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Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy boys track coach Craig Rupe figured his relay squads would be pretty good.
Good as in all four relay squads making the medal stand at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium -- no, he wasn't that clairvoyant.
"I didn't think we would place as high as we did," Rupe said. "To have those guys come together despite none of them being so strong in the open events, it's really one of my more proud years as a coach, because I really think that speaks to the team."
Without a top-shelf sprinter, the Royals' relays were dynamite, with their 800-meter relay taking second, their 1,600 relay taking third, their 400 relay taking fourth and their 3,200 relay taking seventh.
Together, those relay provided most of CVCA's 27 points at the Division II state meet, putting the Royal boys in a tie for fourth in Division II with with Heath. CVCA finished just six points behind state champion Dayton Dunbar and three points behind runner-up Warrensville Heights.
Perhaps there was no more pleasant surprise than the Royals' 1,600 relay, a relatively low seed entering the state tournament that June 3 as Ohio's third-best 4x400 relay.
"I was in disbelief just watching how well they ran and how well they improved," Rupe said.
CVCA's success as a whole was remarkable given that the Royals didn't have a single elite sprinter this year. Most relays tend to rely on a top-line sprinter or two to carry the bunch.
CVCA had no sprinters qualify individually, just Colin Gaines and Sam Bush in the 1,600 and Tre Tucker in the long jump.
If the Royals didn't have an anchor that could blow everyone out of the ballpark, what they did have was a complete team, four strong runners making up each relay.
"They knew we'd make up ground on the other teams, so that when we were getting the baton to our anchor leg, he would have a shot against these teams that have the really good anchors," Rupe said. "They knew we were pretty consistent throughout."
"I think it really speaks to our depth and how hard these guys worked in making sure their handoffs were good," Rupe added. "We had a bunch of guys where none of them really stood out in any sprinting event, but since we had a lot, our relay events could be strong."
Without a superstar, the Royals would have to trust each other -- and trust in the power of four men to achieve the same shiny medals as one All-Ohio sprinter.
"We're going to have to have faith in order to accomplish what we want to accomplish," Rupe said. "We need to have faith that four of us together will be good enough."
At times, it took more than four. The Royals certainly had their share of mainstays, but they also shuffled people around.
One of those faces was Christian Smith-King, who struggled at times during his senior season, according to Rupe. Early in the season, he hurt his hamstring. Later in the year, he struggled with asthma and sickness. At times, he was plain inconsistent, Rupe said.
Yet, when push came to shove, his teammates believed in him and pushed for the senior to lead off their 4x100 relay.
"They were all incredibly confident in Christian. He's such a veteran and done so many 100s in his life," Rupe said. "Boy, he just ran incredibly at regionals and state."
Whereas Smith-King was an old face reentering the Royals' lineup just in time, senior Austin Eck is relatively new to the sport. He came to the Royals' last home meet last May with his dad and told his dad, "I could beat that kid. I'm faster than him." His dad called his bluff, and soon enough, Eck was on the track team, beginning with the high jump, where he cleared 5-10 having never jumped before.
Within two weeks, he had placed sixth at regionals. His love for the sport only grew, as he worked out throughout the off-season, putting on 20 pounds of muscle. He went from high jump and hurdles to discus and long jump -- and relays.
"This year, he kind of fell in love with the sport," Rupe said. "He's the perfect guy to do track, because he just loves pushing himself in so many events."
In addition to all Eck did, he was also responsible for bringing one of his soccer teammates into the fold: Jay Patsch, who became a middle runner on CVCA's 1,600 and 800 relay squads. Back in the winter, the Royals needed someone to fill in on their 800 relay, and Eck thought he might have just the guy.
He called up Patsch, who gave it a shot and enjoyed it so much that he decided to come out for the track team in the spring. Months later, Eck and Patsch led CVCA's 800 relay to a second-place finish at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
With Patsch and Tre Tucker, both sophomores, the Royals figure to be good for a long time.
"To have (Jay) and Tre in the same class like this is awesome," Rupe said. "They are so, so talented. Jay, to be honest, I think I could put him in the 100, 200 and 400, maybe the 800. I really think Jay has that unique blend of speed as demonstrated by his 4x100 and 4x200, but he's also a soccer player, so he has a lot of endurance and a lot of strength. He's really one of the most versatile athletes we have."
Tucker is a gift in his own right.
"When we got him last year, we instantly knew he was going to be a force," Rupe said.
As good as he is at football, the sophomore is equally dedicated to track and field.
Tucker did everything for the Royals this year, placing fourth in the long jump (22-10.25), leading off the 800 relay and ensuring that the back half was in good shape in the 400. Rupe said Tucker's dynamic speed to start the 800 relay gave his teammates confidence, noting that getting the baton in first, second or third is a psychological lift for the rest of the race.
"Tre is a track kid just as much as he's a football player," Rupe said. "That is one thing I really appreciate. He loves football more than anyone, he wants to play football in college, but at the same time, he's just as committed to the track team. I appreciate that so much about him."
Equally valuable were Trey Carlisle, who ran in three of the relays; and Sam Bush, who ran the 1,600 and 3,200 for the Royals. Adding to CVCA's 3,200 relay were senior Matthew D'Abreau, sophomore Jake Malovasic and junior Colin Gaines, who also placed eighth in the 1,600-meter run.
With all the new and young faces shuffling in and out of CVCA's relays, junior Jonathan Solomon went from participating in three Royals relays entering the postseason to just one. Rather than pout, Solomon ran harder, with a 50.9-second split to help the Royals win their preliminary heat and ultimately finish third in the state in the 4x400.
"Because of that, we were able to win our heat and make finals," Rupe said. "It's because of Austin, because of Sam (Bush), because of Tre, but it's also because of John and maybe more because of John than anyone else. John, instead of pouting about it, he took it as a challenge, and he knew that was his ticket to getting to the podium."