GREENSBORO — It’s the fastest he’s ever run.
Sam Voelz saved his best high school effort for the last time he’d ever wear a New Palestine jersey and ended up making history for the Dragons.
The recent New Palestine graduate ran a personal-best time of 1 minute, 51.9 seconds in the 800-meter competition of the 2017 New Balance Track and Field National Championships in Greensboro, N.C. on Sunday.
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The time was good enough for a fifth-place finish among the top high school track athletes in the nation. In addition to setting a personal record, Voelz also earned All-American honors, a first for the school, thanks to his top-6 time.
While Voelz realized a dream, the school’s 4×800-meter relay, which included Voelz, fell short of the goal.
“I was definitely disappointed because I would have much rather gone All-American with my teammates than by myself, but it’s a surreal feeling,” Voelz said.
The 4×800 relay’s disappointment Saturday helped propel Voelz into his best run ever in the 800 on Sunday, he said. Voelz was not about to let his coaches or teammates down and credited Eric Branch and Chuck Meyers, assistant coaches, for preparing and pushing him through the season.
The race capped an unbelievable year for Voelz, who just a few short months ago could barely walk following surgery to repair a torn hip labrum.
“It was an incredible transformation, and it was hard along the way, but it’s all happened so quick that I don’t think everything has sunk in yet,” Voelz said.
Both Branch and Meyers made the trip to Greensboro and called Voelz’s run a very complete 800 meters. Voelz ran towards the front of the pack for most of the race, then turned on the jets down the home stretch to pull away and win his heat.
“Sam stayed very poised and was in very good control the entire race and knew exactly what he wanted to do,” Branch said.
The kick at the end was out of habit, Voelz said, from training with Branch all season who had pushed his runners to develop a strong finish.
Voelz was invited to the national competition to run in the 800 against the other top high school runners due to his times earlier in the year.
The New Palestine 4×800 relay team comprised of Caleb Eagleson, Chase Crowder, Spencer Corey and Voelz also was invited to compete and finished 25th with a time of 7:58.07.
Officials started the relay race differently from most standard meets with a water-fall beginning, one the New Pal runners weren’t used to.
The start was physical with the bigger runners jostling for positions almost taking Eagleson out. The fact he was able to compose himself and get back into the race was pretty remarkable, his coach said.
“That beginning kind of set the tone because we were in a position we’re usually not in,” Branch said. “Everyone understood what was happening and the energy changed very quickly.”
The rough start, the coaches said, affected the outcome.
Their time was well off the record-setting run the relay team captured when they finished second at the IHSAA state meet with a top-10, all-time run of 7:44.20, shattering the school record by over 8 seconds.
Had they been able to equal the state time in Greensboro, they would have finished seventh overall. A team from Cow Harbor, N.Y. finished first in 7:37.42.
As for Voelz, he headed into his 800-meter run fresh off of the Midwest Meet of Champions at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio. In early June, Voelz won first-place there setting a personal-best time of 1:52.28.
Voelz bested that time at the nationals Sunday.
The top-four runners all competed in a different heat, and while they had better times than Voelz, the way he ran his race made his coach wonder what he could have accomplished had he ran in the same heat as the other top competitors.
“He rises to the competition,” Branch said. “With his competitive nature, he is not afraid of anyone.”
While the 4×800 didn’t turn out how Voelz and the rest of his teammates had planned, they will go into the program record books as some of the best Dragon runners ever.
“We’re very proud of our guys,” Branch said. “They had an unbelievable season.”
2017 New Balance Nationals Outdoor Championships
800-meter run (official times)
Rey Rivera III, Old Bridge, N.J., 1:50.47
Cameron Cooper, Motor City, Mich., 1:51.33
Riley Mcdermott, Middletown, M.D., 1:51.67
Ben Bulkeley, Red Raider Racing Team, N.Y., 1:51.83
Sam Voelz, New Palestine, Ind., 1:51:90
John Rivera Jr. Lakewood Ranch, Fla., 1:52.04
* The top-six earned All-American Honors.