By TED RADICK
COLUMBUS — There’s nothing like finishing with a bang.
Liberty-Benton’s girls 1,600-meter quartet set a school record and placed third in the event Saturday at the OHSAA Division III track and field championships at Jesse Owens Stadium.
Lily Kintner, Lindsey Bishop, Alexa Lenhart and Alexis Rickenbacher blazed to a 3:59.79 finish to help the Eagles place fourth as a team.
Liberty-Benton scored 29 points over the meet’s two days. Minster won with 57 points, followed by Covington (32) and Malvern (30). Area schools in the top 30 included Mohawk (15th place, 16 points); Columbus Grove (tied for 17th, 12 points); and Leipsic (tied for 30th, 8 points).
Mohawk’s Destini Oler won the 800 state championship in 2:15.10.
Liberty-Benton’s Bishop capped the meet with her eighth career all-Ohio medal and third of the weekend.
“Of all of the races or medals at state, this by far feels the most important,” Bishop said. “I am just ecstatic to be here with these girls.”
The previous L-B record was set in 2006 at 4:00.15.
“Oh my gosh, it’s amazing,” Lenhart said. “I think we’ve always dreamed of running a race like this. I’m just so proud of my teammates.”
“I’m so proud of my whole team, they just did amazing,” Rickenbacher said. “I can always count on them to give 100 percent, and that’s what they did.”
Rickenbacher is a freshman and Kintner a sophomore, so this new record may be in danger in the coming seasons.
“I’m so happy that I got to come here this year, and I can’t wait to come back next year,” Kintner said.
Columbus Grove had a trio of state placers. Sophomore Alyssa Ellerbrock ran a strong, consistent 3,200 to place third in 11:17.58.
“I wasn’t trying to go out too hard, because last week I went out really hard and didn’t have much left for the middle laps,” Ellerbrock said. “I just wanted to keep slowly getting faster each lap, and then at the end just give it all I had.”
That strategy paid off. Ellerbrock tucked into a group behind the leaders for much of the race, then shifted to high gear in the final 800 meters and started picking off runners to gain position. She was gaining on the lead runners at the end of the race.
“I don’t have the greatest kick at the very end, so I try to gut it out the whole last 400,” she said. “This race, at the 800 I just went for it.”
Junior Rylee Sybert, sixth last year in the 200, gained a spot on the podium with a fifth-place finish in 25.49. That set a new Grove school record.
Sybert entered the race with the No. 7 preliminary time and jumped two spots in the final.
“I think I came out of the blocks pretty well,” Sybert said. “I was in lane eight, so I was really chasing that girl in lane nine. I was really hoping to get out there right away, and I think I did pretty good at that.
“After that, I just ran as hard as I could. I saw the girls coming up on me late in the curve, and I was like ‘Dang it.’ But I just kept running and did my best. You always want to go high on the podium, but breaking a school record is even better. I’ve been shooting for that all year, and I’m glad I got it.”
Senior Carlee McCluer placed seventh in the 300 low hurdles in 45.91.
“I had fresh legs after running four events yesterday, McCluer said. “I was hoping to shave off some time today. I didn’t run the time I wanted today, but I got up on the podium and that was my goal.
“It’s kind of crazy to take in, this being my last high school meet. Coming down the homestretch, the noise from the fans really pushed me. My legs were kind of cramping up at the end, but I knew I had to keep going.”
McCluer is the youngest of four sisters, and her race brings an end to the “McCluer Era” at Grove.
“It’s been a really, really long time since there hasn’t been a McCluer at Columbus Grove,” she said. “It’s kind of a bittersweet moment. We’re all alumnae now.”
Vanlue’s Bethany Smith, seeded ninth in the 400 after the prelims, also gained a couple spots in the final and medaled in seventh with a 58.52.
“I’m pretty happy. I mean, of course I would have like to have finished higher, but finishing seventh after coming in ninth feels pretty incredible,” Smith said. “I really didn’t imagine myself being here.”
Running from the far outside lane, Smith was staggered ahead the field at the start. She had no one in front of her to key on.
“It’s very different,” she said. “I haven’t been in the outside lane since my freshman year. I like to chase people, so this was really different. The plan was, and my brother was the one who told me this, to run and don’t let anyone pass me. I wanted to go as hard as I could through the last curve, because I knew they would catch up to me.”
Smith powered past a couple of runners late in the race to get all-Ohio honors.
“I didn’t want that ninth place,” she said. “I wanted to beat at least one person so that I could be on the podium.
“I think I’ve made my community proud. I’m proud of myself, I think maybe that’s the first time I’ve actually said that. I love all the support, they even made T-shirts for me. It’s been incredible, all the support being given to me from such a small town.”
While Oler was rolling to an 800 state championship, Liberty-Benton freshman Taylor Ward placed sixth in 2:18.56.
“I was a little nervous at first, I thought maybe I had gone out too fast,” Ward said. “I came around the corner and crossed the finish line to start the second lap, and I kind of got boxed in a little bit. I had to use my speed to get out of that.
“I’m excited for the years to come. I can’t help but thank my coaches and teammates, and fellow competitors, for helping me push past my limits.”