Ryan Alton took over the Groveport Madison track and field program this past winter after 15 seasons as an assistant and immediately faced at least one pressing question.
Alton was tasked with replacing half of the boys 1,600-meter relay that repeatedly broke its own program records, finished sixth at last year's Division I state meet and 25th at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor last June and, with two seniors returning, had hoped for even more this season.
"The sky was the limit for them," Alton said after the season was canceled April 20 because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
"We definitely had our sights set on going back to state and we figured we could place in the top five," said senior Tyrell Floyd, one of two returnees on the relay along with classmate Rafael Soler. "My mind, personally, was set on top three in the state."
The relay finished sixth at state in a program-record 3 minutes, 19.51 seconds, eclipsing the record it had set eight days earlier at regional by .87 of a second. Soler led off, followed by Tahzmere Givens, Carl Allen and Floyd.
Givens graduated and Allen, now a sophomore, transferred to Pickerington North during the winter.
Alton settled on that group early last season, and Soler said he realized in early April after the Stingel Invitational at Pickerington North that the relay had lofty potential. They finished fifth that day in 3:30.48.
"We thought maybe we could do something. Later in the year when we got close to the school record, we realized we could do something big," Soler said. "Tyrell and I hadn't run together much because he was a sprinter and I was in middle-distance races (such as) the 800. Last year was when we mixed for the first time and it obviously worked out pretty well. We had a pretty good running relationship."
Alton called Floyd and Soler "consummate professionals" and considered them leaders of the entire team.
"They were always business-minded. They knew what to do and they knew how to get there," Alton said. "That's the unfortunate thing with losing this season; they knew what it took to get there and I was leaning on those two to be senior captains who would lead the rest of the team, do the right things and put in the work because they'd been there. I feel like we lost an opportunity with that, but it is what it is."
Floyd, who owns the program record in the 400 (49.26) and also expected to run the 200 as well as on the 800 relay this season, gave up his senior season of basketball to focus on track. He hoped to run under 48 seconds in the 400 and also had his sights set on helping to break the 800 relay record of 1:29.
"We wanted to blow that out of the water," said Floyd, who hopes to run in college but has not committed.
Soler, who owns the program record in the 800 (1:57.98), plans to walk on at either Eastern Michigan or Miami University. He will major in chemical engineering at either school.
Alton said a rivalry with Canal Winchester helped push both teams' relays. The Indians' 1,600 relay finished third (3:19.13) at state and 24th at nationals in 3:21.49, one spot and .09 of a second ahead of Groveport.
"We had them with us every step of the way," Alton said. "Iron sharpens iron. Their kids knew us, we knew them. They would talk back and forth at meets, they were friends on social media and they really pushed each other. We pushed each other to be the best we could."
Soler said Groveport hoped to knock Canal Winchester from the top of the OCC-Capital Division this spring, the last of four seasons that the rivals were in the same division. As the result of conference realignment, the Cruisers will move to the OCC-Buckeye this fall.
"We thought this might be our year," Soler said. "It just didn't work out."