For the first time in school history, the Mount Gilead track and field program was able to exit the state meet with a team trophy.
The Lady Indians scored 42 points to finish second in the Division III state meet hosted by Westerville North behind only West Liberty-Salem. The two teams were tied going into the final race — the 1600-meter relay. However, while MG didn’t have a team in the field, West Liberty-Salem did and that quartet picked up the win to give their team 52 points.
“It’s the first time in school history,” said head coach Lauren Huelsman about her team’s trophy. “I wish we had had a shot in 2020, but this seems like a good end to the story. We knew we had the pieces to the puzzle, but didn’t want to count our chickens before they hatched. I’m especially happy for our seniors. Allison (Johnson), Emily (Hanft) and Isabela (Schroeter) have been down here a few times.”
The team got off to a great start on Friday when its 3200-meter relay team of Michaela McGill, Olivia Millisor, Emily Hanft and Allison Johnson scored 10 points in winning their race with a time of 9:19.54.
The relay was back-loaded with individual 800-meter qualifiers Hanft and Johnson running the final two legs. The team wasn’t in podium position when Hanft got the baton, but after the senior ran a blistering leg, she was able to hand it off to Johnson with the team in third place.
“It’s my only race here today and my last 4-by-8 in high school,” said Hanft. “I gave every last thing in me and trusted in my training and coaches. I’m just so excited. I have the best team ever and am doing it all for them.”
Johnson then finished the job, catching and passing the final two teams and crossing the finish line in first place.
“Going in, we knew if we all did our job, we’d be back a little ways, but would keep the gaps to a minimum,” she said. “I didn’t even notice she passed as many as she did. It was amazing.”
Johnson would be no stranger to the podium during the weekend, as she had a historic day on Saturday. After placing second in the 100-meter hurdles with a time of 14.85, she would then win the 1600 by over seven seconds with a time of 4:56.18 and then ran away from the field in claiming the 800 by seven seconds in a state meet record time of 2:08.81.
“We were very fortunate to have Ali as a mentor,” said Huelsman. “She’s talented and a workhorse.”
As a sophomore, Johnson qualified in four events, but only competed in two of them — placing first in the 800 and second in the 100 hurdles. This year, she qualified in four and ran them all.
“Her sophomore year, we wanted to help her win a title because she hadn’t won one yet,” said the coach. “After she won a state title, we were ready to roll.”
Overall, Johnson was ecstatic with her performance.
“It was definitely amazing to get out there and grab three state titles,” she said.
And she wasn’t going to let anything keep her from a great showing, including the hot and sunny weather in Westerville.
“For me, weather is just another thing to prepare for and not something that affects me too much,” she said. “Just get enough hydration and stay in the shade.”
While Johnson easily won the 800, the 1600 was close for much of the race. Johnson said that was by design, as she didn’t want to risk burning herself out early in the event.
“The plan for the mile was to go out very controlled and throw in pushes at 600 and 1000 meters to break up the field a bit,” she said. “It went how I expected it to, which is always a good bonus.”
With the relay and her three individual events, Johnson played a part in 38 of the team’s 42 points. Three more came from Hanft in the 1600, where she placed sixth with a time of 5:10.57. She also ran in the 800, where she finished 17th in 2:27.19.
McGill tallied the team’s final point by finishing eighth in the 3200 in 11:25.1. The junior ran a controlled race, working her way up through the field to reach the podium.
“It feels really nice, especially since I didn’t get to be All-Ohio in cross country,” she said. “I was keeping the same effort through the race and waited patiently in the back because I didn’t want to die. Especially with me being with zero patience at all, that’s really hard. I just trusted in the process.”
The thought of helping her team earn a trophy helped her stick to the plan, though.
“I was thinking of that,” she said. “I wanted to reach the podium for my team.”
Schroeter just missed out on placing. She tied for 10th in the high jump by clearing 5’. She also competed with junior Asia Jones and sophomores Madilyn Elson and Grace Mowery in the 800-meter relay, but their time of 1:51.11 in the prelims didn’t advance them to the finals. Also, sophomore Grace Shipman participated in the pole vault.
For seniors, Johnson, Hanft and Millisor, their role in winning Mount Gilead their first track and field trophy means a lot. Hanft noted that it’s a nice bookend to her high school career, as she was part of a second-place cross country team as a freshman.
“It just feels amazing,” she said. “We worked so hard and it feels so good. We were state runner-up in cross country as a freshman, so it feels good.”
“It’s very exciting to be part of something so special,” added Millisor. “We put in a lot of work during the COVID lockdown. Being back makes it feel that much more special.”
“It’s amazing,” said Johnson. “I think when I walk away and take it in with my team, it’s emotional. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be here.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS