By Josh Brown
COLUMBUS – Twice, Miles Hibbler found himself listening to the lane assignments for today’s state finals, waiting all the way to the ninth and final lane.
In the 100, he missed out by hundredths of a second. But in the 4x100 relay, he and his Trojan teammates got a chance to celebrate, sigh in relief, react however they wanted.
Because one way or another, they had reached the finals.
Troy’s boys 4x100 team of Hibbler, Brandon Lee, Gabe Allen and Matt Barr was the ninth qualifier for the finals, while the girls 4x100 team of Kelsey Walters, Gracie Huffman, Shanelle Byrd and Ashley Barr also reached the finals with the seventh-fastest time during Friday’s Division I state track and field preliminaries at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus.
It was especially sweet for Hibbler, who has been to the state meet three years in a row now – and will be running in his first championship race.
“Last two years, we didn’t run on Day Two,” said the senior, who moves in at Kent State on a football scholarship on Sunday. “Last year, we ran our worst time of the entire year here. Not a good time to do that. Today, we didn’t run our best time, but it was good enough to give us a chance tomorrow.”
Hibbler also competed in the open 100, and after both heats he was tied with Winton Woods’ Christian Lumpkin with matching times of 10.86 seconds for the ninth and final spot. Hibbler had had fortune with that situation at the regional, being tied time-wise for the fourth and final spot and qualifying for state via the next digit over. But Lumpkin’s time was 10.851 seconds, and Hibbler’s was 10.858 seconds, and he missed a finals berth by 0.007 seconds.
“I knew I just had to suck it up,” Hibbler said. “I still had the 4x100 to run. I couldn’t be selfish and pout. I had to run well for my teammates.”
And Allen and Barr, with this being their first year running track at all, and Lee, who was a backup on the relays the past two years, all helped to pick Hibbler up, and he returned the favor.
“It was nerve-wracking,” Allen said of running at state for the first time. “I’ve been nervous before races before, but this time my whole body was feeling it. I was shaking.”
“I’ve been a backup since I was a freshman, and I’m glad I finally got my chance to run here,” Lee said. “It’s so much nicer than watching.”
“We did what we had to do” Barr said. “Hopefully tomorrow we can break our own school record, run a better time and get on the podium.”
“The last two years, our time here ended after Day One,” Troy boys coach Deon Metz said. “Now, we move on to the next day. Now, to go along with Nathan Fleischer in the pole vault, Alex Dalton in the discus and Stephen Jones in the 3,200, we have the 4x100 running in the finals.
“They didn’t run their best time, so that leaves some room to improve, to tighten up some things here and there. But they got the nerves out of the way today. Three of those guys had never been here before, and that’s impressive.”
Of course, now that they’re here …
“Now the goal is to stand up there,” Metz said, pointing to the podium. “And that starts with beating one relay team. After that, it’s a matter of how high they can go.”
For the only senior on the girls 4x100 team, advancing to today’s finals came as a surprise.
“I was shocked, to be honest,” Byrd said with a smile. “Shocked but thrilled. This smile just isn’t leaving my face.”
“I think we shocked more people than just us,” said junior Huffman.
The team of Byrd, Huffman, Walters and Barr had the seventh-best seed time in their own heat – and 13th overall – coming into the day. So they went out and ran a time of 48.74 seconds, finished fourth in their heat and had the seventh-best time overall on the day.
“I never thought I’d see the 48s again,” Troy girls coach Kurt Snyder said. “This is only the second team that’s broken 49, and to be under that again with this team just impresses me even more.”
Especially with the graduation of some big guns off of the team in the offseason. Walters, a sophomore, and Barr, a junior, replaced a pair of record-setting seniors – and found themselves thrown onto the biggest stage in the state.
“She was freaking out,” Huffman said, pointing at Walters with a chuckle.
“I was,” Walters said. “It’s nerve-wracking. But you also get that adrenaline pumping. It’s really exciting being here as a sophomore. It’s an experience.”
But with Huffman and Byrd, who both have previous state experience, on the team, the Trojans found the right balance.
“It just gives us more experience,” Barr said. “They help calm us down.”
“We had some big shoes to fill,” Huffman said. “But we had good leaders last year that set good examples for us.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 440-5251 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.