BENTON RIDGE – Longtime Columbus Grove boys head track-and-field coach Chris Grothaus has been patiently waiting for this season.
Coming into this spring – after the abrupt halt of last year’s track season, due to the COVID-19 pandemic – the Columbus Grove boys track team felt like it had something to prove.
At Saturday’s Liberty-Benton Pat Wagner Memorial Invitational, the Columbus Grove boys team displayed its depth, as it ran away from a very solid Liberty-Benton team, 144.5 - 108.5, to notch first place.
Bluffton (68), Pandora-Gilboa (61.5) and Van Buren (54.5) rounded out the top five boys squads in the 16-team field.
“This is by far the deepest team I’ve ever had from the sprinters standpoint and the distance standpoint,” Grothaus said. “After missing last year, they have a little bit of a chip on their shoulders. They want to prove some things. It’s now just a matter of peaking at the right time.”
If Saturday is any indication, then the Bulldogs look to be heading in the right direction.
Columbus Grove started off strong Saturday in the field events.
In the boys shot put, Columbus Grove’s A.J. Schafer took first with a mark of 47 feet, 3 inches.
In the discus, Columbus Grove’s Ethan Halker took home the gold with a personal-best toss of 168 feet, 2 inches. Teammate Lawson Maag placed third with a mark of 162-1. Arlington’s Jack Bateson was second with a mark of 166-3.
Even though Halker took first Saturday, he quickly pointed out that he and Maag are always close on their performances.
“He (Maag) has a bigger PR than me, right now,” Halker said. “He can put them out there, too. We just compete every day at practice with each other; and it just makes us get better.”
On the track, senior Jon Banal jump-started Columbus Grove with a win in the 110-meter hurdles (15.66 seconds). Banal went on to win the 300 hurdles later in the day (41.23).
Despite winning both hurdle races, Banal said that there is still some work to be done.
“My form kind of got off a little bit. I should have run a better race,” Banal said after his victory in the 110 hurdles.
Two years ago, Banal made it to the Division III regionals, but did not advance to the state meet. This year, Banal has some unfinished business.
“I want to hit around 14.9 (seconds) in the 110s, and I want to go 39 in the 300s,” Banal said. “I want to make it to state. … Those are my goals this year.”
Columbus Grove scored well in the distance events Saturday.
In the 1,600, Columbus Grove’s Caleb Stechschulte edged out Bluffton’s Eden Antrim at the finish line to notch the victory. Stechschulte’s winning time was 4:43.21, while Antrim crossed in 4:43.59 in some windy conditions.
“My goal was — if someone was fast enough — to just follow them until the last lap, and then turn it on,” Stechschulte said. “I actually thought I went a little too early (on taking the lead), but I guess it worked out.”
In the boys 3,200, Columbus Grove took third and fourth, as Luke Ellerbrock (10:28.11) and Trent Koch (10:32.76) led the Bulldogs.
Columbus Grove’s Carson Closson took first in the 800 with a time of 2:05.94.
In the boys 3,200 relay, Bluffton edged out Columbus Grove for the win. Bluffton (Simon Derstine, Antrim, Eric Nygaard, Landon Armstrong) clocked a winning time of 8:15.35. Columbus Grove (Stechschulte, Caleb Morman, Koch, Closson) was a very close second (8:15.56).
“Bluffton ran really well today,” Grothaus said. “We ran our best race of the year in the 4 x 8 (3,200 relay) and got beat. I’m not upset with the kids. … It’s a good wakeup call. They (Bluffton) have done their work, and we have to do it also.”
On the girls side, Liberty-Benton easily notched the team trophy, as it outscored second-place Ottawa-Glandorf, 146.5 – 78.17. Columbus Grove was a close third (68), while Kalida (67) was a very close fourth. Bath rounded out the top five teams (53.17).
Waynesfield-Goshen’s Taylor Spencer won the 1,600 (5:18.75) and 3,200 (11:31.12). She also was part of the 3,200 relay (fourth, 10:34.77) and 1,600 relay (fifth, 4:31.35).
For her stellar performances Saturday, Spencer was named the most outstanding female performer of the invite.
“The wind was a big factor,” Spencer said with a grin. “I was going to try for PRs, then I realized that with this wind, it wasn’t going to happen.”
Ottawa-Glandorf’s Alexa Fortman had another stellar day.
Fortman won the 400 (58.97) and 800 (2:24.92). The sophomore standout also was part of the 3,200 relay (second, 10:17.07) and 1,600 relay (second, 4:19.96).
Reach The Lima News sports department at 567-242-0451.