INDEPENDENCE - Maplewood High School, which has been one of the state's best distance relays, continued it prowess Wednesday by repeating as champions at the Division III Independence District track and field meet at Stan Skoczen Stadium.
The Rockets' first two legs of the relay put them in position for the win. Then the third leg, Derek Morrison, distanced himself from the pack of Gilmour Academy, Berkshire and Independence. For most of his second lap, he led by about 20 meters heading into the handoff with team anchor Wyatt Hartman.
"Those last 300, it's all out - pure guts race. That's what 800 is all about, to see who has the guts to go the last few hundred meters," said Morrison, whose team won in a time of 8 minutes, 7.31 seconds.
Gilmour Academy took second (8:12.51). Berkshire and Independence, respectively, were a distance third and fourth. The top four in each final advance to next week's Navarre regional.
Gilmour Academy, which ran 7:58.27 at Friday's Walsh Jesuit Twilight, has the potential to beat the Rockets at either regionals or state.
"We're going to keep our eyes focused on them and see what happens," Hartman said. "We have as good a shot as anyone these next two weeks. It's just about who wants it the most."
Meanwhile, Hartman, one of the state's best 800 runners, widened the gap to about 50 meters as it soon became a two-person race between Hartman and Gilmour Academy anchor Alexander Clapacs.
"I was trying to get a solid time today," Hartman said. "It was a little hard with the wind. I wanted to get out hard today. The key to the 800 is trying to take the competition out of it early. That's what I tried to do, get a little lead there."
Hartman said his job wasn't as hard as his teammates'.
"They got me in great position," he said. "I had the easy job. They had the hard ones."
Solomon Yoder started off running about 1:01 in his first lap.
"Sixty-one, Solomon. Too slow," Maplewood boys coach Mark Yoder yelled out watching his son run the first lap.
Solomon picked it up in the second lap.
"I like getting out fast and getting the lead in my lane so when I cut in I have a clear shot," he said. "My first leg was a little slow today. I picked it up the second lap. I always want to get my team in a good position to where they're able to keep going hard. Independence was right on my tail. They started off really good with Kyle Polman (of Independence). He started sneaking up on me and I went with him to the finish. I think I got a pretty good finish for Mike (Dahmen)."
Dahmen got the baton with a slight advantage over Berkshire, Independence and Gilmour Academy.
"Solomon got me in good position for my leg," Dahmen said. "I wanted to go out hard the first lap and hold it the second lap. I just wanted to go and hope nobody catches me. I heard the group behind us the whole time, but the second lap I was trying to hold them off and not get caught and give Derek the lead and the cushion to have."
Maplewood is now ready for the very familiar regional meet.
"It means a lot," Morrison said. "We've been to state a few times, but this is the base for the tournaments. It's a good start to the postseason."
NOTES: The Maplewood girls 4x800 relay, Grand Valley's Kelly Preske (high jump), Badger's Taylor Baumiller (high jump), Maplewood's Kayla Stamm (high jump), Badger's Kayla Agnew (high jump), Maplewood's Liza Yoder (discus), and Stephen Pop (shot put) also advanced to regionals.