By Josh Sigler
Fort Wayne —
Heading into Tuesday’s IHSAA girls track and field regional at Fort Wayne Northrop High School’s Spuller Stadium, event workers alike weren’t sure of Eastern High School’s location.
After the dust settled, they may feel compelled to get a map out and find out where Greentown is located.
Led by seniors Sarah Wagner, Brittany Neeley and Bethany Neeley, the Comets qualified for the state finals in six separate events to finish fourth as a team with 55.5 points, behind host and champion Northrop (78), Bellmont (68) and Carroll (Allen) 66.
“Obviously we have the ability to run at a high level, so we just really wanted to come in here and run with good teams,” Eastern coach Michael Goodspeed said. “I’m not sure if [school size] is necessarily an issue for us because we’ve competed at a national level for, really, four years.”
Gang Green started the meet off much like they have in every other meet this season, blowing away the field in the 4x800-meter relay, as freshman Jessie Sprinkles and seniors Sarah Wagner, Brittany Neeley and Bethany Neeley motored to victory in a meet record time of 9:01.27. According to Goodspeed, that’s the fastest time ever run in an Indiana high school track meet. It would’ve set a new state finals record. A team from Chesterton ran a 9:03.77 in 2006, and Eastern will have a chance to trump that on June 1 at Indiana University for the IHSAA state finals.
“Once we ran 9:10 about a month ago, it was a pretty big surprise,” Bethany Neeley said. “I thought the weather [Tuesday] wasn’t going to be good but it turned out to be great. We just wanted to come out and run fast. I thought everyone looked fast, but not particularly extremely fast. It just looked like a normal race. And, Brittany and Jessie ran really well in the open 800, so that may give us a chance to run under 9:00, and that’s just unreal. It’s coming out of nowhere. We didn’t even plan on running this event at the beginning of the year.”
Goodspeed was elated about the 4x800 relay, adding: “That’s the fastest time in the state, and we’re talking 38, 39 years, and we did it by three seconds. And I had a girl tell me she could go faster. That was just amazing.”
Bethany Neeley also won the 1,600 in 4:58.47, topping Columbia City’s Sam Roush by nearly eight seconds. Bethany will look to defend her state title in the event at the state finals. She also took third in the 300 hurdles, and plans to compete in the state finals in that event, as well.
Brittany Neeley paced the field in the 800, setting a meet record with a time of 2:11.40. Sprinkles was hot on her heels for much of the race, and wound up third in a time of 2:15.29 to advance to state in a second event as a freshman.
Wagner matched a personal record by clearing 5 feet, 4.25 inches to tie for third place in the high jump, advancing to state in that event for the third straight year.
“I was supposed to run the [3,200] and was still jumping, so I walked off the track for that,” Wagner explained. “I thought that was a big risk so I was praying when 5-4.25 came. It feels so good. I’m excited to go to state. I’ve really worked on technique and form in recent weeks, and it’s paying off.”
Eastern’s 4x400 relay team finished in second place, as Avery Ewing, Bethany Neeley, Sprinkles and Brittany Neeley sped to a 3:56.05. Northrop won the event in 3:51.98. Those are the two fastest times run in the state this season, according to Bethany Neeley.
“We were all pretty nervous coming in with the No. 6 seed,” Brittany Neeley said of the 4x400 relay. “We didn’t run last week as well as we could have. Bethany ran an awesome leg of :56.80, which is flying. I just felt very comfortable when she handed off to Jessie. I knew Jessie wouldn’t let anyone pass her. We feel pretty confident with me on the anchor leg with anyone in the state, so I don’t think it could’ve gone any better when you look at our race and the splits.”
Kokomo’s junior class put forth a performance to remember, as well, advancing six competitors in four events for the Wildkats, who finished sixth as a team with 34 points.
“As I said along after taking over this position, we’re a big meet team,” Kokomo coach K.O. Jackson said. “People have noticed our field events have been doing exceptionally well since the [Indianapolis] North Central Invitational. [Tuesday], our sprinters finally did some things I knew they were capable of doing. That really pleased me.”
Summer Blackamore won the shot put with a heave of 43-4. She also took second in the discus with a throw of 131-0, setting a school record in the process. She’ll be making her third state finals appearance in as many tries.
“We’ve been training since last summer, so I’ve seen her throw since January when she was throwing 36-0 in the shot,” Jackson said. “Now you consistently see her in the 40s. That shows me she’s consistently practicing doing it well. Her coach Bobby Pettigrew is doing a great job with her, so I’m excited to see what she does next week at the state meet.”
Anh Pham finished second in the pole vault, clearing 11-6 to advance to state for the second straight year.
“She got a new pole, and that helps,” Jackson said. “She’s been consistently practicing well with her father, Linh. That’s the thing about all of our field events. They consistently practice well. That’s what shows up in meets like this. I still think she can reach 12-0.”
Kokomo’s 4x100 relay team is also headed back to state, as the team of Brianna Lancaster, Ma-Ryssa Martin, Raven Pugh and Iesha Wallace took third in :49.62.
“We broke a lot of people’s hearts [Tuesday in the 4x100]. That’s what we want to do. We want to work hard and break people’s hearts in meets like this because we’re a big meet team. The teams that came out of [the Fort Wayne Northrop Regional] made it to the podium at the state meet.”
Northwestern will also have a representative in the state finals, as junior Amber Miller was one of nine competitors to meet the state standard in the long jump, clearing 17-7.25 to finish sixth overall. That distance was over a foot better than what she cleared at the sectional.
“She cleared a 16-4 in the sectional,” Northwestern coach Mary Clem said. “We practiced more on the long jump this week. He adrenaline just got to flowing running back and forth between the long jump and the pole vault. It means everything to her. It’s funny because we told her on our drive up here to focus on the pole vault, and she got out in the long jump.”
Taryn Thor set a school record in the 1,600 for Northwestern, finishing seventh in 5:19.07.
Kaitlyn Daanen also set a new school record for the Purple Tigers, taking eighth in the 200 in :26.15.
Not to be outdone, Northwestern’s 4x100 team of Miller, Daanen, Tearsten Munson and Elise Cobb set a school record, taking sixth in :49.97.