GREENFIELD — Last year, Greenfield-Central advanced four events to the IHSAA Boys Track and Field State Finals at Robert C. Haugh Track and Field Complex at Indiana University in Bloomington.
This year, they doubled the amount with another strong performance at the Greenfield-Central Boys Track and Field Regional, Thursday.
The four returning state qualifiers — Kirk Knecht, Elliot Ryba, Griffen Wheeler and the 400-meter relay team — advanced once again. And four more Cougars punched their ticket to join them at the IU campus.
On top of that, the Cougars placed third as a team with 78 points. Center Grove won the team title with 122, and Warren Central was runner-up with 98.
“Excellent to do that on your home track. That was almost the best case scenario,” Greenfield-Central head coach Aaron Smith said. “The guys that we had last year, they showed up again, and that’s never guaranteed. We’re thankful for every moment that we get to be there with a chance. Just a great night all around”
A year ago, for senior distance runner Griffen Wheeler, the trip to state came on meeting the state standard time in the 800-meter run. This time, he left no doubt that he would be advancing by beating the field by nearly two seconds to become a regional champion.
“I wouldn’t say it was an easy win by any means. This year, every event but the 800 had gone well, so I wasn’t very confident coming into the 800 at sectional,” Wheeler said. “I knew I had the fitness under me, but I just wasn’t sure when it was going to show. Today it showed a little more, but I definitely think I have more in the tank for next weekend.”
For Wheeler, this moment has been a long time coming.
“It feels familiar. I’ve been envisioning it since June of last year,” he said. “I had a rough summer after my poor performance at state, so it just all feels familiar in my mind.”
Joining him as a regional champion was Ryba in the high jump. A callback to get to the regional event last year, Ryba followed his sectional title last week with a regional title Thursday. He won with a height of 6-feet, 7-inches.
Knecht, a junior, is now a perfect 3-for-3 in state trips in his high school career. He advanced again in multiple events. For the third year in a row, he qualified in the long jump with a runner-up finish and distance of 21-feet, 6 1/2 inches.
Qualifying alongside them were first-time qualifiers Carter Crouch in the 1600, Christopher Ross in the 3200, Cash Looper in the 110 high hurdles, and Reese Hill in the shot put.
For all three, it took a come-from-behind effort to secure the top-three finish.
In the 110-meter hurdles, Looper cleared the final hurdle in fifth place, but in the final 10-meter stretch he passed both Columbus North’s Liam Milne and Warren Central’s De’andre Erskine to qualify by .02 seconds.
“Cash in the hurdles has really improved this year, so that was awesome for him,” Smith said.
The 1600, and 3200 races came down to the final stretch as well.
In the 1600, Crouch moved from fourth to second in the final 200 meters, and in the 3200, a burst of speed by Ross in the final 100 meters allowed him to pass Columbus North’s Neal White for third place. Ross’s time of 9:25.87 was a new school record.
“That comes down to them just putting in the hard work. Everybody on the track has put in the hard work, or has the desire to, but those guys just really want it,” Smith said. “They were all telling me today, ‘I got it, I got it.’ They believe in themselves because they put themselves in a position to do well.”
The 400 relay saw a similar finish to punch their ticket.
Through the first three legs ran by Ian Jack, Aaron Lee, and Michael Runions the Cougars sat in fourth place. A clean handoff to Knecht on the final 100 meters allowed him to jump in front of both Whiteland Community and Franklin Central by .01 seconds for the runner-up spot. The Cougars time of 42.60 broke the school record that they set a week ago at the sectional.
The final state qualifier for Greenfield-Central was Hill in the shot put. His personal best distance of 53-feet, 10 1/4 inches earned him second place.
New Palestine, just like Greenfield-Central, left no doubt that they’d have a competitor at next week’s event.
A callback in the pole vault at the state meet last year, Jack Rossell cleared a height of 13-feet, 8-inches to place third and automatically qualify.
The Dragons 3200 relay team of Gavin Smith, Conner Lapenta, Daniel Davis, and Cody Crawmer placed fourth with a time of 8:12.62.
Their 400 relay team, and James O’Dell in the 300 hurdles, both earned points and placed eighth.
As a team, New Palestine placed 11th with 13 points.
Rounding out the point scorers for the Cougars were Ian Jack in the 200-and the 1600 relay with fourth place finishes. Hill was eighth in the discus.
The state finals will take place next Friday, June 2, beginning at 3 p.m.