Some might say Orange senior Eddie Harrell, an 800-meter guy, had no business hanging with a pair of sprint specialists on the anchor leg of the four-by-200-meter relay during the Division II state championship Saturday in Columbus.
Harrell and his teammates, senior Armon Frey, sophomore Gregory Beard and junior Diante White, entered the finals with the fourth seed after running a quartet-best 1:29.12 during the previous day’s prelims at Ohio State’s Jesse Owens Stadium.
With Dunbar so far out in front during the finals, the Lions quickly found themselves in a race for second. When Harrell received the baton for the anchor leg, his main competition in the hopes for silver was the likes of Youngstown East senior Latwon Jordan and Akron Buchtel junior Marquell Cook, both of whom were individual state qualifiers in the 100 dash.
The smart money would have been on the natural sprinters, but not only did Harrell hang, he straight up outran those dudes on the final straightaway to secure a runner-up finish in 1:29.22, edging East by 0.17 second and Buchtel by 0.32 second.
“I think we might have been in fifth when I got the baton,” Harrell said. “I was just counting my steps to the finish line. I knew that we would be there. I didn’t want to let my teammates down. Coming into the race, we knew we could do something special. I wanted to help my teammates get as high on the podium as we could, and we did that.
“And just seeing the excitement on their faces when we crossed the line, my three teammates, I know they put their all into the race, and it was only right that I give my all back to them. It was an amazing feeling crossing the line second.”
It was special indeed, as it was the Lions’ best state podium finish for a relay in program history.
On the third leg, White was the lone returner from last year’s four-by-200 team that finished 13th in the state in 1:30.82.
“I just tried to tell these guys not to be nervous,” White said. “It’s a big crowd, but we knew we could really run with anybody, and, if we just got our steps down, we could do better than we did last year. So, we were just calm about it and ran our race.”
In his state-meet debut, Beard said, “All year, we knew we were one of the top teams around. So, we knew we just had to perform the way we knew how and we’d be near the top of the podium like we were.
“And when I hear Armon yelling after he hands me the baton, it’s motivating, because I hear him, and I’m like, ‘I can’t let him down.’ So, I run my fastest. I do the same thing for Te, and Te does it for Eddie too.”
Frey, who was the Lions’ four-by-400 lead leg at states last season, knew what to expect at the big dance as the Lions’ pop-off leg for the four-by-200 relay this year.
Primarily a hurdler, Frey was also an individual state qualifier in the 300 intermediates and finished 11th in 39.95 seconds during Friday’s portion of the meet.
“It’s just really great to be so successful with our four-by-200, because we really did put it together with runners from all different areas coming together,” Frey said. “And it was really great to see how hard they worked at it and how hard I worked at it, perfecting our exchanges and everything just to make sure we were all in synch to get it done.”
Harrell, meanwhile, went on to finish fifth in the 800 run in a season-best 1:55.48 to repeat an all-Ohio showing after taking sixth a year ago.
Out of lane 8, Harrell split his first 400 meters in 58 seconds and was actually in 17th of 18 runners at the midpoint of his race, before picking off 13 guys on the back half. He slipped by Tuslaw’s sixth-place senior Zac Wilhelm by 0.14 second at the line.
“Well, coming out of 8b, that was kind of a little disadvantage,” Harrell said about being blind to his competition until the cut-in 300 meters into the race. “So, I wasn’t really impressed with my first lap at all. I thought I was going to get out faster than that.
“So, when we were crossing the 400 line, I was like, ‘No, I gotta push, I gotta push. I’ve got to get back on that podium, because that’s where I belong.’ I just gave my all for that last 400, and it got me fifth, so I can’t complain.”
Also securing an individual all-Ohio podium spot for Orange in her state debut, Lady Lion junior Jesseca Hudson-Turpin took sixth in the 100 hurdles in 15.33 seconds against a 1.2-meter-per-second headwind in the finals.
Although Hudson-Turpin said it wasn’t her best performance, after clocking 14.24 seconds with a 1.5-meter-per-second tailwind at regionals the previous week, she was still one of the best in Ohio this season.
“It feels great to have a medal around my neck,” she said. “I wish I would have placed better, but things happen, and I just had to come out here and try to do my best. Even though I didn’t set my PR, I know I didn’t give up on myself. So, I really tried as best as I could and did what I could.
“But I still have another year. I’m only a junior. So, this year, I’m going to put in even more work and more training than I did last year, and I’m going to come back even stronger and faster.”
In her state finals race, Hudson-Turpin clipped an early hurdle with her trail leg and more or less focused on keeping her steps in synch for the rest of her race.
“I just tried to recover the best I could,” she said. “In this kind of race, that’s the only thing you can do. Everything doesn’t always go as planned, but I’m just going to keep believing in myself and not give up.”
In the final event of the meet, Orange’s four-by-400 relay of Frey, junior Brian Pernell, junior Michael McNeil and Harrell clocked a 3:25.33, their second-best time of the season, to finish eighth on the podium. They had clocked a ridiculous 3:21.55 in prelims, which was a season-best by 4.26 seconds.
Frey and Harrell were on that relay last season, when the Lions took 13th in 3:26.54, while Pernell and McNeil made their state debuts this year.
“We’ve just been working hard in practice, and throughout the year, really, and staying focused knowing we can only control what we can control,” said Pernell, who didn’t even run a 400 before this season. His individual specialty is in the hurdles.
“With me being used to running the 300 hurdles, I knew I’d be able to handle it,” he said. “I mean, it’s just another 100 meters in the 400. And having my teammates push me all year has been a big help. But the 400 is a really tough race. I think it’s all about who has the most heart.”
While Harrell received the baton in seventh for the anchor leg, just an hour after finishing his all-Ohio 800 run, he dropped back to ninth before fighting his way back to eighth on a lean at the finish line to secure the podium spot by 0.01 second.
All nine lanes are filled for the finals at Jesse Owens, but only eight make podium.
“There’s only one team that doesn’t make the podium, and I didn’t want that to have to be us,” Harrell said. “My guys deserved better. We didn’t run as well as we did yesterday, but they put in the work, and they deserved to be in that awards ceremony.”