Veteran runners Mitchell, Sparks in final anchor legs

COLUMBUS, OHIO - June 1, 2018, OHSAA Track & Field Championships at Jesse Owens Stadium, Ohio State University- D3 4x800 McDonald, Malina Mitchell brings home McDonald to a 4th place. MICHAEL G. TAYLOR | THE WARREN TRIBUNE CHRONICLE

COLUMBUS — Malina Mitchell took the baton, handed to her by Anna Guerra.

Mitchell, a West Virginia University recruit, knew on Friday that it would be the last time she would run two times around the Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium track with that implement in her hands.

The rush of energy came over the McDonald High School senior distance runner. Nothing would slow her momentum in that first lap.

It eventually carried Mitchell over the line fourth in 9:36.94, as she and a trio of sophomores, Guerra, Sela Jones and Bella Wolford, ended up on the podium with medals around their necks in fourth place for the second straight season in the girls Division III 4×800-meter relay.

Minster won in 9:18.41, while Gilmour Academy (9:30.20) and Mount Gilead (9:34.83) rounded out the top three.

COLUMBUS, OHIO - June 1, 2018, OHSAA Track & Field Championships at Jesse Owens Stadium, Ohio State University- D3 4x800 Maplewood Boys, Ethan Sparks during the last leg. MICHAEL G. TAYLOR | THE WARREN TRIBUNE CHRONICLE

“Once I took off and saw I was passing girls, it kind of gave me adrenaline,” Mitchell said. “I had to finish strong. Even though the result wasn’t what we wanted, I knew the girls gave everything they had. I need to do the same for them.”

She admitted the last lap was about hanging on, not letting go of fourth.

“My first lap was ridiculously fast looking back on it,” Mitchell said. “I thought we needed to catch back up to the group because we didn’t want to get eighth place.”

Just as Mitchell did, Maplewood senior Ethan Sparks took the baton for his team’s final leg, but he started his leg in 12th place.

The Rockets boys 4×800 team has a storied history of being one of the state’s best teams. This year, it was about getting to state, back in the Division III mix.

Sparks ran around the track twice and vaulted Maplewood to ninth (8:12.39).

Worthington Christian won in 7:50.92, while East Canton (7:54.49) and Columbus Academy (7:59.45) round out the top three.

The team of Sparks, freshman Ryan Dancison, junior Ethan Faatz and senior Adam Burgard finally came together this season, a season where getting to state wasn’t a given.

“We were hoping for me, but we can’t be upset with what we did,” Sparks said. “I’m proud of these guys and how much they worked for it. I can’t be upset about it.”

Even though Maplewood didn’t make podium (top eight), the effort wasn’t all for naught.

“I think we all ran good as a team,” Burgard said. “We got out in a good race and just try to hold on to it. I think our coach did well coaching us this year.”

This ninth-place finish motivates Sparks for his Division III 1,600 final this morning.

“Honestly it gets me a little mad, a little bit fired up,” he said. “We all know we should’ve done better. We’ll bring it back (today) for the boys. We’ll throw it together.”