No girls relay team from Clay had ever qualified to the state meet, but that drought is over.
“They’ve been talking about it since last August, before school started,” Eagles coach Scott Wamer said. “Those four came into my office and said, ‘We’re going to make it to state in the 4x800.’ They made it come true.”
Last Wednesday, at the Division I regional at Amherst, the Eagles’ foursome of sophomore Haley Hess, senior Erin Gyurke, freshman Sydney Hess and sophomore Hannah Hess made school history when they secured the fourth and final qualifying spot to this Friday and Saturday’s state meet at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus.
The 4x800 relay team set a school record at Amherst, finishing in 9:27.65. Haley Hess led off the relay followed by Gyurke, Sydney Hess and Hannah Hess.
“All four of them had season-best 800 runs,” Wamer said. “We took 20 seconds off our district time in one week to qualify for the state meet. I had my doubts, no question. We hadn’t really gotten to the point where I thought they were going to have a chance, but they made a believer out of me (last) Wednesday.”
The Eagles finished fourth at regionals with 37 points, behind Cleveland St. Joseph Academy (55), Perrysburg (51) and Whitmer (39).
Wamer called the 4x800 relay race“absolutely thrilling.” He said Haley Hess ran a sub-2:16 split and handed off to Gyurke in second place.
“Erin got the lead and handed off in first place to Sydney,” Wamer said. “The only team to pass Sydney was Perrysburg, which has one of the best teams in the state. When Hannah got the baton, in second place, three teams passed her probably in the first 400. They ran really hard 400s, and Hannah just stayed steady.”
Wamer said the race boiled down to the last 200 meters, when Hannah Hess began to close the gap on the runner from Medina.
“With 100 meters left Hannah was only 10 meters behind the fourth-place runner, from Medina,” Wamer said. “With about 50 meters left, Hannah pulled even and beat her to the finish line. The other three girls did their job to put Hannah in that spot and, she ran her best race of the season.”
Gyurke said gaining the fourth and final state-qualifying spot was an “incredible” feeling.
“It’s such an honor to be able to say I was part of the first Clay (girls) relay team to go to state,” Gyurke said. “It’s definitely an honor. The race was intense and scary. When Hannah came down the stretch, you could see the determination in her face. I was jumping up and down at the finish line.”
Gyurke, who placed sixth (11:04.23) in the 3200 at last year’s state meet, took second in the 3200 at last week’s regional in a school-record time of 10:55.33. Gyurke will run for Ohio State in cross country and track next fall.
“Erin’s a gamer,” Wamer said. “Erin wants to go out on a high note.”
Gyurke said she is ranked fourth going into Saturday’s 3200 finals. She said she’s confident she can finish in the top five.
“I should be able to do what my seeded time is,” Gyurke said. “It’s incredibly exciting, and being given the opportunity to go back is unbelievable. It’s always a fun weekend. To share it with my teammates, you can’t beat it. I want to finish it out and have a great run and get ready for a great year next year.”
Haley Hess advanced to the state meet in the 1600, placing third in a season-best time of 5:06.56. Hess, who was voted this year’s outstanding female track performer at the Three Rivers Athletic Conference championships, took eighth at state last season (5:04.85).
Clay junior Grace Winckowski advanced to state in the 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles, winning the 100 (15.19) and taking second in the 300 (45.50).
“She fell going over the last hurdle in the 300,” Wamer said. “She was leading the girl from Brunswick and caught her trail toe going over the eighth hurdle and did a bear crawl across the finish line. She set a school record and didn’t even finish on her feet.”
Winckowski broke the previous school record of 45.68, held by Meghan Scharer.
“I just remember falling and then knowing that I had to finish the race to get to state,” Winckowski said. “I didn’t panic. I just got up and crawled. When I got to the finish line, I just layed there. I wasn’t that mad, because I knew I still made it. I broke the school record, and that was exciting.”
Wamer, who has coached Clay’s track teams for more than 20 years, had never had a female hurdler make it to state in both hurdles events in the same season.
“Grace has set herself up to have a good weekend,” Wamer said. “She’s peaking. She ran career bests in both races, so we’re peaking at the right time.”
Clay’s last female regional champion in the 100 hurdles was Kate Achter in 2004.
“I had a really good start, and all the girls stayed (bunched) together until the end,” Winckowski said. “I kind of stumbled a little bit, but it was the best stumble I’ve ever had. It gave me the oomph to go forward and beat the girl who finished second.”
Winckowski said her first priority in Columbus is to make sure she reaches the finals.
“I was out in the semifinals last year,” she said. “If I focus on getting there this year, I think I can. There’s a very good possibility I can get to the finals. After I make it there, I have to worry about beating one person to get on the podium (top 8). That’s my goal.”