A year ago, Wadsworth’s boys 4x800-meter relay stepped onto the track at Franklin Field taking in the whole experience.
This time around, the Grizzlies were on a mission.
Nick Miller, Josiah Sovine, Kai Wagner and Gabe Szalay put together their best run of the season to place fifth in the Championship of America final Saturday at the prestigious Penn Relays.
It was an improvement from last spring’s sixth-place run, when Miller and Szalay competed.
With Sovine and Wagner on Saturday, the relay didn’t miss a beat. The quartet shaved 10 seconds off its Friday qualifying run to finish second among Americans.
“It was the best experience of my life,” Sovine said. “It was so loud I couldn’t hear myself breathe. I wish everyone got an opportunity to experience something they love on a stage like that.”
The rowdy crowd of almost 50,000 didn’t faze Wadsworth, as it finished in a season-best 7:44.01 and just off the pace of fourth-place North Carolina’s Green Hope (7:39.28).
Calabar, based out of Kingston, Jamaica, won in 7:26.09.
“We got off to a slow go to the season but just had an amazing showing this weekend,” Szalay said. “We had high expectations this year, as opposed to last year, due to being there before. We knew we needed to drop a lot of time (in Saturday’s final), and we did.”
Miller got the relay off to a blistering start. The Ohio State recruit finished the first two laps in 1:52.58, just 0.03 off the lead.
“I had the best start of my life,” Miller said. “I had a strong 50 meters that got me out of traffic for all of my race. I think these starts were key because they put (Sovine) with the front pack.
“Throughout indoor and outdoor season, we discovered that (Sovine and Wagner) run better with competition. Our strategy paid off.”
Sovine and Wagner registered personal-record splits, clocking 1:55.12 and 2:02.36.
“I needed to keep my head and run my race and not think about (the Jamaicans),” Sovine said. “On the back stretch, I got boxed in, took one of their spikes to my shin and then used them to pace myself.”
Wagner, who maintained pace heading into Szalay’s anchor leg, added the race was a personal highlight.
“Running with these guys has been eye-opening,” Wagner said. “Being able to experience first hand how hard they work has been a huge motivator to me. (Miller, Szalay and Sovine) all have huge expectations, and they know exactly how to push someone to get to that target.”
That target now shifts to the state postseason, which opens next month, and the opportunity to improve on fourth place at the Division I meet.
“We definitely proved a lot to ourselves this weekend,” said Szalay, a Kentucky signee who ran a 1:53.96 split. “We are aiming for that state title since we haven’t won a huge event over the last couple years, but have been so close.
“We will keep our heads on straight and look to drop our time even more and put on a show over the next month or so.”