The Warsaw boys track and field team will take a lot of athletes to Saturday's 111th annual state finals, but only two contributed to last year's fifth-place finish.
The only returning points from last year's state finals come from the 4x400 relay, which returns seniors Ryan Goon and Gabe Furnivall. The duo is joined this year by senior Chad Goon and sophomore Landan Perry.
“We’re looking to pick up right where we left off last year at state,” Furnivall said of the relay's mindset coming into this season.
This will be the fourth-straight state finals appearance for the 4x400 relay, with Furnivall appearing in the last three and Ryan Goon taking part in all four, along with his twin brother Chad Goon competing in 2012 and 2011 and serving as an alternate last year.
“It builds cohesiveness,” Furnivall said. “We’ve been together since seventh grade, running the 4x4. We have a lot of trust in one another. We know what each other can do.”
Ryan Goon likes the idea of closing out his prep career running with a longtime friend and a brother.
“It means a lot, especially since Gabe and I have been running together since fourth or fifth grade,” he said. “It means a lot to be able to just grow up with this guy and eventually run our last race together in high school.”
The relay won't be Furnivall's only action, as he'll also be the 12th seed in the 400 and compete with fellow seniors Tanner Balazs, Tristan McClone and Mike Miller on the ninth-seeded 4x100 relay.
“Just like any other meet, I’m just going to go into it trying to get a lot of rest, not sitting in the sun too long and hitting strides in between the 4x100 and 400 – just making sure all the lactic acid is out and rested between the 400 and 4x4,” Furnivall said about preparing for his busy day.
Also for Warsaw, its 4x800 relay (senior Ismael Calderon, junior Nicholas Bergen, junior Daniel Messenger, senior Tyler Houvener) will be at state, as will Miller and McClone in the 100.
Senior Ellis Coon returns to the 1600 state finals, having finished ninth as a sophomore in the event, then missing his junior season with an injury, while senior Stephen Kolbe is also coming back to the state finals in high jump after missing out as a junior.
In his freshman season, Kolbe placed ninth at state with a height of 6-6, then moved up to sixth his sophomore season, clearing 6-4. However, his junior season came to a close with a fourth-place finish at the regional, one spot outside of qualifying for state.
Back at the state finals, Kolbe's not taking it for granted.
“I’m training even harder, just knowing it’s a privilege,” Kolbe said.
Kolbe will be joined in the event by Wawasee junior J.J. Gilmer, who finished fourth at last year's state meet with a height of 6-6.
This year, Gilmer and Kolbe both enter with seed heights of 6-4.75, although Gilmer went 6-5 at the Goshen Sectional, which Kolbe won with a leap of 6-6.
“I just want to match or do better (than I did at last year's state meet),” Gilmer said. “I heard there's some pretty good jumpers and I'm looking for competition.”
Gilmer's classmate Clayton Cook is also making his second-straight trip to Indiana University's Robert C. Haugh Track & Field Complex in Bloomington.
A year ago, Cook finished 16th in the 110 hurdles with a time of 15.16 seconds, and returns this season with a seed time of 14.98, which is the 20th-fastest time.
“Last year was so much more nerve racking, because it was a big meet and I could feel the butterflies in my stomach,” Cook said. “I have a lot better time this year, so it's a better feeling to be seeded a little better. It makes me a little more confident.”
Gilmer and Cook have carried the Wawasee boys team this year, so their participation in the state finals comes as no surprise to head coach Scott Lancaster.
“They're about where they need to be,” he said. “They're competing. J.J.'s gone second at conference, second at sectional and second place at regional. He's not getting in by the skin of his teeth, which is good to see. Clayton seems to be getting better each day. We're hopeful we can get the guys in a position to medal.”
At this point in the season, Warsaw head coach Matt Thacker is also heading to state just waiting to see what his guys can do on the big stage.
“We want to go down there and compete,” he said. “Do the best we can and let the chips fall where they may.
“If we go down there and run out of our minds, there’s real good possibilities for us,” he said. “If we go down there and lay an egg, no one’s going to say anything.”
And with 10 of the 13 Warsaw student/athletes at the state meet being seniors, the trip south is even more special.
“This is really our first go-round with this many seniors,” he said. “We’ve kind of been young in the past few years. It’s one thing we’ve come to realize in track, that it’s hard to have a bunch of guys stick it out, as far as seniors. We’ve been blessed with positive and very good seniors, that have gotten us on the right track. Putting us in a position to have a great postseason run.”
One of those seniors is Furnivall, who's looking to end his prep career without any 'what-ifs'.
“We’re not going to leave anything on the track,” he said.