For every competitor at last week’s state track and field meet, it was all about getting on the eight-person awards podium.
Grace Winckowski did it twice.
Clay’s junior hurdler took eighth in both the 100- and 300-meter hurdles, clocking in with times of 15.23 and 45.39 seconds, respectively, in the Division I meet. More than 14,000 fans packed Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus last Saturday, the second day of the two-day event.
Winckowski finished in 14.9 in the 100 prelims, which she said was “exciting” because she had never run under 15 seconds in her career.
“I was really confident,” Winckowski said of heading into the finals. “I was real nervous because I didn’t know if I could run that again. I had a really good start and stayed with the pack the whole time. I looked behind me at the finish and there was one person. I knew then that I had my goal.”
Winckowski, who took 15th in the 100 hurdles (15.80) at last year’s state meet, said taking eighth place and earning a medal “felt amazing.”
“I finally accomplished it,” she said. “After two years, I always thought I could do it, but I had doubts that I could.”
Winckowski ran a 45.9 in the 300 prelims on Friday and was in lane 9 in Saturday’s finals, with the ninth-best qualifying time. She only had to beat one runner in the finals to get up on the awards podium again.
“I was a little nervous for that one,” Winckowski said. “That was little nerve-wracking, that I knew I had to beat one person. One girl passed me at the end, but my family started to cheer so I knew I got on the podium. I knew I got eighth. I got passed at the finish line and was a little upset because I thought that was my chance to get top eight. The girl in lane 1 (senior Tiara Wiggins of Zanesville) got ninth, but I couldn’t see her (at the finish).”
Winckowski said a pair of eighth-place finishes will give her motivation to improve next season.
“I’m never going to be content with eighth place,” she said. “Right now I’m just excited about what I did this season, and I’ll start a new goal for next season. I’m probably going for top four at state next season.”
Clay senior Erin Gyurke also got on the awards podium on Saturday. Gyurke finished seventh in the 3200 in 11:01.15.
“It was very hot,” Gyurke said. “I don’t think anyone was expecting that heat down there. When you’re on the track, it drains you. Annie Heffernan (of Cincinnati St. Ursula Academy) and a couple other girls went out (fast) and I wasn’t right there with the pack. I never felt comfortable with my strides. I fell back a little ways, back to maybe 12th, about halfway through.”
Gyurke, who took sixth in the 3200 at last year’s meet, said she became determined to start passing runners around the fifth lap. The Ohio State cross country and track recruit said she was happy with placing seventh.
“The competition this year was harder than last year,” Gyurke said. “I finished pretty strong. The longer the distance, the better I get. I just have more endurance than speed. Towards the end, people were definitely starting to die (but) I would have gone another mile. I was happy with how I did. Being seventh in Ohio is a heck of an accomplishment.”
Gyurke also ran the second leg on Clay’s 4x800 relay team, which finished 16th in 9:47.00 in Friday’s opening event. The foursome of sophomore Haley Hess, Gyurke, freshman Sydney Hess and sophomore Hannah Hess was the first Clay girls relay team to ever qualify to the state meet.
“We were (ranked) eighth at regionals and we shocked everyone and made it to state,” Gyurke said. “(Friday) just wasn’t our day. We all didn’t run our PR’s. Personally, I would have liked to do better, but we did what we could do. Every day is not your best day, and I think that’s how it was. To make it down there was a huge accomplishment, especially where we were seeded in the region. Hopefully they do well next year.”
Haley Hess placed 12th in the 1600 in 5:11.52. Winckowski, Hess, Gyurke, and any other Clay athlete who won a league, district, or regional championship, or qualified for state, is on this week’s Alan Miller Jewelers All-Press Track and Field Honor Roll.