By Josh Sigler
The seniors on Eastern’s girls track and field squad got the first leg of their farewell tour off to an emphatic start Wednesday night in the Howard County meet at Northwestern.
It was an effort for the ages, but by now, track and field enthusiasts in this area know it was just another day at the office for them.
The Comet seniors had a hand in six new meet records as their team ran away with its fourth straight Howard County title, topping second-place Northwestern 99-66. Western was a close third with 60 points, and Taylor finished with 17.
Eastern won 10 of the 16 events to leave no doubt who the class of the county was in what’s been an abbreviated season to this point due to the rain.
“We’ve had four meets, so it’s just good to come out and perform well and prepare ourselves for the conference and sectional meets,” Eastern coach Michael Goodspeed said. “We had some really good performances with a lot of records.”
Senior Bethany Neeley put her talents on display for what will prove to be the second-to-last time within Howard County, having a hand in four first-place finishes and three new county meet records.
She blazed to victory in the 100-meter hurdles in a new meet-record time of 15.4 seconds, topping second place by 1.6 seconds.
She made it a hurdles sweep in the 300, winning in a record time of :45.6, topping the field by almost eight seconds.
Her signature event, the 1,600 run, proved to be another record-breaker. The state’s reigning champion took top honors by six seconds in a new meet-record time of 5:22.6.
Bethany then closed out the day by combining with Anastasia Komarova, Jessie Sprinkles and twin sister Brittany Neeley to win the 4x400 relay in 4:15.9.
“This is a big change in the weather, so I think everyone was feeling it [Wednesday],” Bethany said. “I thought it was our best team performance of the year, so the biggest thing we take away from this meet is the team confidence. This will be a good memory, but this season just keeps getting better and better. We have a lot bigger goals we want to accomplish, and this is just starting the stair step of our goals that we want to reach.”
Brittany Neeley also took home four county titles, winning both the 400 dash (:59.0) and 200 dash (:26.2), both in meet-record time, and teaming with Avery Ewing, Sprinkles and Sarah Wagner to win the 4x800 relay in 10:52.
Wagner, also a senior, won the high jump, clearing 5 feet, 2 inches before pacing the field in the 3,200, winning in a new meet-record time of 11:58.
Sprinkles added an individual title in her freshman campaign, winning the 800 in 2:25.7.
Runner-up Northwestern took home the other six first-place finishes, led by three from junior Amber Miller.
Miller took top honors in the long jump at 16-2 and the pole vault at 9-6. She then teamed with Tearston Munson, Elise Cobb and Kaitlyn Daanen to win the 4x100 relay in :50.9, setting a new school record.
Daanen motored to victory in the 100 dash in :12.1 to set a new school record, while teammates Sarah Lowden (34-2) and Brooke Treadway (99-1) took top honors in the shot put and discus, respectively.
“We did very well [Wednesday]. I was very proud of them,” Northwestern coach Mary Clem said. “Being out in the heat changed it a little bit, and we had to adjust, but the girls ran well.”
Eastern edged Western by one point earlier in the season in a triangular meet in Greentown. Wednesday provided an opportunity for the Panthers to exact revenge, and they took advantage.
Western topped Eastern 85-75 to win the county title and prevent the Comets, who were competing without leader Grant Cole, from taking their fourth straight county crown.
“We knew we had a pretty good shot,” Western coach Marvin Boswell said. “We knew it was going to come down to a few key races. I thought our boys came out and really performed the way we wanted them to. I know, for our seniors, they wanted to be able to bring the title back over to our side of the county. It’s something the kids have talked about for quite a while. We knew when we went into our triangular meet that we didn’t run quite as well as we could have.”
Northwestern took third at 64 points, and Taylor finished with 20.
Junior Matt Grider won the 1,600 in 4:23.8, topping the next closest competitor by 25 seconds on his way to a new meet record. The Panther also took top honors in the 3,200 in 9:48.6 and ran a leg on the 4x800 relay team that took second to finish as his team’s top scorer.
“It means a lot to me personally,” Grider said. “I really wanted to help the team win because I knew my teammates really wanted this. I was glad I could come out and run some good times. I got my best time in the 1,600, and a lot of my teammates ran great races for themselves [Wednesday] as well.”
Corey Hinkle won the discus at 132-5, while Nick Braden won the 200 dash in :23.0 and then teamed with Christian Glenn, James Davis and Robert Harless to win the 4x100 relay in :44.6.
For Eastern, Josiah Marx set a new meet record in the long jump, clearing 21-8 for top honors.
The runner-up Comets won a pair of relays. Sam Higdon, K.J. Myers, Adam Schaaf and Joshua Sommers dominated the 4x800 relay, winning by 17 seconds over second-place Western in 9:16.
Myers, Sommers, Damon Byers and Josh Mentis took down home blue ribbons in the 4x400 relay in 3:33.4, and Sommers added an individual win in the 800 run in 2:06.3, edging second-place Myers by :00.2.
“I just wanted our guys to use this as a fire leading up into the conference and sectional meets,” Eastern coach Austin Roark said. “That’s ultimately our goal, and this is only going to push our guys to work harder the rest of this week and next week. And, hopefully we’ll come out and win conference and sectional titles. This stings — I’m not going to lie — but we’re going to use it to fuel us.”
Northwestern boasted five individual winners.
Weston Cockrell won the shot put at 45-9, Riley Hudson took top honors in the high jump at 6-1, James Schulte was tops in the 400 dash in :52.1, Darren Curry won the pole vault at 12-6, and Cameron Oden rounded out the Tigers’ winners in the 100 dash in :10.9.
Taylor’s JayShon Jones swept the hurdles events to take home two blue ribbons, taking down the 110 highs in :15.2 and the 300 in :42.2.