VERSAILLES – Versailles’ state-qualifying track and field athletes enter this week’s state meet looking to reach Saturday’s finals and earn a spot on the podium.
The Tigers know it won’t be easy, though, as they’re competing against stiff completion in Division II.
“That experience bodes well when you’re going against competition of this nature,” Versailles coach Mike Goubeaux said. “Being Division II we always feel like we’re a little out-manned sometimes.”
Versailles has seven athletes who are slated to compete at the Ohio High School Athletic Association state meet. Sophomore Josh Steinbrunner, the lone Tiger boy competing at state, will run in the 110 meter hurdles while senior Haley Winner, junior Jenna Frantz, junior Emily Langenkamp, sophomore Cassie Peters, sophomore Ellen Peters and freshman Liz Watren will man the 4×100 meter, 4×200 meter and 4×400 meter relays for the girls.
Of the seven, five have competed at state before. Ellen Peters and Watren are the two newcomers to the stage although they’ve both been to Columbus before to watch friends and family compete.
“It’s going to be a lot more nerve-racking,” said Watren, who watched her sister Camille run at state the past two years. “But I feel like it will be quite the experience. It will be really fun.”
At the other end of the spectrum Versailles has Winner making her fourth consecutive trip to the state track meet. She’s scheduled to run in three relays for a fourth consecutive year at state and already has made the podium seven times in her high school career, including a pair of state championships.
“Haley, rock solid. Four years (at state). Very experienced at this level,” Goubeaux said. “If there’s somebody that’s going to lead the way it’s Haley.”
Winner helped lead the 4×400 meter relay to runner up finishes in Division II each of the past two years. Even though she’s the only returner from either of those runner-up squads, this year’s 4×400 relay team has a qualification time within a second of making the top three.
“It’s hard to have expectations in relays sometimes because times just go crazy in how they drop,” Goubeaux said. “Our girls dropped almost nine seconds off their PR from the week before. Do we have another nine? I’m not sure we can go that much lower. But do I think these ladies can break four minutes? I think they can if they put it all together at the same time. If you can break four minutes in a relay in the 4×4 you’re in business.”
Winner, who’s battled injuries that kept her sidelined for most of the volleyball and basketball seasons, is glad to be able to contribute to all three relays.
“To actually be able to make a difference on this team means a lot,” she said.
Winner is just one Versailles sprinter who’s suffered through injuries this year. While they’ve had to make changes to the relays because of the injuries, Goubeaux is confident about the girls that are running now.
“This year the injuries have been challenging. There’s no question. It’s been frustrating I think more than anything,” he said. “This team doesn’t have as much depth as in the past so we didn’t have a lot of decisions to make. We had a clear pecking order.”
Battling through so many injuries left some doubt about how Versailles’ relays would do and if they’d make it this far.
“I didn’t think we’d be able to do it, but we did,” Langenkamp said. “I’m just proud of my teammates for pushing me to be the best.”
“I’m just really proud of our team for making it as far as we did and overcoming all our injuries that we’ve experienced all season and making this goal that probably not a lot of people thought we were going to be able to this year,” Ellen Peters said.
In the wake of all the injuries, one of the girls who’s had to step up this year has been Cassie Peters. In her second year at state, she’s a part of all three of the Lady Tigers’ relays.
“We have a great starter in Cassie Peters who’s really taken that role, embraced those relays,” Goubeaux said. “Kind of our new relay queen for the Lady Tigers.”
Cassie Peters said she feels more confident entering state for a second time.
“Last year I was kind of freaking out, but I feel like I’ll be a lot more calm this year,” she said. “With all the injuries we had I feel like I’ve had to step up a lot more. So that also helped with my confidence a lot.”
Frantz also has stepped up for the Tigers. She made state in the pole vault as both a freshman and sophomore, finishing as the Division II runner up last year, but now gets to test herself on the track.
“It’s exciting and nerve-racking,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to run on that track. There’s a lot of intensity there, and I’ve only ever experienced that from afar on the pole vault runway.”
While she’s excited to run in the 4×100 relay, Frantz said it’s more stressful than competing alone in the pole vault.
“That actually adds a lot of nerves running as part of a team instead of just by myself because in pole vault if I mess it up it’s all on me,” she said, “but if I mess it up for our whole 4×1 there’s four people that get hurt so it’s a lot more stressful.”
Even though Frantz is battling some nerves, Goubeaux said the 4×100 meter relay has been Versailles’ most precise this season.
“That’s a tough one,” he said. “We know that’s probably the one that’s going to be the toughest for our team. That’s also the relay that’s precision point on handoffs. So if you can stick the handoffs and you’ve got a few teams around you that don’t do so well on it, anything can happen.”
Like the three relays, Versailles’ lone individual at the state meet hopes to make his event final. Steinbrunner finished 10th last year in the Division III 110 meter hurdles, finishing just one spot out of a qualification spot for the finals. He’s improved this season but so has the competition.
“He’s running better times this year, but he’s in a class with better athletes,” Goubeaux said. “They’re just faster in Division II so he’s got his work cut out for him, but I think he’s up for the challenge.”
Having last year’s state experience has Steinbrunner feeling more confident, but the move up to Division II has left some uncertainty.
“Even though I’ve gotten faster there’s people who are like a lot faster than me,” he said. “I’m hoping I can make top nine. I don’t know how it’s going to be until I actually get there.”
Steinbrunner will be Versailles’ first athlete to compete on Friday at The Ohio State University’s Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus as he runs in the preliminaries of the 110 meter hurdles at 2:10 p.m. The relays will follow with the 4×200 at 2:30, the 4×100 at 2:50 and the 4×400 at 4 p.m. It would take a top nine finish in their event for the Versailles’ athletes to qualify for Saturday’s event finals.
“Once you’re in the finals anything can happen,” Goubeaux 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.