COLUMBUS — Wadsworth senior Nick Miller, Brunswick junior Alyssa Wolf and Cloverleaf freshman Brooklynn Crist ended their 2018 seasons as champions at the annual state track and field meet.
They increased Medina County’s gold medal total to six after the Grizzlies’ boys 4x800-meter relay win Friday at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
Winning a state championship is all about taking a chance.
For Miller, his risk in the closing 300 of the Division I 800 paid off in a big way.
Miller found a way out of being boxed in and pushed the rest of the way to win his first individual state championship. The senior was a member of the 4x8 that won Friday.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “I knew I didn’t want to come in second again, so I gave it all I had and got him in the last 50 meters.”
Miller was referring to a loss to Toledo Whitmer’s Nathan Cousino at the Amherst Regional, but this time Miller found a late surge to cross the finish line in 1:51.89, beat Cousino (1:52.18) and cap a three-medal weekend, as he also made it to the podium in the 4x4.
The pace wasn’t too much of a shock to Miller despite humid conditions, but his biggest fear happened when he got backed in after Ashwin Briggs of Pickerington North cut in front before the second lap.
That’s when Miller decided to push into one of the middle lanes, giving him enough room to gain ground on Cousino and cut into his lead.
Miller passed Cousino with 50 meters left.
“Coming off the first 300, I thought I had enough room to surge ahead and avoid getting boxed in, but I got edged by (Briggs),” he said. “The next 200 I was boxed in, so I had to swing all the way out to Lane 4, got myself in a good position and, from there, I gave it all I had left.”
The steady early pace set by Cousino was key. Miller found his tank on empty a week ago on the final straightaway at the Amherst Regional when he tried to catch Cousino despite a personal-record 1:50.90.
“What helped was the whole group was there,” Miller said. “I didn’t want to go out too fast because everyone would catch up to me. The time was a lot slower today.”
While Miller was out to break the school record of 1:50.42 held by Jake Hiltner, he was pretty proud of finally getting an individual crown, especially at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium, where he will suit up for Ohio State next season.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “I’m not necessarily bummed that I didn’t get the time I was shooting for, but first place is first place.
“I just think it’s cool how this is going to be home track. To end my high school career with a championship and do it here is pretty cool.”
As Wolf waited atop the podium, the junior looked around with her hands politely folded and waited for her name to be called.
Wolf capped her dominant season in the 3,200 with a gutsy performance to claim the D-I state championship.
She is the Blue Devils’ first individual state champ since Brianna Neitzel claimed the 400 in 2011.
“I still don’t really believe that I just did that,” Wolf said after winning in 10:27.57. “I was like looking around (on the podium) thinking, ‘Did this actually happen?’ It feels great.”
After sweeping through the postseason with victories that featured the next nearest competitor on the other side of the track as she crossed the finish line, Wolf was tested Saturday.
Wolf didn’t back down, though, as she was shoulder-to-shoulder with Gahanna Lincoln senior Claire Steigerwald with approximately two laps to go before Steigerwald took her first and only lead.
“I was getting nervous because I don’t have a very good kick, I don’t think,” Wolf said. “I just stayed strong and didn’t want anyone to pass me.”
That advantage was short-lived, as Wolf regained position just seconds after the final-lap gun and pulled away for the win in more than two seconds. Steigerwald finished in 10:29.85.
“The whole time I was thinking about how much hard work that I’ve put into getting here,” she said. “I knew I could either put in a couple more ounces of hard work or I can be just a tiny bit disappointed being so close to it.”
Wolf has been the state standard from start to finish this season.
A year after not making the postseason roster in the 3,200, Wolf was undefeated. Her efforts were much needed after the Blue Devils lost long-distance specialist Felicia Pasadyn for the year due to injury.
Wolf’s last loss came in the indoor state championships in March.
“I would’ve thought you were talking about Felicia,” Wolf said with a grin. “The emotional connection that I have with the two-mile, it’s probably my favorite race out there. I came into track wanting to get to state for the two mile and wanted to try and be good at it.”
Her training partner, Emily Bardwell, also finished on the podium with an eighth-place 10:50.50, while Highland’s Kaylie Kenne was right behind in 10th (10:52.87).
Nobody was happier for Wolf than Bardwell.
“I was really happy when I saw Alyssa in first,” Bardwell said. “Me and Alyssa, we push each other so much. I’m really proud of what she’s accomplished this year, and it’s just great to have a buddy to go through it with.
“She’s an inspiration to me and motivates and pushes me every day. I’m so happy to have her around.”
Crist is no stranger to competition.
The freshman is an accomplished national sled hockey player outside of track, but even the nerves of competing in front of a packed crowd Saturday hit her.
“I was very nervous. Very nervous,” said Crist, who won three seated events. “I had a lot of my teammates, though, and they were really supportive. They kept me away from the track until I got up here.”
As Crist checked in at the bullpen, a wheel started to come loose to compound the nerves for one of the county’s first seated athletes.
Crist went on to take gold in the seated 800 (2:44.11), 400 (1:15.91) and 100 (20.55). She finished just 0.04 seconds from the 100 state record set in 2015 by Ravenna Southeast’s Jenna Fesemeyer.
“I did not want to come into this and be overconfident thinking that I was going to win all of these,” Crist said. “You can’t do that. You just overthink yourself. But I was able to calm my nerves a little bit into the (400). It was a good day.”
Heading into the 100, which Crist won at the middle school state meet a year ago, her focus was helped by teammate Tommie Kurtz, who gave her a pep talk as she sat in the corner of the track.
Crist responded with a convincing win over Westerville Central’s Lyssa Zepfel, who finished in 22.07.
“Dude, she’s insane,” Kurtz said of Crist. “She had an unfortunate bullpen situation. There were some issues were her cart, and I told her, ‘Brooklynn, you need to tell me what you want.’ She wanted first place, and I said, ‘That’s all you need to think about, so you have to go get it.’
“That’s exactly what she did. She was in the worst-case scenario, and she pulled herself out of it.”
It was a situation that proved track and field contains a variety of team aspects and support.
“It was nice,” said Crist, who also placed third Friday in the seated shot put. “As wheelers, we get kind of separated from footed runners with them doing their thing and we have to do our thing. It’s nice to have them on our sides and they’re so super supportive.”
With her first high school season in the books, Crist will have a little bit of time to reflect on a spring during which she helped Team USA win the Women’s Para Ice Hockey World Cup.
Crist already is planning what she needs to do to defend her championships and break records.
“We’re trying to get other events, like the one-mile and two-mile,” Crist said. “I would be really interested in doing the one. I think it would be a lot of fun, but I really want to break that state record (in the 100) next year. I was so close.”
Contact Dan Brown at email@example.com.