Track and field coaches at all three Olentangy high schools seem to regard the Freedom Relays as the last meet before the entire tenor of the season changes.
The ninth annual event takes place Friday, April 26, at Liberty and consists of DeSales, Dublin Jerome, Hilliard Davidson, Olentangy, Orange, Westerville Central and the host Patriots.
"This is the last big meet we have before the focus changes to the big picture (of the league, district, regional and state meets)," Olentangy girls coach Candun Griffin said. "For a lot of kids, next week we'll start tapering workouts. It'll be the climax of the season before we know it. The prize is in May and June, but (the Freedom Relays) will be a good barometer."
The Liberty girls team is seeking its third consecutive victory in as many invitationals this season.
In the Vandalia-Butler Invitational on April 20, the Patriots won three events and compiled 134 points to easily defeat runner-up Pickerington North (102.5) as 16 teams scored. Junior Alena Southwick won the 100-meter hurdles (16.08 seconds), sophomore Claire Wiles won the 1,600 (5:22.74) and the 3,200 relay finished first (10:03.79).
Liberty also won the Panther Invitational on April 12 at Hilliard Darby, scoring 150 points to top runner-up Davidson (138).
"Three years ago, (the Vandalia-Butler Invitational) was a hidden treasure we came across as a good way to step out of the area," Patriots coach James Dingus said. "But now you have Pickerington North, Gahanna, Thomas Worthington and other good teams from around here down there. It has a regional (meet) kind of feel, and it (was) a great way to find out where we stack up."
Senior Grant Cartwright won the discus (162 feet, 3 inches) and junior David Trzcinski won the shot put (48-3) at Vandalia-Butler as the Liberty boys scored 89 points and finished second to Pickerington North (169) in a 17-team field. Central Ohio teams won all but one boys event.
Senior Zach Van Gundy won the 800 (2:02.91), junior Andrew Johnston won the 3,200 (9:42.74) and the 400 medley relay took first (49.18).
Orange senior Katelyn Daniels, the defending Division I state champion in the shot put and discus and a Michigan State signee, is the prohibitive favorite in the Freedom Relays in girls throwing events. According to Ohio MileSplit, she entered the week as the top discus thrower in the state (145-10) and was second in the shot put (46-2 3/4) behind St. Clairsville's Alyssa Robinson (46-6 1/2), a Penn State signee.
The Pioneers will look to their throwers to win a second consecutive invitational, after they scored 96 points in the Russ Owen/Bexley Relays on April 19 to outdistance runner-up Columbus School for Girls (85) as nine teams scored. Orange won the shot put (70-2 1/2), discus (235-11), high jump (9-0) and 3,200 relay (10:35.4).
The Orange boys tied for third (68) with Eastmoor Academy behind champion St. Charles (101) as 10 teams scored. They didn't win an event, but coach Bryan Weaver thinks his long jumpers and pole vaulters, led by seniors Josh Park and Triston Richardson, give the Pioneers their best chance to succeed this week.
"Triston went 14-6 (in the pole vault) at the indoor state meet and almost 19 feet in the long jump this year," Weaver said. "Josh went 21-4 1/2 indoor (in the long jump) but every time we've been outside, it seems like the wind's always been in our faces."
On April 20 in the Dublin Classic at Coffman, the Olentangy boys finished eighth (38) behind Davidson (133.5) as 13 teams scored. The Braves girls finished ninth (31) behind champion Brunswick (104.5) as 14 teams scored.
Senior Nick Schrader won the pole vault (14-6), junior Nicey Bauman won the 100 (13.65) and sophomore Jarren Williams was second in the 200 (22.95). Bauman also had the state's top time in the 300 (44.82) entering the week, according to MileSplit.
The Freedom Relays begin at 4:30 p.m. with field events. Running events get under way at 5:15 p.m. with the 6,400 relay.
Athletes to watch include Cartwright, a Michigan signee, and Davidson senior Lauren Hoover, a Miami University signee who entered the week with the fourth-best 800 time in the state (2:19.24) and eighth-best 1,600 time (5:12.82).
"What a relay meet does is show your depth. You need quite a few good sprinters, especially 400 runners, and around here Davidson always seems to have plenty of those," Liberty boys coach Ryan Snivley said. "We saw Davidson (in the Panther Invitational) and we were in the meet with them up to the 200 dash, and they took first and second."