Lady Tigers win their 1st track and field title
West Liberty-Salem’s girls track and field team stands on the podium Saturday after receiving the Division III state championship trophy inside Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus. The Tigers won with 50 points and are the first girls program in school history to win a state title. (EXAMINER PHOTO | AARON LaBATT)
COLUMBUS — Making program history was inevitable for the Lady Tigers this weekend.
From start to finish, West Liberty-Salem’s girls track and field team seemed destined to win the Division III state championship.
The Tigers grabbed surges of momentum after winning individual state titles on Friday and Saturday morning.
They then secured the team title after 10 events on Saturday and captured the school’s first state championship in any girls sport.
“I’m just thrilled and over the moon,” said WL-Salem girls head coach Ann Vogel. “There are just so many emotions right now. This is all the girls and what a great team effort they gave. We scored in seven of 10 events. That says a lot about their work ethic and determination.
“It’s not easy to win a state title in any sport, but track is especially difficult. We have a group of multi-sport athletes from soccer, basketball, cheerleading and cross country. It just shows what a community can do when it comes together.”
The Lady Tigers scored in seven of 10 events, won two state championships, had two runners-up, placed in the top five of three other events and set multiple school records.
“We knew we could do it,” said Alex Burton. “We worked so hard to get this done. I sat and checked the team scores on my phone after every event. I kept watching our score go up and it was so exciting.”
It is the sixth state championship in school history. The WL-Salem boys cross country team won state titles from 1976-79 and the Tigers’ wrestling team captured a state crown in 1991.
The Lady Tigers also added to the school’s history book for individual state champions over the weekend.
The Tigers’ 3,200 relay of Grace Adams, Megan Adams, Madison Bahan and Katelyn Stapleton won a state title Friday morning and the 800 relay of Kaylee LeVan, Alex Burton, Grace Estes and Emily Hollar grabbed its own championship Saturday morning.
Those two titles became the third and fourth for the WL-Salem girls track and field program. Maria Newcomer Gleason won the 3,200 in 1984 and Meghan Vogel won the 1,600 in 2012.
“The girls and I talked a little about the historic aspect of it and it hasn’t sunk in for some of us,” said Vogel. “Hopefully, what it means is that it leaves a legacy for the younger girls coming up in any sport at our school. That if you work hard and commit yourself to your team you can win a state title too. It’s possible, you just have to put your mind to it and dream big.”
The Lady Tigers smashed school records all season and they cruised to league and district titles to open the postseason.
When they captured the program’s first regional crown and qualified to the state meet in a record 10 events, the state title talk began to grow.
“We knew we were going to be really good at the start of the season,” said Lydia Moell, who placed fourth in the pole vault on Friday. “As the postseason started we definitely realized that this could be a possibility.”
Although she knew her team was full of talented girls, Vogel still hadn’t considered a state championship as a reality until late in April.
“To be honest, a state title didn’t come into my head before the season,” said Vogel. “It’s so hard to win a state title in track. You could have one girl score 30 points and win. At the Miami East meet I had a coach say we could win it and I wasn’t sure what to think about that.
“Each meet we got better and at the Wayne Invitational I started to think we were on to something. The girls saw the rankings online and thought we were pretty good. The confidence kept coming with each performance. We just wanted to keep getting better each meet and not look too far ahead.”
800 relay wins state title
West Liberty-Salem’s girls started off the second day of the state meet exactly like it did on Friday, with a state championship.
The 800 relay of Kaylee LeVan, Alex Burton, Grace Estes and Emily Hollar won with a school-record time of 1:44.24.
WL-Salem’s 800 relay team of Kaylee LeVan, Alex Burton, Grace Estes and Emily Hollar pose with their medals after winning a state championship on Saturday.
“It feels amazing to be a state champion,” said LeVan. “We worked so hard for this. It’s nice to see all of that pay off.”
“That was an amazing race,” said Vogel. “Our handoffs weren’t great. In order to pull that off, every single girl did their part. Winning that race set the tone like the 3,200 relay did the day before.”
LeVan started off the race and got the baton to Estes, who had the Tigers in sixth at that point of the race. Burton took over the third leg and moved the team up in position.
“We had a pretty good race,” said Estes. “Our handoffs were a little shaky, but we adjusted and got the job done.”
Hollar grabbed the baton for the final leg and bolted down the final stretch. She leaned forward at the finish line to edge her opponent from Cincinnati Summit Country Day 1:44.24- 1:44.25.
“It was pretty nerve wracking, but I like being in that position,” said Hollar. “I wanted to go out there and win it for my team.”
Tigers take second in two events
WL-Salem came close to two more championships on Saturday.
Megan Adams finished second in the 1,600 with a time of 5:01.12. The 1,600 relay of Hollar, Bahan, Estes and Stapleton also finished second with a school record time of 3:58.95.
Adams had won a regional title last week and ran a time of 4:59.08, just one second off the school record. However, Springfield Catholic Central’s Addie Engle was able to beat Adams on Saturday. Engle also won the 3,200 state title.
“It feels pretty great to get second,” said Megan Adams. “I’m glad I could score points for my team. I definitely gave it my all on the first three laps. When it came down to the last lap I did my best, but I wasn’t able to kick it in. I give all the glory to God because he gives me the ability to run.”
WL-Salem’s Megan Adams nears the finish line of the 1,600-meter run. Adams finished second in the event.
The Tigers’ 1,600 relay was also in position to win a state championship. The team had already clinched the Division III title, so a runner-up finish and a school record was not disappointing in the least.
“We changed the order up 25 minutes before the race,” said Vogel. “Emily usually leads off, but we moved her to anchor. We put Madi in first and she dropped her split by two seconds. All of them battled. Any 1,600 relay to finish under four minutes is an accomplishment.”
Hollar shines in first season of track
Hollar had an impressive weekend for a freshman at the state meet. More impressive is that this is her first season ever running track.
The young Tiger was part of the state championship 800 relay, the state runner-up 1,600 relay team and placed fourth as an individual in the 400 with a time of 57.22.
WL-Salem’s Emily Hollar, left, heads down the final stretch of the 400-meter finals in Columbus.
“It’s been an amazing experience and I’ve learned a lot,” said Hollar. “I’ve been surrounded by some amazing coaches, teammates, friends and family. They've all made it a lot of fun.”
Hollar had the fastest qualifying time for the 400 state finals. Even though she did not run her fastest, Hollar was happy with her race.
“It was alright, but it wasn’t exactly where I wanted to finish,” said Hollar. “I’m still happy with how it went, though.”
Perfect weekend for relay teams
The Tigers celebrate after the final race of the Division III state meet on Saturday.
All four of WL-Salem’s relay teams placed at the Division III state meet. The 400 relay of LeVan, Estes, Burton and Moell added a fifth-place finish with a time of 50.34.
“It’s tradition,” said Burton. “We all have heart and we love this sport. Track has always been a big West Liberty sport. It’s in our blood and our family ran track. Coach Vogel pushes us to be our best.”
The Tigers also competed in a few other events at the state meet. Stapleton ran in the 800 and finished 10th (2:19.16) and Grace Adams competed in the 3,200 and finished 12th (11:59.02). Megan Adams qualified to state in the 3,200, but chose not to run in the event.
WL-Salem’s girls won the Division III state meet with 50 points, Archbold was second with 39 points and Springfield Catholic Central was third with 34 points.