By Josh Sigler
Some of the names and faces have changed, but the plot remains much the same.
The Kokomo boys track and field sectional, much like last year, will likely be a two-horse race between the host and three-time defending champion Wildkats and Eastern, a team looking to break through and win its first sectional title since 1998.
The squads have the bulk of the top seeds in tonight’s meet. Kokomo has eight top seeds and Eastern seven. On paper, it appears the hardware is truly up for grabs.
“We know Eastern is a very, very good team,” Kokomo coach Tom Byrnes said. “They have good balance and depth, and are a team that’s pretty solid all the way around with the kids they have in all their events. We know it’s going to come down between us and Eastern. Points-wise, we could come down to being quite a bit behind in the running events, but we hope our field events will bring us back into the rage of having a shot at it.”
The Wildkats enter the postseason already having their third straight North Central Conference title in tow.
Kokomo boasts three individuals who enter today as the top seed in two events.
Harvey Lenoir is the top seed in the 100-meter dash and 200 dash after finishing as the runner-up in both events in last year’s sectional.
Waylon Coulter is back to defend his sectional titles in the high jump and pole vault, and Darrion McAlister has the top distance seeds in the shot put and discus after taking second in both last season.
The Kats will also have the top seeds in the 4x100 and 4x400 relays.
“Our kids are going to have to pull up a little in some of their seeds,” Byrnes said. “Our hurdlers have to come through and we hope to improve a bit in the shot put and discus. Eastern is not going to score a lot of points in the shot, the disc and the pole vault, but we know we probably aren’t going to score in the 800. We have to have a little help from other schools and break [Eastern] up in the 800. We feel it will be pretty close, and everyone has to bring their A game.”
For Eastern, the man in charge has changed, as longtime coach Paul Nicholson handed over the reins to assistant Austin Roark, a former Comet thinclad in his own right. The first season leading the way has been a memorable one for Roark, as his team wrapped up its fourth straight Mid-Indiana Conference championship.
“We have a great team which makes it easy to be excited,” Roark said. “We’re trying to get our first sectional title in 15 years, so that makes it more of a challenge, but coach Nicholson left me with a good team.”
Leading the Comets is Miami University recruit Grant Cole, who enters tonight with the top seed in the 110 hurdles, 300 hurdles and long jump. Teammate Josiah Marx has the second seed in the long jump.
Reigning 800-meter sectional champion Riley Haupert has the top seed as he looks to defend his crown, while he and Will Porter are tied for the top seed in the 100 dash with Lenoir. Teammate K.J. Myers has the third fastest seed time in the 800.
The 4x800 relay team of Myers, Joshua Sommers, Lewis Duke and Adam Schaaf are all back from the sectional champion team from a year ago as the top seed, while the 4x400 relay team shares the top seed time with Kokomo.
“Long jump is crucial because we’re seeded 1-2 there. In the 100 dash and 200 dash, we have guys solidly in scoring position there,” Roark said. “We’d really like to sneak some points out of the throws and 400 dash. Those are the events that if we can get any points there, it’s icing on the cake. We’re pretty good everywhere else. Our distance guys are seeded well, but the 400 and throws are crucial.”
Western’s Matt Grider is the returning sectional champion in the 1,600 and 3,200 runs and will be tonight’s top seed in both events. He won both of those events and the 800 run in the MIC meet last week, while Brett Boswell was the MIC’s top discus thrower last week.
Northwestern’s James Schulte was the runner-up in the 400 in last season’s sectional. Teammates Darren Curry and Cameron Oden won MIC titles in the pole vault and 100 dash, respectively, last week, and hope to bolster the Purple Tigers’ lineup.
Taylor returns two regional qualifiers. Jay’Shon Jones finished fourth in the 110 hurdles in sectional action a season ago, while Kalob Bitner was third in the shot put. Bitner was the MIC champion in the shot put last week, while Jones finished second in the 110 hurdles in the conference meet.