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UPDATE: STATE CHAMPS!

COLUMBUS — The rich tradition of West Liberty-Salem’s track and field program just got richer.

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West Liberty-Salem’s boys 1,600 relay team won a Division III state championship Saturday at the OHSAA state track and field meet inside Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. From the left are relay members Kelvin Shank, Conner Karg, Taylor Cordell and Kam Evans. (EXAMINER PHOTOS | AARON LaBATT)

The boys 1,600 relay team of seniors Kelvin Shank, Taylor Cordell and Conner Karg, and junior Kam Evans added to Tiger history by winning a state championship here Saturday at the Division III state tournament.

The Tigers blazed across the finish line with a winning school-record time of 3:19.53, which was four seconds faster than the previous school record the group set at the regional meet a week ago.

“These guys know the school has a rich tradition in the 1,600 relay,” said WL-Salem boys head coach Joe Taylor. “Their best asset is their ability to rise to the occasion. Today was a great example of that.”

This was the third time in four seasons the 1,600 relay team has placed at the state meet. It is also the seventh time in eight seasons the 1,600 relay has qualified to state. The Tigers placed sixth in 2007, seventh in 2011 and sixth in 2013.

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West Liberty-Salem’s Kelvin Shank hands the baton to teammate Taylor Cordell during the boys 1,600-meter relay final Saturday inside Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.

“I told them this would be a race about guts and I knew they had it in them to do it,” said Taylor. “They knew they weren’t favored, but they had an outside shot to win it. All it was going to take was some guts, and these guys answered and came out on top.”

WL-Salem’s last state champion in track and field was Meghan Vogel in the 1,600 in 2012. The last boys state champion was Nate Bratka in the discus in 2008.

“It’s an indescribable feeling right now,” said Shank after stepping off the podium. “It’s so surreal. We’ve worked so hard to get this.”

“It feels even better winning it knowing we were the underdogs in the race,” said Evans.

The top eight finishers in the finals earned a spot on the podium. WL-Salem tied for seventh as a team with 22 points.

The Tigers’ 1,600 relay team was seeded second heading into Saturday’s finals. Running out of Lane 6, Shank led off the group and put them into third after the first lap.

Cordell then took the baton and was in a tight battle before falling back to fifth at the next exchange.

Evans was next, giving a tremendous individual effort by moving the Tigers up to third for the final lap.

That is when Karg grabbed the baton and did what he does best — blitz the competition.

“I love the pressure,” said Karg. “I thrive off of that. When I have an important role to play I love the pressure it brings.”

Karg fought past runners from Archbold and Gilmour Academy in the first 100 meters. He then took the lead and held on the rest of the way to cross the finish first.

“I told Conner he was going to be the best guy on the track,” said Taylor. “If he was within 10 or 20 meters of the front guy, then he knew what he had to do. When I saw him take the baton and make his way toward the front I was confident he could finish it out.”

Friday’s semifinal heat did not see WL-Salem at its best. The group acknowledged their handoffs were bad and that they did not perform at top speed.

“We ran slow Friday and were still one of the top three teams coming into the finals,” said Cordell. “Knowing that, we knew we had a chance to win it.

“I’m the slowest one of the four, but knowing you have three other guys who can run a 400 as fast as they do, I was confident in my teammates. We just had to move on and put the semifinal race out of our minds.”

“We talked before the race about what we needed to do,” said Taylor. “We talked about Kam and Taylor stepping their game up and putting Conner in a position to pass people. We wanted to be second, third or fourth and then to see what would happen.”

Given that WL-Salem did not run its best on Friday, the group gathered confidence in that they were still predicted to finish near the top of the podium.

“We knew we could place high,” said Karg. “It’s such a great feeling to finish on top like we did, though. It’s a great way to end our senior year.”

“A lot of people talk about heart and that it is important for a relay,” said Cordell. “I ran slow (Friday) and Kam didn’t run his best either, but we both went out today and ran personal-best splits. You have to do what it takes to win at state. We all had to do our part to win.”

“It’s just a mindset with us,” added Karg. “We are very competitive even against each other. We compete against each other during practice all the time trying to beat the other guys.”

In just his first year as head coach of WL-Salem’s boys, Taylor now has a state championship relay team on his resume.

“It really hasn’t sunk in yet,” said Taylor. “I think we’ll all appreciate it more as the summer goes on.

“When I saw Conner cross the finish line I couldn’t believe it. We’re obviously very happy and super excited for the guys. They ran an unbelievable race.”

Karg state runner-up in 400

 

 

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