By Bruce Monnin
PIQUA -- The Minster girls 3,200-meter relay team won the opening event of the regional track meet, and it turned out to be the first of many local individuals and teams to qualify for next week's state track meet in Columbus.
The Minster girls were the early leader in the team standings with 25 points. New Bremen was third in the placings with nine points, Versailles fourth (eight points), Marion Local 10th (five points), Fort Recovery 13th (four points) and St. Henry 15th (one point).
The Lady Wildcats' 3,200-meter relay team appeared to be in for repeat of last year's tight regional race, as they trailed Fort Loramie by about 50 meters after the first two legs. But Joanna Gruber took the baton on the third leg and not only caught the leader but built up a 50-meter cushion of her own before handing off to Sunni Olding for the winning anchor leg.
But perhaps one of the most important events of the day for the Minster girls was advancing both Amy Kramer and Stacey Sudhoff to state in the high jump. Kremer won handily with a jump of 5-5, while Sudhoff finished in fourth place by clearing 5-1.
"It felt really good today," stated Kremer. "5-5 is my personal record this year, but 5-6 is my all-time best. That was last year. Hopefully, next week at state I can get 5-7." The Minster girls still have two relays and 10 individual chances to qualify for the state meet in Friday's finals. They look to be solid favorites to defend their regional title against the challenges from Cincinnati Country Day and Versailles.
The only other area girls to qualify for state were the Versailles and Marion Local 3,200-meter relay teams, which finished second and fourth, respectively.
Several area girls will look to get to the state meet in Friday's finals. Marion Local's Abby Schulte turned in some of the top qualifying times in the 100 and 200 dashes and the Flyers' 400-meter relay team had the second best qualifying time. The St. Henry 800-meter relay team posted the fifth best time in the preliminaries and New Bremen's Anna Schlater is one of the favorites in the discus.
On the boys side, Minster again used the field events to secure the first day lead with 18 points. Fellow MAC squad Delphos St. John's is in second with 16 points, while New Bremen is in fourth (13 points), Marion Local fifth (10 points) and Parkway is 10th (five points).
The Marion Local 3,200-meter relay team followed the lead of the Minster girls and claimed victory in their opening event, bettering their time from last week's district meet by 17 seconds. Their 800 and 400 relays both placed fourth in qualifying, and thus have a good chance of also qualifying for the state meet. The Flyers also hope to advance Ryan Winner and Tyler Speelman in the 1600 run and both Ryan Winner and Corey Winner in the 3,200 run.
The leading Minster Wildcats scored big points in the discus with Dane Sommer finishing second, bettering his personal record by two feet. The 3,200 relay also qualifyied with a third-place finish and Justin Meiring just missed going to state when he finished fifth in the long jump. Minster's three other relay teams qualified second (800 relay), third (400 relay) and sixth (1600 relay), thus creating the possibility that all four teams could advance to state competition.
New Bremen's Kevin Heitkamp will also move on to the state meet, courtesy of a second-place finish in a pole vaulting event that held the crowds interest late in the meet. After all but three competitors could not clear higher than 12-6, Heitkamp, event winner Paul Metzner from Delphos St. John's and a West Liberty-Salem vaulter matched each other height for height until all three cleared 13-3 and none could go any further. The Cardinals' 3,200 relay also advanced with a fourth-place finish and Troy Lammers had an excellent day, qualifying with the best time in the 100 hurdles, the second best in the 300 hurdles and fifth best in the 100 dash.
Parkway's Brandon Bowen was the final local state qualifier with a fourth-place finish with a long jump of 20-9. Bowen was far from satisfied with the effort that provided him with his first trip to the state meet.
"I can do better than that. I wasn't in my zone today," explained Bowen. "I only made it to regionals last year, but I had a good time watching my brother (shot putter Lucas Bowen) at state my freshman year."
Bowen also qualified for Friday's finals in the 100 and 200-meter dashes, and the Panthers' 400-meter relay team posted the fifth best time in the preliminaries.
Meanwhile, St. Henry's Jon Hemmelgarn also advanced to the finals, posting the fifth best time in the 400 preliminaries.
While sprinter-laden Dayton Jefferson is the favorite to take the boys' regional title, Marion Local, New Bremen and Minster look to be their top three challengers for the title.