By Jon Moffett
It’s been a long spring already.
Mother Nature has forced a handful of track meets, dozens of practices and countless workouts to be postponed or cancelled. So hundreds of area runners were delighted to find clear skies and the sun shining down on the 31st running of the Optimist meet at Austintown Fitch High.
And the runners took full advantage.
Area teams took top-three places in 32 events. The Mahoning Valley won medals in sprints, distance, hurdles, relays, throws and jumps.
Many of the athletes credited the climate — arguably the best day they have seen this season — as one of the difference makers.
“This is what I love. It’s been a tough season with the rain and the cold, not only to run in it, but to stay healthy too,” said Lakeview High sprinter Lauren Schattinger. “I almost forgot what this feels like. I love it.”
Schattinger said the weather has been a factor across the board, affecting all spring athletes.
“I’ve had more meets cancelled this year alone than I have in my entire track career,” she said. “And I think that’s what has hurt us the most. And I think it has hurt everybody. I mean, it’s taken me all season to run my best time in the 100-meter dash.”
Schattinger, who claimed the gold in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes, wasn’t the only runner to post their personal best. Fitch hurdler Jen Shiley improved her career mark while earning a silver medal in the 300-meter hurdles. She was edged out by .24 seconds by last year’s state champion, Kaila Barber of Midpark.
Throwers Ali Tolich and Mike King, of Fitch and Salem, respectively, said their performances are also better when it’s nice.
“It’s nice when you get those nicer days because the [throwing] ring is dry, and you don’t have to worry about the elements as much,” said King, who edged out McDonald’s Matthias Tayala to win the shot put.
Tolich, who won both the shot and discus events, said rough conditions can make a good thrower look average or great.
“Discus especially can be really finicky depending on the weather,” she said. “If it’s really windy, you’re not going to get a good throw. If it’s raining, it could slip out of your hands. The weather can really affect how you perform.”
More than 70 teams from 42 schools competed in the event. The Valley saw 12 first-place finishes, 11 runner-up finishes and eight bronze medals.
Joining Schattinger, King and Tolich with gold medals were Valentino Sewell of Chaney (110 hurdles), Waylan Andrews of Fitch (400), Miles Dunlap of McDonald (300 hurdles) and Jay Jakovina of Fitch (high jump). The Fitch boys also won the 4x200 and 4x100 relays, and the Chaney girls won the 4x100 relay.
The Fitch boys tied with Akron Buchtel to win the meet with 51 points. Fitch actually won the final event of the day, the 4x400 relay, but was disqualified for a lane violation during a turn. Buchtel, which placed second in the event, claimed the top spot by default and earned the split.
Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary rounded out the top three.
On the girls side, the host team barely missed out on a top-three spot, earning fourth place with 58 points. Green won the meet with 78 points while Shaker Heights (70) and North Canton Hoover (64.5) also earned trophies.
Andrews, a senior, said he and his teammates had a lot to prove. He said several of the competitors had a few things to say to the Falcons prior to several events.
“We don’t talk trash. We show teams. We leave it all on the track,” he said. “It feels a lot better to look at their faces after we beat them.”