VERSAILLES – Last year’s track and field season was filled with adversity for Versailles.
Some of the Tigers already have erased the demons of last year while others hope to do so this weekend at the Ohio High School Athletic Association state track and field meet.
“Last year was one of our rougher seasons that we’ve had that I can recall,” Versailles track and field coach Mike Goubeaux said. “Tons of talent but we had so many injuries last year.”
In their quest for a stronger showing at this year’s state meet Versailles is sending 10 athletes, eight girls and two boys, to compete in the Division II competition at The Ohio State University’s Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus. Together they will represent their school in five individual events and a pair of relays.
“They have a lot of fun with one another,” Goubeaux said. “To see that excitement and the memories they build together is why they enjoy this time of year so much. It’s always a good feeling when you’re bringing more than just one athlete or two athletes – bringing a team is what it’s all about.”
Of Versailles’ 10 state qualifiers, seven are returners to Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium while three are first-time participants in the state track and field meet. Having so much experience has the Tigers feeling confident entering this weekend’s meet.
“I used to be really nervous and scared to go out there and run, but I’m actually really excited, and I don’t think I’ll be too nervous,” said junior Cassie Peters, a three-time state track qualifier.
Versailles’ most experienced athlete entering the state meet is senior Jenna Frantz, who is making her fourth trip to Columbus. This year she qualified for state in the girls pole vault, long jump and 4×100 meter relay, making this the first time she’ll compete in more than one event at the state meet.
“I’m super excited to contribute so many points hopefully for the team,” she said.
Frantz competed in state pole vault competition her first two years of high school, placing seventh as a freshman and second as a sophomore. Last year she suffered a concussion during the district meet, which prevented her from advancing to state in the pole vault.
Now Frantz is feeling strong and hoping to win the state championship in pole vault, which is her favorite event.
“I definitely have my eyes on the gold this year,” she said. “I’ve been wanting that for many years, and I think it will all line up.”
The Versailles senior also will have a chance to compete in the state long jump competition for the first time in her career after jumping 18 feet 3 inches last week – beating her previous best mark by more than a foot.
“My dad has been telling me all year that I’m going to jump 18, and I didn’t believe him until I finally did it,” she said.
Frantz will be joined in the pole vault and 4×100 meter relay by teammate Lucy Prakel. The Versailles freshman has watched the state competition many times as her brother Sam and sisters Mary and Margaret all competed at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium and won state championships.
“It feels great as a freshman,” Prakel said. “I’m very privileged to be on this team and go and carry on the track talent in my family. It feels great to actually go and not be watching my older siblings.”
Mary Prakel and Sam Prakel were state champion runners in distance and mid-distance events while Margaret helped lead the Lady Tigers to the 2010 Division III team championship.
Prakel is happy to continue her family’s track and field tradition while embracing new events that her siblings didn’t participate in.
“My dad’s kind of enjoyed it, just kind of do different things,” she said. “I’ve kind of training my parents to not make me go on distance runs anymore.”
Without a Prakel in the mix, Joe Spitzer has taken the lead for Versailles’ distance runners as the junior qualified for state in the boys 3,200 meters. His mark of 9:25.26 was the state’s fastest in last week’s regional meets.
“I have the fastest regional time so my goal is of course the state title,” Spitzer said. “Regional times aren’t always indicative of the other people’s best performances, though.”
The 3,200 meter run is one of the most unpredictable events in track and field, Goubeaux said.
“If there’s one event that I’ve seen swing more than any event it’s this event,” the Versailles coach said. “Lots of strategy in the 2 mile, more than what spectators sometime realize.”
The second Versailles boy to qualify for state is Josh Steinbrunner. The junior is a three-time state qualifier in the boys 110 meter hurdles.
In his first two trips to state Steinbrunner finished 10th in the 110 hurdles. Both times he finished less than 0.1 seconds out of qualifying position for the event final.
“Josh is tired of 10th at the state track meet,” Goubeaux said. “He’s going to break in. He wants it bad.”
This past week at regionals Steinbrunner ran a personal-best time of 14.66 seconds, which has him feeling confident entering this weekend’s competition.
“I ran a PR last meet so I feel like I can make it to finals this year,” he said.
Camille Watren also is making her third trip to the state track and field meet. Last year a hamstring injury prevented her from competing in Columbus so she’s glad to be back.
“I think it just makes me want it more,” the Versailles senior said. “I want to do that much better this year, especially because it’s my last year as well.”
Camille Watren qualified for state in the girls 4×400 meter relay and the 400 meter run.
“That was my whole goal this year, just to get there in the 400, and I did it,” she said of making it to state in the 400 meter run. “Just seeing my goal actually become a reality is pretty cool.”
Joining Camille Watren in the 4×4 relay is her sister Liz Watren plus Emily Langenkamp and Ellen Peters.
Last year’s 4×400 meter relay team finished ninth in the state – just one spot shy of earning a spot on the podium.
“Last year we were one spot short of that,” Liz Watren said of making the podium. “That feeling is really bad.”
This year the 4×4 relay team is seeking redemption and a spot on the podium.
“Last year getting ninth place in the 4×4 was kind of a hard position to stand in,” Ellen Peters said. “This year I want to stand on top of that podium with a medal around our necks.”
Langenkamp is a three-time state track qualifier and is seeking her first podium finish.
“I just want a chance to redeem ourselves and get a state medal,” the senior said. “It’s always been my goal to get a state medal at track.”
Versailles also has qualified for state in the girls 4×100 meter relay. Along with Frantz and Prakel, Ava Moran and Cassie Peters will run for the Tigers. They also are aiming to finish with a spot on the podium.
“I know we have the capability,” said Moran, a first-time state qualifier. “I know we’ve worked hard and we’ve been in this race together all season.”
For three Tigers – Frantz, Langenkamp and Camille Watren – this weekend’s state meet will be their last chance to represent Versailles.
“Getting one final chance is amazing because not everyone gets to go to state and it feels good to be able to go to Columbus and run on the Ohio State track,” Langenkamp said.
The three seniors have enjoyed their time at Versailles and competing for the Tigers.
“This is the thing I’ll miss most from high school is running track and being a Versailles Tiger,” Frantz said.
Their final opportunity to represent their school will begin Friday afternoon and continue on Saturday.
“I graduated last week, but I just keep saying I’m not done with high school until I’m done at Jesse O,” Camille Watren said.
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.