Created on Saturday, 06 June 2009 Written by AARON LaBATT
COLUMBUS — Nate Bratka did not have the big day he expected here at the Division III state track and field tournament Friday, but then again neither did most of the other discus competitors. West Liberty-Salem’s defending state champion in the discus did not repeat. Rather, he placed sixth with a toss of 160-4 in the finals after winning last year’s state meet with a throw of 172-10.
West Liberty-Salem’s Nate Bratka competes in the discus competition Friday afternoon during the Division III state meet in Columbus. Bratka finished sixth in the event.
EXAMINER PHOTO | AARON LaBATT
“The pressure of the state meet levels the playing field,” said WL-Salem boys head coach Bart Zirkle. “We didn’t think we had this thing in the bag coming in. The guys who were expected to do well didn’t and the guys who were toward the bottom rose. That happens sometimes.”
Clay Harris of Newark Catholic won the state championship with a throw of 166-7. Three of the state competitors had thrown over 170 feet before Friday’s meet.
“No one really had a big day,” said Bratka. “The throws today were not what everyone expected or how people had been throwing all season.”
“If you were to tell me that 166 feet was going to win this I would say that Nate had it won,” said Zirkle. “Nerves might have played a factor, but it was just one of those days I guess.”
The senior standout qualified to the finals with a toss of 154-4, which had him sitting seventh. His first attempt in the finals of 160-4 moved him up to fourth for a short time before other throws lowered him in placement.
“In warmups I felt good and during the meet I just kept trying harder and harder,” said Bratka. “I wouldn’t say I was nervous, I just didn’t know what to expect.
“Things happen. I did the best I could and that’s all I can ask for. I placed sixth and that’s not something I’m going to hang my head about.”
Zirkle knew defending the state title would not be an easy task, but feels his senior has a lot to look forward to as Bratka is headed to join the United States Air Force Academy.
“The pressure was on other people and being the defending champion there is already that pressure coming in,” said Zirkle.
“Nate is now getting ready for the U.S. Air Force Academy and that is bigger than any state title. He’s already been the state champ and I’m proud of all he’s accomplished and what he’ll accomplish in the future. His leadership and worth ethic will be missed.”
Bratka has been a big part of the recent success of WLSalem’s track program. He was a three-time state qualifier and two-time state placer.
“It is rough leaving (WL-Salem) behind,” said Bratka. “We’ve achieved a lot and helped build the program up. Now we are all going onto another level and I’m excited to be heading into the Air Force.
“I don’t think I peaked in high school so I have a lot of upside to my future. I leave in a little over a month for basic training so it’s exciting to see what I can do.”
Tiger boys bow out of state tourney
WL-Salem’s boys team was also in action Friday with senior Lance Kitchen in the prelims of the 300 hurdles and the 1600 relay of Kitchen, senior Brice Baumgardner and juniors Eric Zirkle and Jake Anderson.
The top four times in each heat of the 300 hurdles advanced to the finals, while the top-eight overall times in the 1600 relay advanced to the finals.
Kitchen was one spot shy of qualifying to today’s finals. He took fifth in his heat with a time of 40.05 and was ninth overall between the two heats. The senior was in prime position to qualify, but ran into trouble.
“I came around the corner, looked and saw I was in third,” said Kitchen. “I hit a hurdle with my trail leg and that tripped me up. That slowed me down little by little and a few guys passed me.”
The Tigers’ 1600 relay team made its third consecutive appearance at the state tournament and took seventh in its heat with a time of 3:30.33. Even though the Tiger group did not qualify, their spirits were high afterward.
“We wanted to be in the top three of four but that didn’t happen,” said Baumgardner. “I feel like we did well, though. We executed well. It just didn’t happen this time.”
“I’m proud of all our guys,” said Kitchen. “We have the mentality that what we do is OK with us as long as we’re together and go hard.”
Kitchen, who has been all three state qualifying relays in addition to the 300 hurdles, ended his track career with a great perspective.
“It’s still awesome to qualify to state,” said Kitchen. “It’s a privilege to be here because so many people didn’t make qualify. It’s a nice way to go out as a senior.”