By Jamie Baker
COLUMBUS -- One could tell by the look on their faces that the morning heat at Jesse Owens Stadium had taken its toll on the Bluffton boys track team.
Their work was done and they were spent.
But it was a job well done in the blazing sun by the Pirates as they advanced to the finals in three relays and a pair of individual events in the Division III boys meet at the 101st OHSAA state track and field championships.
"We've got nothing left for today," said Bluffton senior Jesse Herr, one of six athletes in the Division III boys meet competing in four events. "The sun and the heat, it just takes it all out of you."
Things couldn't have went better for the Pirates, who have a chance to win their first track and field team title after Saturday's finals, which are set to begin at 9:30 a.m.
Bluffton senior John Guagenti, another state meet participant in four events, posted the fastest qualifying time in the 200 (22.6) and 400 (48.89). He also teamed with Herr, Zach Guagenti and Ricardo Pena to set a new meet and state interscholastic record in the 800 relay (1:28.55).
Herr, Zach Guagenti, Pena and Levi Fredritz also advanced in the 400 relay with the third best qualifying time in a season-best 43.8 seconds.
The strain of a long day showed in the final Division III track event of the day: the 1,600 relay.
The Pirates entered the meet with the top qualifying time but the Guagenti brothers, Herr and Pena were three seconds slower than last week's regional championship time and were second in their heat with a time of 3:26.17 behind season-long rival Liberty-Benton (3:24.66).
"The first two relays were fine, I felt good in the 400 and 800 relays but after the 200 I started feeling it," Herr said. "We just have to come back and do it all over again tomorrow for the finals."
Area runners also answered this question: Which conference in the state has the fastest sprinters in the small-school division? The answer is the Blanchard Valley Conference.
A pair of BVC runners, Hardin Northern's Nathan Bame (11.69) and Liberty-Benton's Kerry Cramner (11.53), made the finals of the 100-meter dash. Pandora-Gilboa sophomore Sam Spallinger (23.62) qualified for the finals in the 200 dash. Bame will be running for his fifth all-Ohio award for the Polar Bears.
Not to be outdone, Cory-Rawson's Lucas Horstman ran a near-perfect race to win his heat of the 110-meter high hurdles in 15.08 seconds. Horstman, a junior, finished fifth at state last season and has been looking forward to returning to the state meet the entire season.
"There was a little more pressure on me this year, but the state meet has been on my mind all year," Horstman said. "When I get in the blocks and get ready to run down here it just pumps me up. The atmosphere is so amazing."
Two other area runners set themselves up for big days during Saturday's finals.
Columbus Grove's Heath Nickles, the defending state champion in the 300 intermediate hurdles, won his heat in a time of 39.97 seconds. He also placed fourth in his heat in the 110-meter high hurdles to advance in 15.35 seconds.
Elmwood's Curtis Smithey competed in three events Friday but was able to advance in only one. He qualified for the finals in the 400 with the second-fastest qualifying time of 49.04 seconds.
In the only track event final in Division III, Liberty-Benton was 14th in the 3,200 relay with a time of 8:29.76 while Pandora-Gilboa finished 15th in 8:31.43.
OTHER AREA RESULTS
(PLACES BASED ON HEAT)
3,200 RELAY -- 14, Liberty-Benton (Wilin, Mitchell, Giangiordano, Butler) 8:29.76. 15, Pandora-Gilboa (Maag, Augsburger, Niese, Hochstettler) 8:31.43.
100 -- 5, Spallinger (P-G) 11.71. 800 RELAY -- 6, Pandora-Gilboa (Diller, Arthur, Morrison, Spallinger) 1:32.49. 400 RELAY -- 5, Liberty-Benton (Miller, Cramner, Hyde, Cook) 44.52. 300 IH -- 6, M. Reinhart (NR) 42.13. 8, Geckle (Cont) DQ. 200 -- 5, Smithey (Elm) 23.14. 6, Herr (Blu) 24.14. 1,600 RELAY -- Elmwood (Stewart, Bottesch, Briggs, Smithey) 3:24.74.