Maplewood, McDonald 4×800 teams place at state

COLUMBUS – Confusion.




What started as a promising Division III 4×800-meter relay ended up putting Maplewood and McDonald boys quartets through a gamut of emotions – finishing fourth and fifth, respectively.

Gilmour Academy held off Columbus Academy to claim the title. Minster was third.

The top eight places are all-Ohio and make podium.

Both McDonald and Maplewood saw their fortunes change in a matter of minutes.

McDonald started top heavy, loading the Blue Devils relay with their two strongest runners on the first two legs – Patrick Kunkel and Bobby Johnson.

Kunkel rambled out and held off the pack after the first two laps, handing off to Johnson, who ran like he’s exhausted – exuding every last fiber of energy.

The two put McDonald in first halfway through at Friday’s state track and field meet at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.

“I got boxed in around the 200 and got a little nervous,” Kunkel said. “I knew I had to get into the third or fourth lane and do that last final kick. I kicked everyone down and got into first. We wanted to get a big lead. Bobby had a great leg. He had the last shift and handed off in first. That was our plan, to try to race with the leaders as long as possible.”

Maplewood hung around hovering in fifth after four of eight laps. It was a far cry from the state’s best qualifying time of 7 minutes, 55.68 seconds at last week’s regional.

Then, two-time state champion Columbus Academy rallied and took first heading into the final lap.

But not to be outdone, Gilmour Academy, which was beat by Maplewood at regionals, found some inner strength and vindicated last week’s finish. The Lancers went 7:58.25, while Columbus Academy clocked 7:59.09. Minster (8:01.74), Maplewood (8:02.00) and McDonald (8:11.62) rounded out the top five.

“Gilmour didn’t back down,” Kunkel said. “They knew they had another race against them. Them and Columbus Academy gave it to them.”

It was a surprising finish for the Blue Devils, who had their best placement in Kunkel’s tenure. McDonald missed out on state his freshman year, placed ninth in 2011 and seventh last season.

“This year, we didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “We could get anywhere from three to last. We’re pretty happy.”

Meanwhile, the Maplewood four briefly hung their heads, waiting to be called to the podium placed in the middle part of the stadium infield, in front of the west stands.

“I really don’t know what happened,” Hartman said. “None of us had a good day. It’s hard with a relay to get everyone to run their best on the same day.”

In the same breath, the Maplewood veteran senior distance runner didn’t keep things in a somber mood.

“I’m still proud of my guys,” Hartman said. “They’re still my best friends. We had a great year, a lot to be proud of. You have to keep in mind fourth place at state, a lot of teams would kill for that. You have to be grateful with what you’re given. I feel really grateful.”

Temperatures hovered in the mid 50s at race time. It was around 85 degrees during last week’s regional.

“Personally I think it’s a lot harder to run a 400 or 800 in colder weather because you’re muscles aren’t as loose,” Hartman said. “Colder weather, they tighten up more and it’s harder to get that last 150 kick in cold weather.”

He’s looking forward to today’s 800, hoping he can finally capture that elusive state championship.

“I feel my career has been defined by disappointment so far. Hopefully we can change that (today),” Hartman said.

After finishing fourth at this year’s 1,600 during the Trumbull County Meet, Hartman came back and ran angry in the 800 – winning that race by a good distance. Today, he’ll have the same mentality going into the half mile.

“Yea, probably,” Hartman said. “I have a lot more focus to that 800 now. I have a lot to prove, I think. I haven’t run the best these past couple of years at state when it counts.

“I’m looking to prove some people wrong (today).”

He’ll find out today, starting at 11:05 a.m.