a bigger pole,”’ Curry said. “With the tailwind [Thursday] night I finally got on the bigger pole, and that helped a lot. It feels great. This was a goal of mine, and now I’ve reached all of the goals I set for this season. This season’s been a lot of fun. I’ve enjoyed it.”
Western junior Matt Grider put forth a strong performance in the 3,200 run despite a stiff headwind in each of the eight trips he made down the backstretch at Walter Cross Field, finishing second in 9:33.14 to advance to state for the second straight season. Warsaw’s Jacob Poyner won the event in 9:26.40.
“It was tough,” Grider said of the conditions. “There were a couple laps where I was leaning and could really feel it. That’s why I tried to let other people lead and block the wind as much as possible. Going in, I wanted to run sub-9:30, but with the wind, a 9:33 is perfectly fine. The regional is really just more about getting the placing.”
Maconaquah will also send a representative to state. Junior K.J. Walton finished third in the 400 dash in :51.00 to earn the trip to Bloomington.
Taylor’s Jay’Shon Jones narrowly missed out on a trip to state, taking fourth in the 110 hurdles in :15.40.
Northwestern’s Cameron Oden was also a victim of the slower times across the board Thursday night due to the weather, taking fifth in the 100 dash in :11.19 and fourth in the 200 dash in :22.81, just missing the state standard in both events.
The top three in each event, plus those meeting the state standard in each event advance to the state finals. The Kokomo boys regional only had one event where more than three athletes advanced to state via meeting the state standard. In contrast, Tuesday’s Fort Wayne Northrop girls regional had 59 state-standard qualifiers.