One of high school track and field’s hidden truths lies in the final running event: the 1,600-meter relay.
The race is a fairly accurate barometer of a team’s overall quality.
“If you have a good team, you generally have a good 4×400 relay,” said ninth-year Whiteland boys coach Brandon Bangel, whose squad broke into the weekly coaches’ poll at the end of the regular season at Nos. 19 and 18.
“Ours in recent years has gotten continuously better, and Center Grove almost always sets the standard in the 4×400,” Bangel said. “They’re on the (awards) podium almost every year.”
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Whiteland’s and Center Grove’s 1,600 relay teams remain in contention for a podium (top 9) finish at today’s IHSAA Boys Track and Field State Finals at Indiana University.
Ironically, these Johnson County rivals have been assigned to Lane 1.
Whiteland is in the second of three heats — Jacob Walters handing the baton to senior classmate Brandon Patterson. This duo then will watch freshman Charlie Ogega hand off to his older brother, Djimmon.
Center Grove occupies the inside lane in the third and final heat.
Second runner Zak Smith and anchor Jackson Hohlt, both seniors, already possess four 1,600 relay medals between them, having been part of the same relay in 2014 and 2015.
They’ll team with junior Logan Bontrager, the Trojans’ leadoff runner, and junior Tyler Boyer, who runs third.
Since 2010, the Trojans have placed, in order, 20th, first, 17th, second, fourth and third in the 1,600 relay at the state finals. Those same seasons coach Eric Moore’s team finished, in order, tied for seventh, first, tied for 32nd, third, third and fourth in the overall standings.
“My philosophy getting kids ready for track is to design my whole team around 300-meter hurdles and 400-meter dash guys,” Moore said. “When you do that, they’re already conditioned to run the mile relay.”
This being the third go-round for Smith and Hohlt gives Center Grove an edge in the experience department.
“Obviously, you want a strong start and a good finish, but every leg of the relay plays a huge part,” said Smith, who carried the baton in the No. 3 spot the past two finals but was moved to second. “I like running second because I can chase.
“Logan is good at putting me in a good position. My goal is to be first and the other guys will maintain. We tell (Bontrager and Boyer) to run their race. It’s just like every other meet. Just more people.”
An injury sustained during the football season sidelined junior Trevor Hohlt, who no doubt would have competed in the 400 and 1,600 relay.
Enter Boyer, who, as Moore said, “came out of nowhere.”
“In the offseason we talked about finding someone to replace Trevor, and Tyler was the one who showed he was capable of doing that,” Moore said.
At Whiteland, Bangel was forced to adjust his lineup and expectations once senior No. 3 runner Shaw Cloud pulled a hamstring running the 200-meter dash at the Whiteland Sectional.
Cloud’s absence presents a golden opportunity for his replacement, Charlie Ogega.
“With Shaw the goal was to finish in the top five, but we still want to be on the podium,” said Bangel, who believes this is possible if Whiteland is able to finish first or second in its heat. “Probably the most important guy in the relay is Jacob Walters to get us in a good position.
“If Jacob does his job, everyone else’s job becomes significantly easier.”
Order of runners – Logan Bontrager, Zak Smith, Tyler Boyer and Jackson Hohlt
Seed: No. 7
Heat/Lane assignment: Heat 3, Lane 1
Regional time: 3:20.28
Order of runners – Jacob Walters, Brandon Patterson, Charlie Ogega and Djimmon Ogega
Seed: No. 16
Heat/Lane assignment: Heat 2, Lane 1
Regional time: 3:23.20