Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference title goes to Shelby

MARION – Garrett Baker is a game to do just about anything in an athletic meet.

Game, yes, but not crazy.

Crazy would be Shelby’s senior — who her coach calls the team’s MVP — challenging schoolmate Kayla Gonzales to a run, especially after what she just accomplished in the two-day meet of the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference.

Gonzales repeated as the MOAC champion in the 1600 and 3200, eclipsing her personal best in the first by three seconds and winning the second by nearly 18 seconds as the meet ended Thursday at Marion Harding.

That distance sweep and anchor leg in Tuesday’s 4×800 relay for first place helped the Whippets repeat as league champions by a whopping 134.50-92 margin over second-placed Ontario . Marion Harding was also a repeat offender on the boys’ side, fending off Shelby by a count of 153-140.

“With the heat and everything, I didn’t really feel amazing,” Gonzales said. “I wanted to make sure I got the points for first place, but I wasn’t going to kill myself.”

Shelby's Kayla Gonzales shares a celebratory hug after sweeping both distance races at the MOAC Championships on Thursday.

Baker put his own mark on the competition, setting a school and competition record in Tuesday’s pole vault by eliminating 14-10, then coming back Thursday to win the 100 meters in 11.21. He also finished second in the 400m and ran the second leg of the 4x100m relay for third place.

“You can plug it in anywhere,” coach Chris Zuercher said. “He’s a hell of an athlete. Whoever takes him to college will have a super multi-athlete because he’s a pole vaulter, but not just a pole vaulter. He can do so many different things.

Jumpers are often exclusively jumpers, simply because there is so much technique involved in this event. It is very rare to find someone who excels in this race as well as the marquee race of the track. Until about three weeks ago, when he first gave Baker a chance at the 100, Zuercher probably thought that too.

“We were looking at a few different (people) in the 100, but then we decided to try it there,” Zuercher said. “We had to find someone.”

Baker’s response: Why not?

“It’s usually like that; I get thrown into anything, he said. “I’ve always liked to do a bit of everything.

“I always knew I was fast, but I didn’t think I would win the league or anything.”

An outfielder since seventh grade, Baker had literally flown under the radar until the spring. He didn’t make an immediate impression as a rookie, punting 11-6. He lost his second season to COVID and then missed the second half of the 2021 season with a groin injury.

Baker’s best height last year was 13-6, so he surpassed that by more than a foot this spring with three weeks left in the season. In winning the MOAC title, he broke the school record that had stood since 1996 by one inch. He also broke the league mark of 18 by five inches.

Not bad for someone who isn’t one-sided when it comes to sports. He was a solid safety and backup receiver last fall on the football team and then moved on to wrestling. He’s a three-sport athlete who only lands a pole when the track is in season.

No aerobatic schools or aerobatic camps on his agenda.

“Obviously I worked on it,” Baker said. “I just put down the pole and see where it throws me.”

Sometimes after a meet he stays on the track to work on his jump, so it’s not that he’s being nonchalant about it. It just doesn’t get his full attention. It is not possible. Not if Baker wants to be a jack-of-all-trades.

“I was pretty consistent in training, putting in a lot of time (on the vault), so I think that helped a lot,” Baker said. “I’ve been thinking about the school record on vault since I went 14-6 at the start of the season. But it’s difficult to have a lot of training with the bad weather.

He hasn’t set 15 feet as his goal, but time permitting, he obviously could get there before his high school career is over.

“I don’t think it matters what I get,” Baker said. “The goal will always be to go higher – higher than I did last time.”

Shelby's Kayla Gonzales swept the 1,600 and 3,200 meter races Thursday at the MOAC Championships.

Gonzales didn’t set a school record like Baker, but by winning Thursday’s 1600 with a time of 5:12.82, she obviously closes in on Lisa Smith’s mark of 5:07, set in 1989.

If Gonzales doesn’t get it the rest of this season, there’s always next year.

“I don’t do well in the heat, junior Shelby said of Thursday’s temperature topping 80. “I like it in the 60s, so I didn’t think I’d be doing PR today. today.”

Her winning time of 11:54.67 in the 3200 was more than 20 seconds slower than her PR, but once she took the lead halfway through, it was a one-person race the rest of the way.

“I think the heat was killing everyone today,” Gonzales said.

So why didn’t it kill her?

“I don’t know why,” she said. “I felt strong. I reduced the training a bit. It really helped my legs so I felt stronger. But I definitely felt (the heat) in the 32. I didn’t feel my best at all.

Reyna Hoffman, Channon Cundiff and Abby Vogt (9:44.32) preceded Gonzales with the stick in Tuesday’s 4×800.

Hoffman and Cundiff also raced the winning 4×400, along with Mary Wilkins and Ava Bowman. Those two stints were the bookends to Shelby’s repeat championship performance.

“Last year we started off falling in the hurdles and then a false start in the 100m, so it was a tough start,” said coach Patience Lewis. “We had a lot of personal bests in this game.”

Gonzales, as a three-time winner, has helped maintain a decades-long tradition of excellence among distance runners at Shelby. The boys also won a MOAC title in the 4×800 and finished 1-3 in the 1600 and 1-2 in the 3200.

Huck Finnegan repeated in the 3200 (9:56.90) and raced the 4×800 (8:07.56) with Marshall Moore, Luke Dininger and Mason Hendrickson.

Ontario's Miles Meisse (left), Shelby's Huck Finnegan (middle) and Shelby's Like Dininger (right) race to the finish line in the 1,600 meter race at Thursday's MOAC Championships.

In one of the most competitive races in the competition, Dininger won the 1600 fending off a strong final kick from 2021 Ontario champion Miles Meisse, as well as a strong push down the home stretch from Finnegan, who finished third. Dininger finished in 4:26.51. Meisse ran a 4:26.57 and Finnegan checked in at 4:26.70.

Hendrickson was just behind Finnegan in the 3200, finishing less than four seconds behind his teammate. Moore finished second in the 800m.

“We have a lot of depth,” Zuercher said. “Two weeks ago we had seven guys under five minutes in the 1600.”

Shelby has had 16 different runners score in competition this season.

“It’s really cool,” Zuercher said. “We have a great culture. Our joke is that you can’t spell culture without a sect. It is a remote cult. It’s good because they run (support) themselves.

Tuesday’s field event champions included Clear Fork’s Bekah Conrad (129-5) and Joe Pritchard (128-4) in discus, Shelby’s Connor Henkel in long jump (21-7) and Kyle Foust of Galleon in the high jump (6-2).

Ontario’s Ally Potter was the other regional champion for the girls, winning the 400m (1:01.62).

Galion left with three champions: In addition to Foust in the high jump, the Tigers got the first of Andy Sparks in the 300 hurdles (40.92) and the 4×200 team of Sparks, Jordan Borders, Gabe Ivy and Logan Shifely (1 :33.42) .

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