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  • Val T.

Valley boys track has field day at Plymouth sectional

Rochester follows TRC title by finishing 2nd behind CMA; Evans advances in both hurdles events


Sports Editor, RTC

PLYMOUTH –- The “sibling rivalry” in the shot put at the Plymouth boys track sectional Thursday went to Tippecanoe Valley’s Wade Melanson over Rochester’s Marshall Fishback.

Melanson was not the only Valley hero in the field events. Alek Mikel won the long jump, and Dawson Perkins soared to a win in the high jump.

Meanwhile, the footsteps that Rochester’s R.J. Keranko heard coming behind him down the stretch in the 800 meters were those of his teammate Peyton Hiatt. And that came not too long after Keranko was the one making the footsteps in the final leg of the 4 x 800 relay.

Also, Rochester’s Zach Pickens will get another chance to stick the landing in the 400 meters at the regional after a perilous fall in the final meters of the sectional.

It was also a noteworthy meet for Caston sophomore Brady Evans, who advanced in both hurdles races.

Those were among the highlights of a sectional that included hair-raising finishes, extraordinary performances and 20 RTC area athletes advance to regional.

Culver Academy won the title with 164 points. It’s their first sectional title since 2002.

Rochester, the Three Rivers Conference champion, was second in the 11-team field with 96 points. Tippecanoe Valley was fourth with 86.5 points, Caston was eighth with 23 points, and Culver tied for 10th with six points.

The meet might also symbolize the end of Plymouth’s dominance. The Pilgrims had 12 of the last 14 sectionals on their home track, but they had to settle for fifth this time.


The most compelling race of the meet might have been the 800 meters, which came down to a four-man scramble between two Culver Academy runners and two Rochester runners.

Culver Academy senior Jacob Graham pulled away to win in 2:05.20. Keranko made a late move from a secondary pack and was holding on to second place when he felt Culver Academy’s Clayton Long, who had won the 1,600 earlier in the meet, at his side.

Then Keranko heard another set of footsteps behind him. Those were Hiatt’s footsteps, and in the final meters, Keranko pushed to the line while Long and Hiatt made their last dashes.

All three crossed nearly simultaneously. Only two of the three would get automatic regional spots.

Hiatt was timed in 2:07.34, Keranko crossed in 2:07.35, and Long finished in 2:07.38. Both Rochester runners had moved on, and Long was out.

“That’s hard to put in words,” Hiatt said. “That was intense. Coming around the 200, I think me and R.J. were in maybe five and six, and then got around to the 100 mark, I know I came around in fifth, and I knew if I was going to do anything, I had to make a move right there. But it wasn’t going to be easy on the inside, so I cut out to lane three and raced Culver Academy and R.J. all the way down to the last 100 meters. … That was the closest race I’ve been a part of, for sure.”

Keranko said he was “panicking” in the final moments.

“It feels really cool, especially going with Peyton. Because it was really tight towards the end, as you saw. I was really just focusing on trying to beat the one person that’s right next to me, and then I hear someone behind me, and it’s Peyton. So the fact that we’re both barely getting into regional is really cool.”

Hiatt ran the first leg and Keranko the last leg in the 4 x 800 relay. Chris Rohr ran the second leg, and Dylan Steininger ran the third leg.

That race was also a nailbiter involving Long and Keranko. Almost stride for stride during their entire two-lap journeys around the track, Long held off Keranko from the inside position on the track to give Culver Academy the win in 8:33.94. Rochester’s season-best time of 8:33.98 was good for second place and a trip to regional.

“That was also really cool and intense,” Keranko said. “Because I saw the guy right in front of me. I knew coming around this (backstretch) curve that I had to go and pass him. Just at the very end, I had him for a little bit, but then he just got me. I mean, it was a really cool race. It would have been cool to get first, but I’m perfectly fine getting second.”

Rochester coach Ryan Helt said the meet foreshadows a bright future for Keranko, a sophomore.

“For R.J., he did kind of what I expected him to do,” Helt said. “I actually think he could have gotten himself in a different position by making a little earlier go at it, but R.J. is also the guy in my opinion on the team who probably has one of the highest ceilings. He’s a sophomore. He still hasn’t quite filled out or anything, and he’s already run at a really high level. I think the sky’s the limit for a guy like R.J. Keranko.”

In the 400, Pickens ran a strong backstretch and turned the corner in the lead. In the final straight, Plymouth senior Joe Cartwright gained on him. Just short of the finish line, Pickens began his lean, sensing that it would be necessary to hold off Cartwright.

Pickens did not quite get to the line on his lean. He fell as Cartwright passed him and won the race in 50.94 seconds. Pickens rolled over the line and claimed second in 52.10 and earned a spot in the regional.

The time was a personal best for Pickens, a junior. It left coaches searching their memory banks for the last time a RHS runner had run the 400 so fast while also making them wonder if Pickens can run potentially even faster in the regional.

“The only thing Zach did in that finish… he just leaned too soon,” Rochester assistant coach Dr. John Nile said. “That’s the only thing he did. That was it, and that’s what caused him to stumble a little bit.”

Other Zebra athletes advancing to the regional included Fishback, who was third in the discus with a throw of 133-7 and second in the shot put with a heave of 45-5 ¾; Hiatt, who took third in the 1,600 in 4:50.90; Rohr, who was seemingly double-teamed by the Culver Academy combo of Samuel Tullis and Hunter Miller in a hard early pace in the 3,200 but who eventually got a gap on Miller and finished second behind Tullis in 10:34.26; and Zak Daake, who was scrubbed from the 4 x 100 relay in order to give him an energy boost and who took second in the pole vault after going over the bar at 12-6.

Other field event highlights included Dustin Siebert, who was fourth in the pole vault at 11-0; Braxton Mencias, who was fifth in the long jump; and Joel Hensley, who set a personal best in the discus with a throw of 123-6 in finishing sixth.

On the track, Braxton Jimenez was sixth in the 300 hurdles and seventh in the 110 hurdles. Daake was also sixth in the 100. Pickens was also eighth in the 200. Steininger was eighth in the 1,600.

Helt said afterwards that Hiatt would scratch in the 1,600 to focus on the 800 and that Fishback would scratch in the discus to focus on the shot put.

Rochester has not won a boys sectional title since 2005. Prior to that, their last sectional title occurred in 1949. Rochester had not finished as high as second at a sectional since 2014.

Like their boys counterparts, Rochester also won the girls TRC title, and they took third at the Bremen sectional Tuesday.

“We’re 35-3 in the last two weekends if you look at the nine TRC teams that the boys and girls beat and the 10 teams they beat here, and we’re 35-1 against public schools in the last two weekends. So I’ll take that any year.” Helt said.

Tippecanoe Valley

The Vikings scored 45.5 of their 86.5 points in the field events. Alek Mikel was responsible for 20 of the points by himself.

Mikel flew 20-5 ¼ to win the long jump title. He had finished third at the TRC meet behind North Miami’s Darian Hanley and his own teammate Braden Shepherd, but only Culver Academy’s Folabomi Fayemi was within a foot of him this time.

Shepherd was third with a leap of 19-0 and also advanced.

Mikel also advanced to regional in the 400. While the drama between Cartwright and Pickens played out in front of him, Mikel held off Culver Academy’s Jordan Kiprono by 0.06 seconds for third. Mikel also placed fifth in the pole vault after clearing 9-6.

“I just felt bouncy today,” Mikel said. “I felt like I could jump far. … I’m super excited. I can’t wait (for the regional). It’s going to be so much fun.”

The entire Valley community was in mourning after the death of sophomore Brendyn Stump in a car accident Monday. Mikel was asked how the tragedy affected him.

“It’s been really tough,” Mikel said. “It’s super hard to focus when you’ve got all that stuff on your mind. But you’ve just got to push through and think you’re doing it for them. So that’s what I did.”

Perkins’ high jump of 6-4 was five-and-a-half inches higher than his jump that won the TRC at Maconaquah 13 days earlier. It was also eight inches higher than the rest of the sectional field.

Perkins will be the No. 1 seed in the event at the regional.

Melanson had lost to Fishback in the shot put at the TRC meet, but he beat him this time with a throw of 46-8 ¼. Fishback, who threw 48-7 in winning the TRC title, took second with a throw of 45-5 ¾ this time.

Melanson said that he saw Jameson Baker make state when he was a middle schooler and said he wanted to follow in Baker’s footsteps. He thanked his coach Rick Shepherd afterwards. Shepherd is also the school resource officer at Valley.

“He’s always been somebody I can go to, even when he’s not my coach,” Melanson said. “Like even when he came to be our school resource officer, it was somebody I could always look to. He’s always been a father figure outside of home, somebody I could always call if I really needed it.”

Melanson and Fishback are friends off the track and competitors on it, according to Melanson.

“It’s like a sibling rivalry,” Melanson said. “I’ve known him for quite some time. Whenever we’re on the (football) field or the ring together, it’s always butting heads but when we’re off, we’re the best of friends.”

Rex Kirchenstien also advanced in both the 100 and 200. The school record holder in both events, Kirchenstien was fourth in both events at Plymouth but advanced in both on callbacks. Kirchenstien ran an 11.89 in the 100 and a 23.61 in the 200.

Matthew Howes also advanced on a callback in the 1,600. He was fourth in 4:59.99 but advanced when Hiatt scratched.

Kirchenstien also ran the anchor leg of the 4 x 100 relay team that finished third and broke the school record in 44.10 seconds. Shepherd, Wade Jones and Jamasyn Virgil joined him on the team.


Evans, a sophomore, took third in the 110 hurdles in 17.49 seconds, an improvement from his 17.66 time at the Hoosier North meet, where he was also third.

Evans was in a fight for the third spot in the 300 hurdles before Manchester’s Casen Vawter outleaned him at the tape in 43.03 compared to Evans’ 43.19. But Evans later advanced anyway on a callback.

Evans was the only Comet to advance.

Evans uses the four-step method.

“Next year, we’re hoping we’ll be three-stepping with him,” Caston assistant coach Mark Evans said. “So with him missing his freshman year, this was basically the first year we had to work with him on hurdles. And so the first time I worked with him on developing his left leg, he was able to do that right away. Some kids just can’t do it. They just can’t make themself go over with their non-dominant leg. And he was able to do that pretty quick, and so that’s one reason he’s had so much success is because he’s been able to four-step the whole season.”

(Mark Evans and Brady Evans are not related. Brady Evans is the son of Caston principal and boys golf coach Chuck Evans.)

Austin Dague, the Hoosier North champ in the 3,200 meters, improved his time by nearly two seconds at the sectional but had to settle for fifth in 10:57.99.

Senior Kobi Martindale was fifth in the shot put with a throw of 42-2 and was responsible for the four points Caston scored in the field events.

The other Caston athlete to place was Jake Paschen, who was eighth in the 100.


Culver scored three points in individual events and three points in relays.

Ian Brown was responsible for the Cavaliers’ two points in field events when he placed seventh in the pole vault after clearing 9-6.

Shane Stevens was eighth in the 400 in 56.48 seconds in his final prep meet.

Culver was also seventh in the 4 x 800 relay and eighth in the 4 x 100 relay.

PLYMOUTH BOYS TRACK SECTIONAL RESULTS: Culver Academy 164, Rochester 96, Manchester 90, Tippecanoe Valley 86.5, Plymouth 75.5, Bremen 35, Whitko 33, Caston 23, Triton 9, Culver 6, North Miami 6

Scoring on 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis

Automatic regional qualifiers (top three) plus all Rochester, Tippecanoe Valley, Caston and Culver scorers

100 m

1. Bourdier (CMA) – 11.52 seconds, 2. Mull (CMA) – 11.68, 3. Cummins (MAN) – 11.84, 4. Rex Kirchenstien (TV) – 11.89, 6. Zak Daake (RHS) – 12.13, 7. Braden Shepherd (TV) – 12.46, 8. Jacob Paschen (CAS) – 12.57

200 m

1. Bourdier (CMA) – 22.80 seconds, 2. Cartwright (PLY) – 23.20, 3. Gaerte (MAN) – 23.47, 4. Rex Kirchenstien (TV) – 23.61, 7. Jamasyn Virgil (TV) – 24.01, 8. Zach Pickens (RHS) – 24.27

400 m

1. Cartwright (PLY) – 50.94 seconds, 2. Zach Pickens (RHS) – 52.10, 3. Alek Mikel (TV) – 54.01, 8. Shane Stevens (CUL) – 56.48

800 m

1. Graham (CMA) – 2:05.20, 2. Peyton Hiatt (RHS) – 2:07.34, 3. R.J. Keranko (RHS) – 2:07.35

1,600 m

1. Long (CMA) – 4:44.07, 2. Tullis (CMA) – 4:44.39, 3. Peyton Hiatt (RHS) – 4:50.90, 4. Matthew Howes (TV) – 4:59.99, 8. Dylan Steininger (RHS) – 5:02.03

3,200 m

1. Tullis (CMA) – 10:17.10, 2. Chris Rohr (RHS) – 10:34.26, 3. Miller (CMA) – 10:36.81, 5. Austin Dague (CAS) – 10:57.99

110 m hurdles

1. Mull (CMA) – 15.69 seconds, 2. Lincoln (MAN) – 15.98, 3. Brady Evans (CAS) – 17.49, 5. Benton Nellans (TV) – 18.17, 7. Braxton Jimenez (RHS) – 18.35

300 m hurdles

1. Lincoln (MAN) – 40.43 seconds, 2. Mull (CMA) – 41.07, 3. Vawter (MAN) – 43.03, 4. Brady Evans (CAS) – 43.19, 6. Braxton Jimenez (RHS) – 44.89

4 x 100 m relay

1. Culver Academy (Mull, Fayemi, Galas, Bourdier) – 43.74, 2. Manchester – 44.05, 3. Valley (Braden Shepherd, Wade Jones, Jamasyn Virgil, Rex Kirchenstien) – 44.10, 5. Rochester (Jarret Regan, Braxton Mencias, Kaleb Shaffer, Devin Basham) – 47.37, 7. Caston (Chase Brault, Jacob Paschen, Greg Brault, Chase Angot) – 48.04, 8. Culver (Alex Zehner, Landon Stevens, Marquez Anderson, Nate Wilhoit) – 50.37

4 x 400 m relay

1. Manchester (Lincoln, Cummins, Jones, Ream) – 3:30.13, 2. Plymouth – 3:35.59, 3. Bremen – 3:35.84, 5. Rochester (R.J. Keranko, Braxton Jimenez, Peyton Hiatt, Zach Pickens) – 3:42.94, 6. Valley (Rex Kirchenstien, Dawson Perkins, Wade Jones, Alek Mikel) – 3:46.43, 8. Caston (Austin Dague, Edison Byrum, Brady Evans, Corbin Smith) – 4:00.37

4 x 800 m relay

1. Culver Academy (Miller, Graham, Tullis, Long) – 8:33.94, 2. Rochester (Peyton Hiatt, Chris Rohr, Dylan Steininger, R.J. Keranko) – 8:33.98, 6. Valley (Matthew Howes, Brady Rodgers, Jaxon Seaney, Chase Miller) – 9:03.76, 7. Culver (Noah Pratt, Sergio Villegas, Nate Wilhoit, Destin Green) – 10:23.00

Long jump

1. Alek Mikel (TV) – 20-5 ¼, 2. Fayemi (CMA) – 19-8 ¼, 3. Braden Shepherd (TV) – 19-0, 5. Braxton Mencias (RHS) – 18-3 ¼

High jump

1. Dawson Perkins (TV) – 6-4, 2. Fayemi (CMA) – 5-8, 3. Case (MAN) – 5-8


1. Sapp (WHI) – 149-7, 2. Howard (WHI) – 141-7, 3. Marshall Fishback (RHS) – 133-7, 5. Wade Melanson (TV) – 125-6, 6. Joel Hensley (RHS) – 123-6

Shot put

1. Wade Melanson (TV) – 46-8 ¼, 2. Marshall Fishback (RHS) – 45-5 ¾, 5. Kobi Martindale (CAS) – 42-2, 7. Dalton Alber (TV) – 40-10

Pole vault

1. Bourdier (CMA) – 13-0, 2. Zak Daake (RHS) – 12-6, 3. Wisler (BRE) – 11-6, 4. Dustin Siebert (RHS) – 11-0, 5. Alek Mikel (TV) – 9-6, 7. Ian Brown (RHS) – 9-6

Rochester’s Peyton Hiatt qualified for regionals in three events at the Plymouth boys track sectional Thursday. Hiatt advanced by finishing second as part of the 4 x 800 relay team and by finishing third in the 1,600 meters and second in the 800 meters. He was scratched in the 1,600 after the meet. The regional is at Kokomo at 6 p.m. this Thursday.

Tippecanoe Valley’s Alek Mikel won the Plymouth sectional title in the long jump Thursday with a leap of 20-5 ¼. Mikel also advanced to regional in the 400 meters by finishing third. The regional is at Kokomo at 6 p.m. this Thursday.

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