The look of intense focus Justin Veteto displayed throughout the last two years of his high school track career had finally vanished.
Seated on the highest awards podium perch, a first-place medal around his neck, the Center Grove senior couldn’t stop smiling early Saturday evening.
Veteto might not have been king for a day. But after winning a state championship in the 300-meter intermediate hurdles he savored moments of celebration he’ll forever cherish.
Runner-up in the 110 high hurdles both earlier in the day and at the 2013 State Meet, Veteto exhaled a massive sigh of relief upon crossing the finish line in a school-record time of 36.85 seconds.
“It feels pretty good,” said a perspiring Veteto of finally being able to add the phrase “state champion” to his many accolades in the sport.
“We just have to go hard and try our best. If there’s another guy that runs a better time than you ... you both do your best. It’s about going as hard as you can and just relaxing.”
Not an easy task when a sun-soaked crowd of 5,432 jammed into Indiana University’s Robert C. Haugh Complex is monitoring your every stride.
Veteto’s victory continued Center Grove’s stranglehold on the 300s.
Former Trojan and current University of Notre Dame freshman Conner Stapleton claimed the title at last year’s state meet in 37.26 seconds.
Stapleton was in the stands Saturday to cheer on his former teammates, including younger brother, Grant, a junior who would take ninth in the 800-meter run.
“Justin is a man of not many words, but if had been anyone else breaking my record I would probably be more upset,” Stapleton said, laughing. “He’s going to hold this over my head until I die, but I’m really happy for him.”
Stapleton even worked his way close enough to the track to take a cellphone selfie and the new 300 hurdles champion.
Veteto’s winning time proved to be the fourth-fastest since the event made its State Meet debut in 1999.
Only 2007 record-holder and three-time champion Bryce Brown of Evansville Harrison (36.26) did it better. Brown’s times as a sophomore (36.34) and junior (36.56) were the lone sub-37-second efforts until Veteto.
“The first hurdle was awesome, the second about what we expected. But Justin today had a great finish,” Center Grove coach Eric Moore said. “It’s well-deserved. He runs four events in a track meet no matter how big the meet is.”
Saturday’s was the biggest. Like champions do, Veteto saved his best for last.