By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
PIQUA — Last year, Milton-Union’s Morgan Grudich missed out on a trip to state by the slimmest of margins.
Tippecanoe’s Bryce Conley and Miami East’s Gabrielle Hawkins were both hampered with injuries.
This year, none of them let anything stop them from getting to state.
Grudich and Conley both turned in regional runner-up finishes in their respective events and Hawkins finished fourth to take the final qualifying spot in hers, with Tippecanoe’s Katie Taylor joining them thanks to the wild card rule with a fifth-place finish at Saturday’s Division II regional track and field meet finals at Piqua High School.
For Morgan Grudich, last year’s near miss only served as motivation for this season.
The Milton-Union sophomore, who placed fifth in the long jump last year, a mere 0.25 inches away from the final qualifying spot, left no doubt with her first jump at Saturday’s D-II regional, setting a new personal best and school record with a leap of 17-6.5 to place second to ensure herself a spot at next week’s state meet. Toledo Central Catholic’s Simone Green won the competition with 17-11.25.
“It feels great,” Grudich said of qualifying for her first state meet. “It means all of my hard work has paid off. I knew the jump was good, but I didn’t feel like it was going to be a PR. I was pretty surprised.”
“We talk a lot about creating a mindset, about having a plan — and then having a backup plan for when everything goes wrong. Morgan hasn’t needed a backup plan all year,” Milton-Union coach Michael Meredith said. “She’s just so focused.
“A little adversity can go a long way sometimes. What happened last year stuck with her, and she left no doubts today.”
She joins junior Ally Lyons, who qualified in the high jump on Thursday.
“Talk about having the right mindset,” Meredith said. “Ally has had her ups and downs this year. The high jump is a mental game — but these kids set goals at the beginning of the season, and we hold them to them. She made the regional last year, and her goal this year was to get to state. These girls are big-time competitors. They have the right mindset and level of competitiveness.”
And Grudich isn’t done setting goals, either.
“Next week, I’m hoping to get past 18-0,” she said. “My goal was 17-4 today, and I beat that. So next week, I want to get 18-0 and make the podium.”
Senior Kristen Dickison also saw her illustrious career as a Bulldog come to an end on the regional podium as she placed eighth in the 800 (2:26). And on the boys side, sophomore Chris Miller finished 13th in the 800 (2:07.12).
After running behind Indian Hill’s Ben Bayless in what seemed like a two-man race for most of the 3,200, Tippecanoe’s Bryce Conley sagged back to fourth place heading into the final lap — still good enough for a trip to the state meet.
But even though he was exhausted, that wasn’t good enough for the Red Devil junior.
“I was just dead,” Conley said. “I have no idea. I had no energy — but somehow I was able to pull it out.”
Conley rallied to regain his earlier position, finishing second in 9:50.63 to Bayless, who ran 9:48.08, qualifying for the state meet at Saturday’s D-II regional finals.
Conley entered the day on the borderline, with three runners entering the race with sub-10-minute times from last week’s district races. Still, Conley knew he had more to give than he had shown last week.
“I was definitely confident, because I knew I didn’t run my best at districts,” Conley said. “I was hoping I could do a little more than I did today, though. It really helped having someone up there to run with, but I still probably could have done more. I played it a little too strategic today, I think.”
It will be Conley’s first trip to state in an individual event. Hampered by a nagging injury last year, Conley finished seventh in the regional.
“Last year, I was running on a stress fracture, and I didn’t make it out (of the regional),” he said. “I knew I could do better than that. It feels great. Whenever I get there, I’m hoping that magic of being at state will push me a little bit more.”
Joining him in qualifying was teammate Katie Taylor — though she didn’t know it at the time of the race.
Taylor, who was already headed to state in the 4×800 relay after the team qualified on Thursday, scratched in the 1,600 to focus on the 3,200. The senior remained in the fourth and final qualifying spot for much of the race but was passed with three laps to go, finishing the race fifth in 11:42.84 to seemingly end her run. But with two wild card spots being added last season — the two best times outside of the 16 state qualifiers also earn a trip — Taylor’s time was good enough to earn her a third straight trip to the state meet in an individual event, as well.
Also for Tippecanoe’s boys, junior Jake Rowland earned a spot on the podium, placing seventh in the 300 hurdles (42.79 seconds). And also for the girls, Mackenzie Dix — another member of the state-qualifying 4×800 relay team — finished 10th in the 800 (2:27.51).
• Miami East
Not being able to run track last year due to an injury suffered in basketball season made Miami East’s Gabrielle Hawkins appreciate being able to compete this year a bit more.
And qualifying for state?
“It feels incredible, especially after not running last year,” Hawkins said. “It makes this more special.”
Hawkins, a junior, finished fourth in the 400 in 58.28 seconds, catching Valley View’s Anna Roach and holding her off by 0.3 seconds at Saturday’s D-II regional finals. She entered the finals with the fourth-best time and was able to hold on and qualify for her first state meet.
“It was nerve-wracking. Anything could happen at that point,” she said of her place entering the finals. And that didn’t change once the race began, either. “I was a little nervous, because everybody was ahead of me. But I knew I had my kick at the end, so that’s what I relied on.”
And next week, she’s hoping that kick can carry her into the finals again.
“I’m looking to place, but honestly I’m just happy to be there,” Hawkins said. “That was the goal, state, so now whatever happens there happens.”
Miami East senior Rachel Ondera finished her career on the regional podium, placing eighth in the discus (102-5). And sophomore Bridget Paton finished 14th in the pole vault (8-0).
Contact Troy Daily News Sports Editor Josh Brown at email@example.com, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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