County competitors ready to resume tradition
EAST PALESTINE — The Columbiana County Track and Field Meet had been held every year since 1904 until the coronavirus pandemic.
The entire Ohio high school spring sports season was canceled last year due to health concerns, so athletes are ready to go today at the first county meet in two years.
“I can’t wait to be at the county meet again,” Salem girls coach Amie Cochran said. “I love the county meet and the kids love the county meet.”
Why wouldn’t the Quakers love it? They have won 11 straight county boys titles and three straight county girls titles.
“We have kids on the team that love track and field,” Cochran said. “When that was taken away, it was a rough go. I feel like they are taking that and making it a positive. Every day is a blessing.”
The 117th Columbiana County Track and Field Meet will get under way at 4:30 p.m. today at East Palestine’s Reid Stadium with the finals in the boys discus and high jump and girls shot put and long jump along with the running preliminaries. Tickets are $6 at the gate and attendance will be limited to the first 800 spectators.
The Salem boys are looking ahead at future successes, not back at what was lost last season.
“It’s forgotten,” Salem boys coach Austin Noel said. “It hasn’t been brought up at all. I think you see in the work ethic, kids realize how valuable one season is. Things can be taken away in an instant.”
Noel, a 2012 Salem graduate and former county champion himself, was in his first year as a head coach last year.
“My first year as head coach didn’t go as planned,” he said.
It’s a lot different being a coach rather than a competitor.
“I’m looking at the bigger scheme of things,” Noel said. “As an athlete, you’re just looking at your individual event. As a coach, you’re looking at every event and how every point can come down to the championship.”
Salem is favored to claim another county sweep.
The Quakers boys will have to use their team depth to counter the outstanding sprint crews at Crestview and Beaver Local.
“I’ve looked at the other teams and where we stack up against them,” Noel said. “You never know. There are so many variables.
“You never know how other teams are holding back. It’s hard to tell. You kind of have to put your best lineup in and let the chips fall where they fall.”
The Salem boys have won 14 of the last 15 county titles, with Crestview finishing second the last two times.
“We can score kind of everywhere,” Noel said. “”I’m excited to see everyone compete on a high stage.”
The Quakers are led by Jax Booth, who has one of the top long jumps in the state this season at 22-feet-0 3/4.
The most anticipated races will be between Crestview and Beaver Local in the 400- and 800-meter relays. Both are expected to race their best squads.
Crestview seniors Ethan Powell and Brandon Yanssens return on both relays after they won 2019 Division III state titles as sophomores.
Other top athletes include Crestview hurdler and high jumper William Hardenbrook, East Liverpool high jumper Cameron Beverly and East Liverpool distance runner Brannan Smith.
Those athletes will take points away from the Quakers, who usually perform there best for this meet.
“It’s a big deal in Salem,” Noel said. “You want to uphold the winning of tradition of winning the county in Salem. Track is important.”
The girls meet is not expected to be as close. The Quakers want to make up for lost time.
“I feel like we’re pretty confident,” Cochran said. “You never say never. I feel every meet they’re at they giving 110 percent because they didn’t get it a chance last year. We talked a lot about having the opportunity.”
Salem field a full team highlighted by an outstanding distance and throwing crew.
Carly Hall returns after winning two straight county titles in the 3200 run and another one in the 1600 run. Halle Cochran was the 400 champion in 2018.
“Our depth is really helping out,” Amie Cochran said. “When you have team competition, that brings out the best.”
The Quakers have four of the top five milers in the county at this point along with throwers Lizzy Shontz and Kyla Jamison and freshman sprinter Rylee Hutton and the top times in all four relays.
“My 16-member senior class is just amazing,” Cochran said. “It feels like my sophomores are freshmen. I’ve got all these new girls and all the old ones. I’ve heard some of the seniors say this is the most awesome team’s they’ve been on.”
The only other returning individual county champion is United’s Hannah Minor, who won the 400 dash in 2019.
Other county girls standouts include Crestview thrower Krista Perry, Beaver Local’s multi-talented Kodi Kinsey and United distance runner Ellie Marhefka.
“I feel this whole season the kids are more grateful,” Cochran said. “More than anything, it was showed us it can be taken away.”
¯ “It was so hard on the day of the F.E. Cope Invitational last year,” Cochran said. “It was so beautiful last year. Then the day of the county meet came around, then the EBC and district. You kept looking at all those meets and wishing you were there.”
That day is finally here.
¯ East Palestine or Salem have hosted the meet every year since 1932 except for 2005 when it was at East Liverpool’s Mangano Memorial Track.
¯ In 14 of the previous 15 county meets, the Salem and United girls have finished in the top two of the girls team standings.
¯ “I have a new perspective this year,” Cochran said. “I’m been focusing more meet by meet and getting our personal bests every time.”
Some old habits remain, like working on how the county meet will play out.
“You figure how things can work out,” Cochran said. “I constantly do that. I don’t tell the girls and the team I do that.”