VERSAILLES – With 13 athletes set to compete at this weekend’s Ohio High School Athletic Association state track and field meet, Versailles is looking to bring home a large haul of medals.
Versailles’ 13 athletes are set to compete in 13 events at the OHSAA Division II state meet at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium on the campus of The Ohio State University in Columbus, and several of them are in position to contend for spots high on the podium.
“A lot of these athletes are going to contend for medals and hopefully some high medals,” Versailles track and field coach Mike Goubeaux said. “But Division II is a tough division for Versailles. We’re the small little fish in the big pond here at this particular meet, but these kids have proven to themselves that they belong there, and I think we’re going to do well.”
The Versailles boys have five athletes set to compete this weekend – all of whom are seniors. AJ Ahrens qualified for state in the shot put, Kyle Jones qualified in the long jump, Luke Shellhaas qualified in the pole vault, Joe Spitzer qualified in the 1,600 and 3,200 meter runs, and Josh Steinbrunner qualified in the 110 meter hurdles, 300 meter hurdles and high jump.
For the Lady Tigers senior Kenia McEldowney qualified as an individual in the 800 meter run while sophomore Lucy Prakel qualified in the pole vault. Those two along with senior Cassie Peters, senior Ellen Peters, junior Ava Moran, junior Liz Watren, sophomore Lindsey Winner and freshman Ali Moran combine to make up three state-qualifying relay teams – the 4×100 meter relay, 4×200 meter relay and 4×400 meter relay.
“We have a team that’s so varied,” Prakel said. “It’s amazing.
Steinbrunner enters the state meet with the highest profile among Versailles’ athletes. The future University of Findlay track and field athlete is the defending state champion in the 110 meter hurdles.
“It’s a bit scary,” Steinbrunner said of being a defending state champ. “Everybody’s going to be coming for me. I’m going to have to do my best to try to defend it if I can.”
The Versailles senior qualified for state all four years of his high school career, but this is the first time he’s made the state meet in multiple events.
“It’s going to be a lot different than normal,” he said. “I’ve always had to focus on one event so I could focus on that the entire time, but I’m going to have to focus on three different ones. It will be a little challenging, but I think I’ll be able to handle it.”
Fellow senior Ellen Peters also is gearing up for the challenge of competing in three events at the state meet. She’s grown accustomed to the pressures throughout the season but said it’s still a difficult task.
“All of tournament I’ve been running four events, and that’s been pretty hard on me just being out in the sun,” Ellen Peters, the lone Lady Tiger set to race in all three of Versailles’ relays, said. “I don’t really go back to team camp at all during the meet. I stay out there, but I think I’ll be ready for it at state. It’s just a big privilege to be able to run at state in three events.”
Spitzer qualified for state in two events, but he’s planning on scratching the 1,600 meter run so he can focus on the 3,200 meters. The Versailles senior hopes being fresh in the 3,200 will give him an opportunity to win the state championship.
“I’ve got some pretty good competition in that race,” he said. “I’ve got the fastest regional time, but I know there are some other people that are right there with me.”
One of the top competitors Spitzer is watching is Buckeye Valley senior Zach Kreft, who beat him in the fall during the cross country state championships.
“I know Zach Kreft has the top time in that (1,600 meters), too, so I’m hoping that maybe if he runs that he’ll be a little more tired for the 3,200 and I’ll have a better chance of beating him,” Spitzer said.
The Lady Tiger relay teams all are hoping for school records and podium finishes this weekend.
“I think it’s pretty cool, especially for being a freshman,” Ali Moran said. “I hope that we can make the podium.”
“Kind of hope to do well and make podium is kind of what we’re all thinking,” Watren said.
Two of the relay races, the 4×100 meters and 4×200 meters, start within 35 minutes of each other, which will test Ava Moran and Ellen Peters as they run both races.
“They’re back-to-back,” Ava Moran said. “You always have to take things one at a time, but like it’s very overwhelming sometimes.”
Having a large support system of Versailles athletes in Columbus is helping to calm some of the nerves and pushing all the Tigers to do their best this weekend.
“I think it just makes everybody more comfortable and everybody just have their goals set higher,” McEldowney said.
“Any time you get one or two it’s a special moment, but when you’re bringing what feels like a team it’s awesome,” Goubeaux said. “We’re excited, and they’re going to have a lot of fun just being together. They’ve got a lot of camaraderie between all of them, and they’re going to have a blast this weekend – but a blast in a good way. They’re going to come out to compete, and they know that. They don’t go up there and screw around and stay up late at night and eat junk food and quote party it up. They have fun because they’re together and they love track.”
Cassie Peters, who like Steinbrunner qualified for state all four years of her high school career, said Versailles has a special program that promotes excellence among its athletes.
“I feel really blessed to be able to make it here,” she said. “I’ve just been part of such a great track program. I don’t think I could have done it anywhere else.”
Versailles has provided a unique opportunity for Ellen Peters and Winner, both of whom were part of Versailles’ state championship volleyball team and state runner-up girls basketball team this year. Now they’re making their third trip to the state championships this school year.
“It’s been exciting,” Winner said. “You don’t really realize like the athletes and teammates you have until you actually make it to state all those years in a row.”
For Ellen Peters, it’s the perfect way to end an incredible year.
“With making it to state in my other two sports this year, I think this is pretty much the icing on the cake for me,” she said.
Eight seniors will have one final chance to represent Versailles this weekend and add to their already impressive legacy.
“It just speaks about the talent that comes out of this town, and our grade just in general has always been very talented, and the coaches push us every day to get better, and it’s coming through this year,” Jones said.
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4312. 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.