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Raiders 4×100 team looks to represent Warren in Columbus

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Harding junior JaVontae Jones (left) and Fitch senior Jayden Eley (right) cross the finish line during the 4x100 relay Friday in Austintown. Both teams earned a trip to the state meet, but Harding took the regional crown with a time of 42.25 seconds

AUSTINTOWN — Earning an event win always means something a little bit more as a team. Relay groups are always about the sum of its parts, but Warren G. Harding’s boys’ 4×100 meter relay team has seen some of the best in the state over the spring.

A difficult schedule paid off when it meant the most, as the Raiders took the Division I 4x100m regional title with a time of 42.25 seconds.

Now, it’s about representing Warren as the team of Chandler Jackson, JaVontae Jones, Donovan Slero-McCoy and Antonio Smith have become the first boys 4×100 team to wear the Raiders black and gold in Columbus since 2018.

“I think just a lot of effort in practice and other people pushing us forward,” said Jones following the win last Friday. “It’s just a lot of speed and talent and we love each other like we’re family. After practicing with each other for so long, we just get used to it.”

It was an extremely difficult regional to earn a top-four finish in, with .09 separating the top three spots of Euclid and Austintown Fitch. The fourth and final spot was decided by .002 seconds, as Solon just edged Massillon Washington.

The key when the competition is tough?

“Just stick to what we know. As long as we execute, we’ll be great,” said Jackson, a junior. “Staying consistent, staying the course. It’s not just practice, we have to talk outside of just practice, we make sure we keep in touch with each other and make sure we’re on the same page for relays.

“It means the world, some kids don’t make it this far, I’d just like to give a thank you to God for bringing us down here and giving us this victory down here today.”

Harding coach Charles Penny tries his best to plan a spring schedule around big meets, so when district or regional meets come around, there isn’t a sense of surprise. His athletes all know what’s required to earn their ticket to Columbus, knowing the margin for error is slim.

“We ran against schools, we know what’s out there. What we preach to our kids is that each meet is an opportunity to succeed, but our goal is to get to Columbus,” said Penny. “Our message all season has been to trust your teammates. Do your job, run your individual races, and don’t do anything more than what you’re able to do. We showed it today.

“No one really pushed the envelope, they trusted each other, they hit their marks, they ran a clean race and we dropped more time.”

With the exception of Jones, the other three Harding sprinters play football on the gridiron together, something that has helped build the connection on the track during the spring.

Attention to detail, especially when it comes to stickwork and taking just milliseconds off of their times is the end result according to Smith.

“It plays a good role because most of them I wouldn’t have met outside of football,” said Smith. “We built that bond and that long summer with football, we go through conditioning, we go through all of that to build that pretty good bond together.

“This is the most excited we’ve ever been, it just feels good.”

All underclassmen, sophomore Donovan Salero-McCoy and Smith do carry experience from Columbus to the table, competing for Warren JFK last spring in their 4x100m and 4x200m relay teams.

The big stage won’t feel unfamiliar to the duo.

“It just shows that you have to let them know what to expect coming from states because it’s a whole different level from regional to state,” said Salero-McCoy. “Once you get up there and see all the people, running in front of everybody it’s nerve-racking. The feeling is unreal, it’s just exciting to see everybody, your fans cheering for you, representing the city. It’s unreal.

“Warren took me in during the middle of the year from JFK, they made me feel like family, it means a lot to represent their school in the state finals.”

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