By Rob Kiser - Piqua Daily Call
COVINGTON - The Covington boys and girls track teams have plenty of youth - to go with seniors Ben Miller and Heidi Cron - on the two relay teams that advanced to the state meet.
Along with running in the 300 hurdles, Miller will team with juniors Brandon Magee and Shane Straw and freshman Ethan Herron to compete in the 400 relay.
Miller and Magee ran on the same relay at state last year, with Dalton Bordelon and A.J. Ouellette - who graduated.
"Did I think this was a state team at the beginning of the year - probably not," Covington boys coach Kyle Moore said. "We lost two pretty good runners in (A.J.) Ouellette and (Dalton) Bordelon. We just plugged Ethan (Herron) and Shane (Straw) in. We just moved Ben (Miller) to number two. Ethan leads off and Shane had always run the third leg in junior high when he ran the race."
The Buccs ran a 44.12 at regional, which gives them the ninth fastest time going in to Friday's semifinals.
"All the times are really close," Magee said. "It is just a matter of who executes the handoffs and who goes out and runs the best race on that day."
Miller said he enjoys running the relay.
"I think it is a little easier because you have your teammates there," he said. "We work together and help each other. I have never really found running at state that overwhelming, but it does help having been there."
Herron never expected to be running at state as a freshman.
"No, not at all," he said with a laugh. "The other guys have all helped me a lot."
Straw is excited about the opportunity.
"I didn't expect this, but we have been working hard," he said.
Miller said it has just been a matter of chemistry with this team.
"We work really well together," he said. "I just think we found a lot of time with the handoffs. We just make a really good team."
And Moore would love to see them running on Saturday - the top nine make the finals.
"I think they are talking about the finals," he said. "We didn't make the finals last year. They beat last year's team by five-hundreths of a second in the regional. If they just go run their race, we will be fine. I know if they give Brandon (Magee) the baton in a good position (on the anchor leg), he will finish it."
Miller will also be competing in the 300 hurdles, where he has the 12th fastest time of 40.09.
"Everybody is pretty close except for Zallow," Miller said referring to Chad Zallow of Warren John F. Kennedy, who is more than two seconds ahead of everyone else with a 37.03. "So, it is just a matter of running my best race. Running at Jesse Owens Stadium is a great way to finish my career."
Miller already showed what he is made of by coming back after falling in his best event - the 110 hurdles - at regionals.
"If there is anybody on our team who could handled that adversity and responded like he did, it is Ben Miller," Moore said. "I hope Ben (Miller) is still thinking about the finals, because we believe he can make it. Ben hasn't run his best race in the 300s yet. He has had a hip injury that has bothered him throughout the season so he hasn't been able to practice the hurdles all the time. We just need to find a way to get him to run his best race."
The Covington girls will be competing in the 800 relay with senior Heidi Cron and freshmen Shae Robinson, Tori Lyle and Breanna Kimmel.
Lady Buccs coach Dave Tobias new he had a special group from the start.
"I knew the freshman group had some of the fastest kids we've had," Tobias said. "We have three freshmen on this relay."
And it is also rewarding to see Cron finish her athletic career at the state meet.
"You know, she just wanted to go to state in something," he said. "It didn't matter what sport. It is great to see her get that opportunity. Heidi just has such a strong work ethic and is very competitive."
Cron is kind of the unofficial leader for the relay team.
"She is the one that holds us together," Kimmel, who runs the anchor leg, said. "She has helped us a lot."
Tobias sees it as well.
"She is the unofficial assistant coach of the relays," Tobias said. "I will tell them something and they will tell me, 'Yeah, Heidi (Cron) already told us that.'"
The same four girls ran the 400 and 1,600 relays for Covington as well.
"We kind of tried different combinations for awhile," Cron said. "We finally figured out, we could just run all of them. We just started focusing on relays."
Running at Jesse Owens Stadium will be a new experience.
"Not at all, I never expected to be going to state," Robinson said.
State isn't completely new to them.
"Three of us went to state cheerleading," Kimmel said.
"But, that is different from track," Lyle said. "It is completely different. It is exciting."
Covington goes in with the ninth fastest time of 1:47.77, but at this point execution is everything.
"Handoffs will be a big part of it," Robinson said. "That is for sure."
And handling the environment.
"That's why we are doing a walk-through on Thursday," Tobias said. "It is not the same as competition day, but it will give them a feel for it. We are running in lane eight. We don't have eight lanes (at Covington), but running in six here is pretty similar."
Tobias likes the youth on the team.
"We have three freshman that will come back next year having been to state," he said. "We want to make the finals, then we can improve on what we do Friday. These girls broke a record that had stood since 1982 at the regionals and I think they feel like they can still take a little time off that. Right now, they are just having fun."
"I want to do well, but really, getting to state was the big goal," Cron said. "Running at Jesse Owens Stadium is a pretty sweet way to end my career."
For both Cron and Miller.