Rockets go the distance again

Almost everyday after school, the Maplewood 4×800 relay team walks by the Maplewood Hall of Fame, which hangs just outside the gymnasium.

In it are some of the greats in the Rockets’ history, including numerous former 4×800 teams, and it’s these runners that senior anchor Wyatt Hartman looked up to while growing up.

“It always great being at a school that has such a rich tradition because it gives you guys to look up to,” Hartman said. “I know a lot of the guys in the Maplewood Hall of Fame I really looked up to when I was just a little kid starting out running. So, it gives you high goals and high standards.

“It’s definitely in our minds -our tradition and everything.”

If all goes well, the 2013 4×800 relay team of Derek Morrison, Mike Dahmen, Solomon Yoder and Hartman will add themselves onto that wall, possibly becoming the first Rocket team to win the state title since 2003.

At the indoor state track meet on March 16 at Stile Field House in Akron, the quartet won the race with a time of 8:10.13. Because of this result, the team qualified for the Penn Relays, one of the largest track and field meets in the nation.

In order to make the meet, a 4×800 team must get under the qualifying time of 8:14 for a school of Maplewood’s size and then hope to be selected for the race.

“That’s a pretty big accomplishment,” Dahmen said. “I believe if (coach Dave) Deeter is correct, that is the first team we will send to the Penn Relays ever. We’re excited for it.”

With the outdoor state meet two-and-a-half months away, the Rockets put themselves at the top of the list of favorites to win come June 8 thanks to their performance in the indoor season.

Despite this early success, the four runners know that they aren’t yet anointed the champions in the Division III, with last year’s winners Columbus Academy and McDonald in the running.

“You have to remember that everyone improves,” Hartman said. “So, just because we have a good time this early in the year, you know there are always teams that drop time way down when it comes to the end of the year.

“I think it’s important to remain humble. You can’t get full of the accomplishments you have. You always got to stay hungry and want to achieve more.”

Motivation won’t be an issue for the Maplewood team this year, after falling short in 2012.

Going into the state meet, the Rockets recorded the fastest 4×800 time but lost by four seconds at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. For Hartman, this marked the second time in his high school career that he finished in second in the 4×800 at state, as in 2010 he was a member of the team that didn’t win with a time of 7:50.01.

“Being on those two runner-up teams, I have a ton of motivation coming into the season,” Hartman said. “It just seems like I can never get over that hump, get that state championship. It’s definitely a major goal of ours.”

The pressure will be immense, considering Maplewood hasn’t brought home a title after winning three straight titles from 2001-2003, but they can always look to alumni for advice. For Morrison, the youngest of the group, he doesn’t have to turn far.

His eldest brother, Dave, was a member of the 2001 team that took home the state crown. Dave has already given the team some pointers, according to Derek.

“It’s pretty tough to follow in their footsteps,” Derek said. “My older brother, Dave, he’s been quite the inspiration for the 4×800 team.”

Although the team has the goal of ending Maplewood’s drought, the runners aren’t going to have a “state title or bust” mentality.

“If we get down (to Columbus) and we don’t win and we still do well, it’s not like we’re going to be disappointed,” Dahmen said. “After getting so close, though, it’d be pretty nice to win it.”