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CHARLESTON – A school record and a spot on the medal stand made Vandalia senior Quenten Austin’s final high school track meet a memorable one.
Austin broke the school record in the 110-meter hurdles (0:15.38) during last Thursday’s state preliminaries, and he went on to match his time to finish sixth in Saturday’s finals to receive his first state medal in three tries.
Taking his place on the medal stand, Austin said, was everything he imagined and more.
“It wasn’t really emotional, but it was awesome to accomplish the goals I set at the beginning of my senior year,” Austin said. “I could hear my grandma, mom and siblings yelling.
“I knew where they were sitting, and I was looking at them. They were all smiling as big as they could.”
He said he was a little disappointed that he didn’t set a new personal record, but for him to tie his mark was an accomplishment in itself.
Many hurdles were knocked down during the race, with one nearly falling into Austin’s lane. The treacherous scene reminded Austin of last season’s conference meet, when he was allowed to re-run the race because he flipped over a fallen hurdle.
“I want to thank coach (Jane) Bell. She’s like my second mom, and her family is like my second family,” Austin said. “They put in the extra time to be with me on Saturday, just for a 15-second race.”
Austin came into the finals with the goal of placing either fifth or sixth, after running the fifth-fastest time in the preliminaries.
Working to achieve his goals is the one thing that Bell said he has always done and will be part of his lasting legacy.
“I’m excited for him, because (placing) was one of his written goals from the beginning, along with breaking the record,” she said. “The thing with Quenten that stands out is that he set goals when he was a freshman and worked to achieve those goals.”
In the preliminaries, Austin placed third in his heat, trailing eventual state champion Colin Carver and fifth-place finisher George Wayda.
“I felt really good,” Austin said. “There wasn’t anyone on my sides, so it didn’t feel like anyone was pushing me too hard.
“I was just trying to keep up with the first two and explode on each hurdle to get third (in the heat).”
Later in the day, he ran the 300-meter hurdles, missing the finals just by just .2 of a second, finishing 11th with a time of 41.32.
Vandalia also had a pair of juniors at the event, with Ryan Ambuehl and Wade Cowger each running one event at the preliminaries.
Facing a steady wind throughout the day, Ambuehl and Cowger both had times slower than they ran at the sectional, but were able to better their seeds.
Ambuehl placed last in his heat but 19th out of 31 overall with a 0:52.63 in the 400-meter dash. He was seeded third to last coming into the meet.
Cowger finished 22nd out of 30 overall with a 2:04.87 in the 800-meter run, bettering his seed by five spots.
“I knew we would go out fast and I felt good after the first (lap), but the wind on the straight-away was a killer,” Cowger said. “I didn’t think about warming up in the wind.
“It was weird seeing people in front me,” he said. “I knew before the race that it would be weird, but I didn’t want to go out and lead, because that would have killed me on the second lap.”
Bell said the experience the two gained will be invaluable next season.
Both will have their sights set on returning to Charleston.
“They did really well for their first trip to state,” Bell said. “For as much as we try to prepare them, there is nothing like running in front of thousands of fans and against some of the best athletes in the state.”
In total, Vandalia sent 15 athletes to state in either high school or junior high track this spring, and Bell said that is a testament to the value of the all-weather track that was installed last summer.
“I can’t say it enough – thank you to all the people who helped with the track,” she said. “We helped more athletes at the high school and junior high level make state.
“For Q to be able to work on his steps and timing on an actual track was huge.”