Every point counted. It was all of the 20 points Eric Harris racked up winning pole vault and long jump. It was the two-point swing Chris Chuparkoff won on the final leg of the final event of the day. It was the one point that Cam Bacarella picked up by finishing 8th in the 800 meters event.
Every single point mattered. One point was the margin of victory as Saline won its eighth straight regional track and field championship Friday at Saline High School. Saline finished with 116 points to Pioneer’s 115.
“We knew it was going to be close. We knew Pioneer had a great team. We had to overcome our own issues, but we found a way to get it done,” head coach Al Leslie said. “I couldn’t be any prouder of the guys. They earned it. They went out and got it.”
It came down to the final event. Pioneer had just taken a point lead with a dominating run in the 3200-meter event. All that was left was the 4-by-400 relay. Saline was the obvious favorite, with Chuparkoff, who’d finished second in the 400 earlier in the day, and Jack Fenelon, who’d finished third. They were joined by Winford Walker and Jacob Stuck. The Hornets were the favorites – but this same foursome ran into trouble in the 4-by-200 relay and was disqualified. They couldn’t afford any more trouble.
On the last leg of the relay, Chuparkoff took the baton a split second after the Pioneer anchor. If Chuparkoff failed to catch him, Saline’s regional championship streak would come to an end. But really, once the baton was safely in Churparkoff’s hands, it was over. The Saline sophomore tore around the track and the Hornets won by three full seconds.
Coach Leslie praised the sophomore, who finished second in the 400 and fourth in the 200, and also helped the 4-by-200 team to victory before they learned they were disqualified.
“He’s a sprinter and he ran over 1400 meters today. He was gassed. But he took the baton and he ran a great leg. That’s a big spot for a sophomore, to have a regional championship on your shoulders, and he came through with flying colors,” Leslie said.
Chuparkoff also qualified for the state meet in the 200-meter relay, finishing in 22.54 seconds.
Eric Harris had a monster day. Harris won the pole vault – picking up 10 points for the Hornets. Harris cleared 15-06. A small crowd gathered and clapped as he sprinted down the runway and tried to vault over the bar at 16-01 – which would have shattered his own Saline High School record. Harris should contend for the state championship in two weeks. Harris also won the long jump, leaping a personal best 22-04.25. That was another 10 points for Saline. To top it all off, seconds after Harris missed his last attempt at 16-01 in the pole vault, he sprinted down to the end of the track and readied for the 4-by-100 relay. Harris ran the first leg in the relay that also included Jamari Harris-Pryce, Nicholas Patteri and Winford Walker. Saline won the race in 43.43 seconds – a tenth of a second better than Huron. Saline picked up another 10 points.
“We knew Eric Harris was a great pole vaulter last year. So we knew he was a great athlete. But this year, as a senior, he’s also become a leader. He turned himself into a great long jumper. He helps us any way we need it. You’ve got a kid trying to break the record in the pole vault and then seconds later he’s helping you win a relay, and then he bounces back and wins the long jump,” Leslie said.
Senior Anthony DeKraker had a huge day – qualifying for the state meet in four events. He was second in the 1600, finishing in 4:19. He was third in the 800, finishing in a career-best 1:56.92 to beat the qualifying time. He was fourth in the 3200 in 9:32.89 to earn the state cut. And DeKraker, Cam Bacarella, Josh Cook and William Downey qualified in the 3200 relay, finishing second in 7:53.83.
Junior Max Schneider also qualified for the state meet in the pole vault. Schneider cleared 13 feet to finish sixth.
Many other Hornets contributed to the scoring. Walker was fifth in the 200 (22.96). Fenelon was third in the 400 (51.7). Cook (5th, 1:58.86), Downey (7th, 2:01.45) and Bacarella (8th, 2:01.68) scored in the 800 meters. Simon Pfeiffer was sixth in the 1600 meters. Trevor Garbo was third in the shot put (46-05.25) and eighth in the discus (126-04). Grant Armstrong was fourth in the discus (141-03). Luke Atzinger was eighth in the pole vault (12-06).
The regional champion Hornets aren’t going to the state meet as a potential favorite. Instead, the coaching staff is going to focus on helping their athletes win medals.
“We’ll try to get our boys as many medals as we can. And maybe we sneak up on some teams and finish in the top five,” Leslie said.