The connection Center Grove track standout Matt Fleener has with the 400-meter dash is equal parts love and hate.
Fleener isn’t overly fond of the lung-searing exhaustion he experiences along the home stretch of a lap around an all-weather oval. But he does enjoy the results he’s able to produce.
“I still don’t like the 400. I hate it, honestly,” Fleener said. “Why do I run it? Usually when you’re good at something, you pursue it. It’s a very tough race to run. Every second during the race is tough.
“But it’s just the training we do. For me, the practices I do train me for the end of that race.”
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A senior, Fleener is expected to be among the best in the state this season after missing out on a berth in the 2017 state finals by eight one-hundredths of a second.
The Trojans, who tied for fifth in the state last spring and have finished in the top five in six of the past seven years, open coach Eric Moore’s 20th season at the Columbus North Invitational on April 7.
Like so many of his predecessors in the program, Fleener had to wait his turn to begin turning heads.
“Last year, he sort of came out of nowhere because the year before we were so talented, and last year he got an opportunity,” Moore said. “He did that and did a good job all year. We would’ve liked to him to make state in the open 400, but he really did a great job with our relay team.”
Fleener ran the anchor for most of the Trojans’ 4×400 relay but was switched to leadoff in the quartet’s final race. Teamed with one other sophomore, Sam Hohlt, and seniors Tyler Boyer and Trevor Hohlt, the relay posted a time of 3:18.10.
For sake of comparison, the Trojans won the same race the previous season in 3:18.66.
Regardless of which turn Fleener takes running with that aluminum baton, his attitude toward running relays differs from when he competes as an individual.
“You’re running with three other guys. You have that special bond,” Fleener said. “You don’t want to let them down at all. Especially the coaches. And my parents.”
A track athlete since the sixth grade, Fleener used to compete in virtually every speed event. In time, the 400 is where he experienced the most success, though Moore said he thinks the senior might do every bit as well in the 200-meter dash.
“We’ll see. We’re pretty thin, so we may have to move a lot of guys around,” Moore said. “Matt doesn’t play football anymore, so he’s become a year-round runner. He’s more dedicated as far as his body strength-wise and fitness-wise.”
Matt Fleener’s breakout track season in 2017 included the following accomplishments in the 400-meter dash:
Johnson County meet;1st;50.21
Columbus North sectional;1st;50.29
Warren Central regional;4th;50.51