Kenston and Cincinnati Sycamore were the only teams that truly had all their eggs in one basket for the four-by-100-meter relay during the girls Division I state track and field championship Saturday evening in Columbus.
The other seven teams vying for podium spots in the finals had runners who were competing in other events, six of whom were individual all-Ohioans.
But the Lady Bombers quartet of seniors Megan Randall, Rhianna Patrick and Izzy Gabram and junior Elyse Myles were down at Ohio State University’s Jesse Owens Stadium for that race and that race alone. The Sycamore girls were in the same boat.
Although Kenston didn’t have a top individual talent in the state, Randall, Patrick, Gabram and Myles all came away superstars when they circled the quarter mile in a scorching 48.06 seconds to finish third among the giants in Ohio’s largest division.
“They’re very deserving,” head coach Chris Ickes said of the only Lady Bomber relay to post a top-four finish at the big dance in program history. “I’m very happy they did it as a team. If you look at a lot of relay teams, especially in Division I, there’s usually a girl who is in the state finals of the 100 or 200 (dash). We didn’t have an individual qualifier in the open sprints.
“And, basically, that team needed each other, all four of them, to get it done, and that’s exactly what they did. They worked really hard.”
Among 211 schools in Division I track, the Lady Bombers posted a program record of 48.06 seconds in the finals, bested only by Lakota East’s state-record performance in 45.82 seconds and Cincinnati Princeton’s runner-up showing in 46.97 seconds.
Lakota East, for example, went one-two in the open 100 dash, as well as one-five in the 200 dash, not to mention a third member of its relay took third in the long jump.
While Lakota East and Princeton ran superior four-by-100 relays, Kenston came out third in a three-through-seven field that was separated by just 0.20 second with anchor leg Myles closing it out by passing three, maybe four, competitors on the final straightaway, edging out Reynoldsburg by 0.03 second, Toledo Start by 0.06 second and Troy by 0.11 second.
“We’ve all been running together since we were in middle school, and this is just our very last race together,” Myles said. “So, I just wanted to let my teammates have the best memory they could of their last race.
“We definitely worked our hardest this year, and we definitely knew that, if we were going to be here, this was the year we had to want it all and we had to work as hard as we could. So, it definitely means a lot that we were able to come out here and be the smallest Division I school (in our race). So, it meant a lot of us to just get to this point.”
Kenston’s three-grade enrollment figure, for ninth, 10th and 11th grades, as used by the Ohio High School Athletic Association, is 328 females, while Lakota East has three times that figure with 996 females, and Reynoldsburg has 774 females.
Among the nine teams in the finals, Kenston’s enrollment figure is 158 less than Troy, the second-smallest school in the field.
Nonetheless, the Lady Bombers stacked up by clocking a quartet best by 0.37 second for their bonze medals and all-Ohio certificates.
“We knew there was a lot riding on this, and we knew that this was our last race together,” Patrick said. “And we really needed to leave everything we had out on the track, because this was seriously a big opportunity for us. We’ve been working for so many years for it. We just knew that this was it right here.”
With Lakota East breaking the state record and Princeton, which posted the ninth-best state-meet performance in 45 years of girls track in Ohio, also appearing untouchable, the other seven teams in the finals were more or less in a race for third.
And while the Kenston girls secured those bronze medals, the scary thing is the fact that they thought they could have been even faster.
“My start felt really good,” Randall said of her pop-off leg. “Honestly, our first exchange didn’t really feel that good. It was too tight. I think it was just nerves. But it didn’t matter, because we ended up pulling out third anyways.”
The last time the Kenston girls even sent a four-by-100 team to states, in 1985, Randall’s dad, David Randall, was actually busy putting together a Class AA podium finish with teammates John Peets, Ken Daniels and Sean Waters in the four-by-800 relay in 8:01.97 to take sixth for the Bombers.
The 2019 Lady Bombers punched their ticket to states with authority, claiming their program’s first regional title in a girls relay by circling the track in 48.43 seconds, besting their previous best time by 0.92 second.
And when Randall, Patrick, Gabram and Myles showed up for the state prelims on Friday, they proved their previous week’s performance was no fluke by clocking 48.55 seconds to advance to the finals.
“We knew that we were here and we deserve it,” Gabram said. “And we knew we could get even better and even faster, because every time we went out there (this postseason), we just kept getting faster and faster.
“I always want to give (the baton) to Elyse in a good spot, so I’m trying my hardest to catch anyone I can on that back curve.”
While the Lady Bombers credited coach Bob Ross as their inspiration since middle school track, Gabram’s father, Kurt Gabram, a defensive backs coach for the state champion Bombers in the fall, took the lead to work with them on their exchanges this spring.
After finishing sixth in their region and missing out on a state berth by 0.67 second last season, Randall, Patrick, Gabram and Myles put in the work to earn their state hardware this year, coach Ickes said.
“Last year they were really disappointed,” Ickes said. “They worked really hard to make sure that didn’t happen this year. All four of them came out for indoor track and started setting their base in November.”
In the winter, they ran a bunch of workouts in the snow, going down to the South Chagrin Shelterhouse to get in their hill sprints and hill repeats while their peers were going home and staying indoors, Ickes said.
“They did all the things we asked them to do as far as workouts go in the spring,” he said. “They were always the last ones to leave the track. They were always working on their exchanges to make sure they got better.
“We transitioned our practice time this past week to 4:15 to 6 p.m., so we could simulate every single minute they would go through down in Columbus. And they got used to that. They worked on a bunch of breathing exercises, a bunch of visualizations, and they really just willed it to happen. I could bet a lot of money that not many, if any, other coaches in Ohio expected us to be third in the state. And, really, they just put it together on the biggest stage.”