BY YANEEK SMITH, BEACON CONTRIBUTOR
Of all the teams John McKitrick has coached, this one might be the best. Oak Harbor came in second place in a Division II regional, finishing with 53.5 points. Creston Norwayne won with 65 points.
The Rockets saw two relays and eight individuals qualify for the state tournament in five events. Emily Wolf had a great showing, qualifying in two events, the discus (120 feet, 7 inches) and the shot put (39-04.00).
“Emily has put in more time in her skill than anyone else in the program. She’s always practicing, lifting weights. She knows more about throwing than I’ll ever know. It’s good to see her (get to this point), she’s had some injuries to overcome. Now she seems to be back on track,” said McKitrick. “I think last year was a letdown year after a stellar freshman year. This is three weeks of having to perform at a high level.”
Peyton Bloomer was the lone champion, finishing first in the high jump with a leap of 5-03.00. (She finished sixth in Columbus last year.) Teammate Emma Zibbel finished second with a jump of 5-02.00, good enough for third place.
The other state qualifiers were Elayna Krupp, Abby Below and Hope Sievert. Krupp finished fourth in the 100 meters in 12.74, just beating out Eastwood’s Jamie Schmeltz, who ran a 12.78. Below came in fourth in the 400 in 59.75, edging out Liberty Union’s Jayden Roach, who ran a 59.76. Hope Sievert also finished fourth in 2:18.52, coming in 0.06 of a second in front of Orrville’s Maya Hamsher (2:18.58).
“We knew that Elayna, Abby and Hope had a good chance to get to state. We got very good lane assignments. All three of them finished fourth, respectively,” said McKitrick. “A lot of the kids, when they’re younger, we don’t really give them the chance to qualify for state in an individual event; they’re just not ready when they’re freshman. We have a lot of athletes that have gone to state and know what it takes.”
The Rockets also had two relays qualify for state. The 4×100 relay of Krupp, Hannah Schulte, Paige Clune and Sophia Eli was third in 49.42 and the 4×400 relay of Krupp, Below, Sievert and Emily Harr took third in 4:03.52.
“The beauty of a relay is, track can be an individual sport. I think the kids enjoy the relay experience much more. Crossing that line and knowing you’re going to be on the podium with three other people (is exciting),” said McKitrick. “The girls have to believe in each other. Trusting that the baton will get into your hand at a certain spot in the race. The girls trust each other, and they don’t want to let each other down.”
On the boys side, the Rockets finished eighth with 28 points. Shelby won the region with 77 points.
Overall, Oak Harbor saw Brandon Elmes qualify in two individual events (110 hurdles, 300 hurdles) and three relays also qualified.
Elmes finished second in the 300 hurdles in 39.66 and was fourth in the 110 hurdles in 15.06. He was also part of two relays that qualified for state. The 4×200 relay of Nick Pfeieffer, Ajay Riechman, Aidan Barton and Tyler May finished second (1:29.31) and two other relays received at-large bids. The 4×400 relay, which included Elmes Riechman, May and Pfeiffer, finished fifth in 3:26.26 and the 4×100 relay of Elmes, Riechman, May and Barton placed sixth in 43.16.
“They started training back in January, and some in November. Those other guys who didn’t have a winter sport, they were practicing. We had an indoor meet to see where our relays were and how Brandon was doing. I can’t say enough about the dedication of this group. The seniors have been such great leaders,” said Oak Harbor coach Andy Augsburger. “Ajay could potentially be a three-team state placer. He worked his butt off during his sophomore year, that’s why he was on the alternate list and in 2017. We were district champs with Nick Damron on the relay — we had an unforeseen injury that we couldn’t help, it just happened. That shows you the kind of guy A.J. has become, and to bring Aidan on and he’s doing so well. Ajay and Aidan together, if Aidan finished first, Ajay finished second; if Ajay finished first, Aidan finished second. Those guys have worked so hard.”
Augsburger also had high praise for Elmes, who played a key role in the hurdles and the relays.
“What he has done for the program since his freshman and sophomore year to where he is now is impressive. He’s a competitor (with) the way that he has worked in this program and taken the initiative. John McKitrick has worked tirelessly with Brandon Elmes, and it has paid off. John knows what he’s doing with the hurdles, and Brandon has listened. The confidence that Brandon has right now is amazing. A lot of that has do to with John helping him out with his running form and his hurdling,” said Augsburger. “I’m so happy for Brandon because he has worked so hard; we’re really pulling for Brandon, we want the best for him, he’s worked so hard. I’ve never had an athlete qualify in four events and Brandon Elmes has. He’s a beast.”
The program has come a long way under Augsburger’s leadership. In the last five years, winning two Sandusky Bay Conference titles and getting its share of athletes to Columbus.