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Drive to state track meet well worth it

THE cushiony grip on the wheel gets tighter as the mundane drive down I-71 continues.

Break it into parts. First Ashland. Then Mansfield. Finally, that Sunbury exit says you’re almost there.

Pass by Polaris and take a right on I-270.

Mental checklist on the drive: laptop, camera, phone, 24-pack of water that goes in the hotel refrigerator, press pass, wallet, Disney bag with clothes along with other items. Check, check and check.

Arrive at hotel, check in and start writing this column previewing this year’s state track and field meet, which begins today and runs through Saturday at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. It’s the most organized meet you’ll attend all year, pending you do your homework. That would explain the stack of papers to my left. Yes, I killed a sapling.

Today’s meet highlights the 4×800-meter relays and field events. It’s about Division III, a good representation of the Mahoning Valley — smaller schools and dwindling population.

Start off with McDonald, the gold standard when it comes to distance events — McDonald. Maplewood. Two schools synonymous with running 1600, 3200, middle distance and doing insane amounts of summer workouts. Can you say more than 100 miles a week? Whew.

Both McDonald quartets are aiming for podium spots, which means placing in the top eight at the state meet. There are eight teams ahead of the boys, as far as regional times qualifying for state. Expect coach Lou Domitrovich and/or distance coach Chris Rupe to give last-minute words of wisdom, which will catapult this team up on the podium. It works for state cross country. It’ll be useful here.

The girls team, made up of four juniors, has the fourth-fastest time from regionals. Minster is 20 seconds faster. This Blue Devils foursome has to catch those Wildcats from west-central Ohio, but 20 seconds is a lot to make up from one week to the next.

Division III has state semifinals today as well. There’s plenty from the area who could compete in Saturday’s finals.

Those should be fun to watch, as well as the field events in D-III.

McDonald’s Zach Gray (boys discus), Badger’s Kiersten Tricker (girls high jump) and Windham’s Aaron Blevins (boys high jump) are some of the area athletes to watch today. It would be nice to see a lot of state champions from our area bring home gold medals. It’s been a couple of years since this area has had a great showing at the state meet, meaning at least five state championships.

Hold on, my phone rings to the right of this laptop. It’s my dad. We talk for a while. OK, I’m back.

Saturday morning, Girard’s Jalaya Brown could do something in the Division II girls long jump. It just takes one excellent attempt to vault her into contention for a state title.

Later that day, there could be some Division III runners who could compete for state championships.

Save the best for last. It’s not the early 1990s song by Vanessa Williams, but the last local runner to compete on early Saturday night.

Howland senior Vinny Mauri. If you saw last year’s Division I 3200 run (eight laps around the track), you saw the Tigers distance savant hang in for a state championship. Bet he’s running at least 3 miles somewhere around The Ohio State University campus to warm up for this race. Mauri came just short last year, one of the only times the Howland senior has been visibly exhausted. This is the race he has wanted. He has the best time in the state. Look for him to run less than 9 minutes, break his personal best and bring home a state championship to Howland, right before leaving for Arizona State University. If anyone deserves a state title, it’s Mauri.

Enter Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium from the southwest end. First, stand at the statue honoring the Ohio State legend. Take a selfie. It’s what you do before or after this meet.

In between, you see some of the best athletes Ohio has to offer, especially those from the Mahoning Valley. It’s well worth your three-hour drive. I know my drive down state Route 315 this morning is going to be a great commute. It always is.

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