BLOOMINGTON — Sam Voelz didn’t turn back until he crossed the finish line.
On Friday night, the present at long last overshadowed his past — the injuries, the other countless setbacks and his lifelong friend and rival, who trailed behind by only two-hundredths of a second.
There was no need to look back. The New Palestine senior had finally reached his destination.
“This has been a journey,” Voelz remarked while still trying to catch his breath at the Robert C. Haugh Track and Field Complex at Indiana University. “This has been a long time.”
Finishing the 800-meter run in 1 minute, 52.60 seconds during the IHSAA Track and Field State Meet, Voelz became the first individual boys track state champion in program history. He is only the second individual champion in school history to win a title since Lorrie Swegman in 1976.
“I much rather have the championship for the 4×800 (relay) because to win it as a team is so much better, but I’m happy I could at least win the individual,” Voelz said.
Voelz rarely stopped moving on the Dragons’ banner day in Bloomington. The anchor on the 4×800 and 4×400 relays, Voelz and New Palestine placed runner-up in both two events in 7:44.20 and 3:18.51, respectively.
The team placed sixth overall with 26 points, while Carmel won the team state title with 69 and Avon (47) and North Central (43) were third and fourth.
The brief moments when Voelz stood still was for pictures on the all-state podium and shortly after the 800 as he turned around to hug runner-up Parker Jones of Pendleton Heights.
Jones, a close friend and competitor of Voelz since they were in grade school, ran the 800 in 1:52.60 for second.
The two have crossed paths countless times on the cross-country course and on the track over the years, but a recent meeting during the Hoosier Heritage Conference Meet last month cemented Voelz’s motivation for state.
Voelz (2:01.47) had to settle for second in the 800 (2:01.47) during the HHC Meet as Jones won in 1:56.81.
“It’s been me and Parker for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been about a foot taller than him, so it’s real easy to pick us out,” Voelz joked. “We’ve gone back and forth. He’s had a lot of success, so I’ve always been gunning for him. He’s always been my target, so it’s nice to see all my hard work payoff. I finally got him.”
For once, Voelz was healthy enough to bring his best.
Sidelined with an Achilles injury as an underclassmen, a torn hip labrum robbed him of progression again in both cross country and track until last spring when he excelled with track newcomer Caleb Eagleson, Spencer Corey and Riley Wilson on the 4×800 relay team.
The quartet placed 15th at the state meet a year ago, and reunited, minus a graduated Wilson, this year, adding senior Chase Crowder to the mix.
Together the seniors were prolific this season, winning the Hancock County and Hoosier Heritage Conference titles while remaining unbeaten the entire postseason.
Their path remained a mystery, even to the foursome, until they caught a glimpse of what was possible during the Miracle Mile at Franklin Central in April as they ran a school-record time of 7:52.55.
“They came out for the Miracle Mile and had a chip on their shoulder to prove something,” New Palestine cross county head coach and assistant track coach Chuck Myers said. “They ran a 7:52 that night, and they just kept going.”
Their time stood at No. 1 in the state until last week when Carmel ran a 7:50.34 at regional. On Friday, the Dragons knew the Greyhounds were going to be their main competition at state.
“Our first goal was just to break eight minutes, then when we went to the Miracle Mile and went 7:52, we thought, maybe we can do something,” Eagleson said. “After that meet, we found out we qualified for New Balance Nationals, and that was something we never even imagined.”
A runner-up finish behind Carmel (7:43.65) at state showed they were a force and no fluke.
“It’s very rare to come from a small school and have four great guys and compete against a top-tier team like Carmel,” Voelz said. “Our workouts this year have been like no other. Our coach (Kyle Ralph) and our other coaches have done a great job to help us meet expectations and more. It all paid off tonight.”
The 4×400 relay team made waves in the final event of the night, pushing up a spot down the final stretch with a final split at 48.48 by Voelz to take second in their heat. North Central won the relay in 3:17.79.
“Samuel got healthy this year and really started running. I couldn’t be prouder of the kid. He ran an absolutely great day,” Myers said. “He has three school records, a first and two seconds. Just unbelievable.”
Senior Brady Walden, who led the 4×400 relay team, also placed 12th in the long jump at 21 feet, 10.25 inches. Colby Jenkins and Corey completed the 4×400 relay quartet.
“We knew last year we were going to place (in the 4×800), but the experience was great. It made us less nervous and motivated this year,” said Eagleson, who finished 24th in the 1,600-meter run at 4:31.67.
The Dragons were confident throughout and it led to three state medals.
“Especially to start the season, knowing how good our team was and having all these guys around me made me want to run faster. I wanted to win it for them,” Voelz said.