Columbus Grove’s Jon Banal, center, leads the field over the final hurdle in the 110-meter high hurdles at Saturday’s Division III district meet at Findlay High School. Banal won the event in 15.83 seconds, ahead of Bluffton’s Xavier Dunifon (15.96), right, and Pandora-Gilboa’s Travis Maag (15.96). (Photo by Matthias Leguire)

By ANDY WOLF

STAFF WRITER

Columbus Grove boys track and field coach Chris Grothaus and his assistant coaches reminded their athletes all season long just how “bad” they were at last season’s district meet.

“I can compare it real quick: we were awful last year,” Grothaus said.

Safe to say, the Bulldogs are on their way back.

Columbus Grove turned it right around on Saturday and completed a team title win at the Division III district meet at the Cooper Tire Track and Field Complex.

The Bulldogs notched two more event wins for a total of three and outscored Liberty-Benton 84-74½. Bluffton (73), Pandora-Gilboa (67) and Van Buren (55) rounded out the top five.

The top four finishers in each event qualified for next week’s regional meet at Heidelberg University.

Last year, Columbus Grove, a program full of tradition and usually well-represented at the state meet, sent only a pair of pole vaulters out of the Spencerville district and scrapped up one point at the Troy regional.

“First year in my years that we’ve never got anybody down to state, period,” Grothaus said. “We don’t want to go through that again.”

The Bulldogs got their one “off year” out of their system and came back stronger with young guns blazing.

Grothaus was quick to credit the hard work of his kids and his “great assistant coaches”.

Grove’s Jon Banal and Caleb Stechschulte headlined the comeback effort with a pair of district titles.

Banal, a sophomore, captured the 110 hurdles in 15.83.

Stechschulte, a freshman who helped the Bulldogs win the 3,200 relay on Thursday, won the 1,600 in 4:38.64.

“It feels really good to be district champs because I didn’t really expect it, especially being a freshman,” Stechschulte said. “It’s definitely been a goal that we’ve been looking to get.”

Stechschulte came in confident after running well at the Northwest Conference meet and didn’t feel any bit of nerves despite being seeded first at 4:38-even.

“I was really happy, surprised,” he said after crossing first, not knowing how the race would go. “When the 600 goes is when I really wanted to start kicking, was my main goal. The heat helped me. I like it hot.”

Grove’s Carson Closson, another freshman, was second in the 3,200 (10:21.42) while its 800 relay team also got out in fourth (1:33.28).

The team runner-up in L-B, last year’s district champs, also put on a strong showing, getting all three of its relays out on Saturday.

Colin Gaerke was the Eagles’ lone Saturday winner in the 400 (50.89).

The 400 relay team of Brycen Abbott, Marshall Rose, Mehkei Jenkins and Brennen Michael snuck in at fourth (45.30) with the 800 (1:32.91) and 1,600 relays (3:31.52) both second.

Abbot ran the first leg on all three relays. Gaerke and Kinter each ran on the 800 and 1,600 while Rose also ran on the 800 relay.

Everything came together Saturday. It was especially so in the 800 relay — one the Eagles have been disqualified in a whopping five times this season, including just last week at the Blanchard Valley Conference meet.

“In the beginning of the season, I wouldn’t say we weren’t focused, but we couldn’t get it down,” Gaerke, the third leg said. “It definitely feels good to get it down at the end of the season to know what we’re doing. We feel pretty confident going into regionals Wednesday and Friday.”

“It’s been handoffs, knowing the exchange zones,” Kintner said of the 800 relay. “We have a three-step behind the big triangle.

“It was five steps back, moved to six or eight. We have a (tennis) ball to know when we’re supposed to stop.”

Arlington’s Connor Foust, Carter Essinger, Kaiden Fredette and Elijah Evans won the 400 relay in 44.54.

The Eagles were runner-up to Cory-Rawson’s Patrick Dearwester, Deontae Davis, Zakk Stiles and Hunter Bixler in the 800 relay (1:32.29) and Bluffton’s Xavier Dunifon, Jonathon Schriner, Luke Young and Baylor Garmatter in the 1,600 relay (3:31.35).

Dunifon also got through with strong performances in both hurdling events.

He was second to Banal in the 110 hurdles (15.96) and won the 300s (40.12) by 1.6 seconds.

His teammate Jackson Steinmetz was the only back-to-back district champ with a successful defense in the 3,200 (10:13.36) — far better than last year’s win in 10:38.45.

Steinmetz came in hoping for a personal record which he achieved just barely, seeded at 10:14.80.

He’s thinking “school record” of 9:50 next week.

“Hopefully that will qualify me for state and I can go for the whole thing at state,” he said.

Cory-Rawson’s Hunter Rader is already the school record holder in the high jump at 6-5.

He nearly cleared it again Saturday but settled for 6-3, which won him a district title in a jumpoff over Evergreen’s Mason Loeffler.

“(Loeffler) was good competition for me; he kept me moving, motivating me to get to higher heights,” Rader, a first-time regional qualifier, said.

Rader even surprised himself by sneaking through in fourth in the 110 hurdles (16.11) out of lane eight.

Rader’s progress in the high jump competition, where he was already through, got put on hold to go hurdling.

“(Hurdling) helps me a lot; it helps me stretch out a lot more than what I’d be doing (high jump),” Rader said of doing both. “The adrenaline, it just keeps rushing; it helps me get over the bar. As for the 6-4 jump, I’m whooped now but I pushed myself as hard as I could in that event.”

The other contested field event Saturday went to Ada’s Noah Mattson, who PR’d by nine inches at 51-¾ to win the shot put.

Mattson came out confident and threw his winning mark on his last attempt to move up from second and edge out Van Buren’s Tyler Arbaugh (50-1¼).

“It definitely means a lot to me,” Mattson said. “I didn’t expect it today. I’ve been out for six weeks. I partially tore my patellar tendon.”

Mattson injured it after his second meet during a lifting session and sat out the next six weeks.

“It takes a lot of pressure off when you know you’re already in the next round,” Mattson said. “…You can throw 20 feet and it doesn’t matter. I just went for it and happened to land it.”

Boys TEAM STANDINGS

1, Columbus Grove 84. 2, Liberty-Benton 74½. 3, Bluffton 73. 4, Pandora-Gilboa 67. 5, Van Buren 55. 6, Cory-Rawson 52. 7, Evergreen 47. 8, Arlington 38. 9, Elmwood 35. 10, Ada 31. 11, Hardin Northern 30. 12, Upper Scioto Valley 27½. 13, Riverdale 16. 14, McComb 16. 15, Arcadia 5. 16, Leipsic 4. 17, Vanlue, Allen East & North Baltimore 3.

AREA Boys FINISHES

SHOT — 1, Mattson (Ada) 51-¾. 2, Arbaugh (VB) 50-1¼. 2, Schlaeppi (VB) 48-5¾. 4, Hill (Arc) 48-1¼. 5, Roethlisberger (CG) 46-11½. 6, Hovest (P-G) 45-4½. 7, Nassar (Blu) 44-3. 8, Bechstein (Elm) 43-4½.

HJ — 1, Rader (C-R) 6-3. 3, Gautier (Ada) 6-1. 4, Halker (CG) 6-0. 5, Daws (Blu) & Wetherill (HN) 5-8. 8, Williams (Arl) 5-8.

110 HH — 1, Banal (CG) 15.83. 2, Dunifon (Blu) 15.96. 3, Maag (P-G) 15.96. 4, Rader (C-R) 16.11. 5, Holman (VB) 16.14. 6, Williams (Arl) 16.67. 7, Hoyng (VB) 16.72. 8, Baughman (AE) 17.54.

100 — 3, Basinger (P-G) 11.49. 4, Foust (Arl) 11.59. 5, McCoy (Riv) 11.74. 6, Nassar (Blu) 11.77. 7, Evans (Arl) 11.84. 8, Mays (Blu) 11.99.

800 relay — 1, Cory-Rawson (Dearwester, Davis, Stiles, Bixler) 1:32.29. 2, Liberty-Benton (Abbott, Rose, Gaerke, Kintner) 1:32.91. 3, Arlington (Foust, Essinger, Fredette, Evans) 1:33.24. 4, Columbus Grove (Goedde, Ridenour, Smith, Clement) 1:33.28. 5, Van Buren (Koehler, Stone, Betts-Baldwin, Hyong) 1:33.85. 6, Pandora-Gilboa (Ridge, Larcom, Burkholder, Maag) 1:34.38. 7, McComb (Bailey, Loe, Reza, Odell) 1:34.91. 8, Leipsic (J. Pena, F. Pena, Roman, C. Williamson) 1:37.20.

1,600 — 1, Stechschulte (CG) 4:38.64. 2, Britton (USV) 4:43.79. 3, Weber (Riv) 4:44.23. 4, Sansalone (L-B) 4:44.41. 5, Pingle (CG) 4:48.02. 6, Trout (NB) 4:53.56. 7, Armbruster (Elm) 4:56.79. 8, Collert (L-B) 4:58.45.

400 relay — 1, Arlington (Foust, Essinger, Fredette, Evans) 44.54. 2, Pandora-Gilboa (Larcom, Maag, Burkholder, Basinger) 44.63. 3, Bluffton (Nassar, Lemley, Mays, Heldman) 45.28. 4, Liberty-Benton (Abbott, Rose, Jenkins, Michael) 45.30. 6, McComb (Loe, Odell, Montague, Reza) 45.53. 7, Columbus Grove (Banal, Barrientes, Smith, Goedde) 45.75. 8, Van Buren (Koehler, Hoyng, Stone, Bahn) 45.91.

400 — 1, Gaerke (L-B) 50.89. 2, Garmatter (Blu) 51.05. 3, Bixler (C-R) 51.66. 4, Ridge (P-G) 51.98. 5, Betts-Baldwin (VB) 52.18. 6, Wetherill (HN) 53.05. 7, Childress (Elm) 53.81. 8, Smith (Eve) 54.41.

300 ih — 1, Dunifon (Blu) 40.12. 2, Maag (P-G) 41.72. 3, Morgan (Ada) 41.86. 4, Tienarend (Elm) 42.21. 5, Abbott (L-B) 42.25. 6, Banal (CG) 43.37. 7, McCoy (HN) 43.76. 8, Burkholder (P-G) 44.45.

800 — 2, Murphy (Elm) 2:01.79. 3, Jordan (Ada) 2:03.14. 4, Davis (C-R) 2:03.23. 5, Rode (McC) 2:03.60. 6, Pinks (Blu) 2:03.68. 7, Bellman (CG) 2:05.96. 8, Smith (CG) 2:06.42.

200 — 2, Basinger (P-G) 23.23. 3, Evans (Arl) 23.54. 4, Koehler (VB) 23.72. 5, McCoy (Riv) 23.98. 6, McCoy (HN) 24.29. 7, Gaerke (L-B) 24.34. 8, Bixler (C-R) 24.73.

3,200 — 1, Steinmetz (Blu) 10:13.36. 2, Closson (CG) 10:21.42. 3, Knestrick (L-B) 10:45.15. 4, Gatchell (HN) 10:55.95. 5, Bellman (CG) 11:11.32. 6, Hernandez (Leip) 11:24.44. 7, Weber (Riv) 11:27.71. 8, Sidle (AE) 11:29.52.

1,600 relay — 1, Bluffton (Dunifon, Schriner, Young, Garmatter) 3:31.35. 2, Liberty-Benton (Abbott, Kintner, Gaerke, Alexander) 3:31.52. 3, Elmwood (Condon, Childress, Murphy, Tienarend) 3:32.93. 4, Cory-Rawson (Dearwester, Stiles, Davis, Bixler) 3:32.93. 5, Van Buren (Koehler, Holman, Hoyng, Betts-Baldwin) 3:35.21. 6, Ada (Morgan, Gautier, Crouse, Jordan) 3:38.04. 7, Columbus Grove (Selby, Clement, Alt, Watkins). 8, Hardin Northern (Wetherill, Sheldon, Cooper, McCoy) 3:41.90.

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