BELPRE - With apologies to the restaurant chain, Belpre has "Five Guys" headed to the Ohio state high school track meet in Division III.
The Golden Eagles' Cray Sistrunk in the 1600 and the boys 4x100 relay team of senior Devin Daniell, sophomore Matt Colvin and juniors Matt Lopreste and Sam Petty qualified out of last week's regional for the state event Friday and Saturday in Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium at Ohio State University in Columbus.
The 4x100 "was a team we put together at districts (two weeks ago); they hadn't even run together all year," said Belpre boys head track coach Chris Palmer. "It's pretty much one sprinter, a long jumper, a high jumper and an 800 runner, and we put 'em all together and things just clicked.
"(Assistant) coach (Ryan) Yates did a miraculous job working with them on handoffs, and kind of took an unorthodox approach starting them in a three-point stance
"We knew they had a shot, because they're all pretty fast. It was a far shot - they were seeded sixth for the finals - but a shot nevertheless. We were surprised when they were winning by the third leg. We thought they got second, but they ended up third (in 44.79, cutting 7/10th of a second off their preliminary time).
"The handoffs were great. They still need to improve a little bit, but they looked good. So we're happy and excited to go to the state again this year, especially with four kids who have never made it before."
Daniell is "quick out of the blocks, Colvin is a strong runner and had a strong leg, Lopreste, who has been injured and in and out all season, did a good job in the turn and then got it (the baton) off Sam, who's our anchor and he really finished strong," said Palmer.
Meanwhile, Sistrunk, although just a sophomore, is going back to the state in the 1600 for a second straight year "after running a terrific race in the regional," said Palmer. "He gave it everything he had and qualified fourth (in 4:34), despite not feeling real well with back issues during the season and some stomach issues lately."
For Daniell, "after the team, that was kind of thrown together, ran at districts, we knew that if we could clean up our time and get it down, we'd have a chance. I'm happy to be going to the state; I wasn't really expecting it at the beginning of the season, but we are now."
Colvin thinks "if we can knock off a second and be in the 43s, we could make podium (a top-8 finish) at state." But how well the revamped 4x100 team has done surprised Colvin. "After districts, coach Palmer told us, 'You guys really busted it out there,' " said Colvin. "So we decided to get our handoffs together. We did it and now we're going to the state."
The handoffs were pretty crucial for us," said Lopreste, "because where we lacked in speed, we picked up with improved handoffs. That really helped us a lot, since the competition was pretty stiff at regionals. Getting to the state was a big surprise to us. But we knew if we put in enough work, we could do it because we had the talent."
For Petty, it wasn't a matter of "can we do it? I thought we could, but we just had to put it all together at the right time."
And, he added, the state meet "will unequivocally be a new experience - without a doubt. So we're all excited to be going, that's for sure."