By TED RADICK
Kalida’s Taylor Lucke is on the bubble.
And she knows it.
“Yeah, definitely,” Lucke said of the margin it takes to get out of this week’s Division III track and field regional at Tiffin and qualify for the state meet in Columbus.
Lucke found out the hard way last season that the competition gets stiffer each round through the postseason. She won the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs at the Findlay District, then ran into a buzzsaw of veteran Pettisville and Holgate distance stars and did not qualify as an individual for the state meet.
Lucke has several things working in her favor this year. First, the senior is a year stronger and a year smarter with her running. Also, she did get through to state last year as part of the Wildcats’ 3,200 relay. That, coupled with her advancing last fall to the state cross country championships, should take care of any regional-meet jitters.
Lucke will run in Wednesday’s 3,200 relay final at the Tiffin regional, and in Friday’s 1,600 and 3,200 finals.
The regional begins Wednesday at Frost-Kalnow Stadium at 4 p.m. with field events, with the 3,200 relay final kicking off the running events at 5 p.m. Running event semifinals follow the 3,200 relays. Friday’s field events begin at 5 p.m., with the running finals beginning at 6 p.m.
The top four finishers in each event qualify for the state meet June 1-2 at Jesse Owens Stadium in Columbus. Of note, 18 athletes in each running event will make the state meet, meaning two at-large runners who are the next fastest times from the state’s four regional meets will also advance.
Lucke placed seventh in the 1,600 and 13th in the 3,200 at last year’s regional.
“It’s a whole different ballgame when you get there,” she said of Tiffin. “It’s so much more competitive. Every girl is going to go out as hard as they can, harder than they ever did before, just to see if they can get in that top four.
“It’s a good experience. I mean, I’m glad I went last year and it kind of prepares me even better for this year. I know what I have to do. I think I’m ready for this year.”
Lucke showed that in defending her district titles in both distance events last Saturday. She won the 1,600 in a personal best time of 5:18.80.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “I wasn’t anticipating such a big PR in the mile, so that makes me happy, especially since I didn’t have anyone to compete with in front of me.”
She followed with a 25-second margin of victory in the 3,200, finishing in 11:58.92.
Lucke enters the regional with the No. 2 seed time in the 1,600, behind Pettisville’s Elizabeth Sauder (5:12.54). She has the No. 3 seed time in the 3,200, behind Pettisville’s Nichole Foor (11:47.67) and Hicksville’s Makayla Sullivan (11:56.11).
Kalida coach Scott Miller doesn’t bank on seed times.
“You never know from year to year,” he said. “Teams move up, teams move down, teams move in or out of the regional. I mean, Liberty-Benton comes in this year and Grove’s not there. Things change, you have freshmen coming up that you didn’t know about.
“You do look at that, four seniors ahead of you last year are gone and you should be good to go. Pettisville is amazing, they have kids every year. I know they’ll be there challenging, along with a few others. You’ll have kids coming in from the Perkins District. …”
Lucke just wants to get through the regional and get a shot to go out with a bang.
“The goal is top four, and if I get that I’ll be pleased,” she said. “Just to get that next chance, that last chance, to race on Jesse O.”
After last year’s disappointment in the individual races at Tiffin, Miller and Lucke developed a plan.
“The pace gets faster and faster the first few laps of a distance race the farther you go,” Miller said. “You have every kid fighting for that top-four spot.
“We’ve worked on getting her fast in the first lap. Even early in the season, when she maybe wasn’t in perfect shape or condition, we wanted her pushing the first lap hard.
“We knew later in the year, that was going to happen. If you’re not ready for that first lap to be fast at the regional or state level, you’re going to be in trouble. It’s little things like that, that you draw experience from. Getting to state cross country, getting to state in the 4×8 last year, it’s only going to help her Friday and hopefully down in Columbus.”
Lucke joined Kalida’s Kelly Doepker, Kyla Fortman and Madison Langhals at the 2017 state meet to place 15th in the 3,200 relay in 10:02.12. She’s itching for a return trip.
“It just makes me want to go back even more,” she said. “It’s such an awesome experience, I wish everyone had that experience but unfortunately only the top runners get that. It’s worth working your hardest and giving it everything you’ve got to get there.”
“I think this is something that’s been driving her all year,” Miller said. “She enjoyed the 4×8 experience, and qualifying as an individual is something she’s been driving herself to do.”