Run, Jump, Throw, Repeat
Four successfully defend state titles at W.Va. track meet
CHARLESTON — When it comes to track, winning an individual state championship is no easy task. However, for some athletes, all the blood, sweat and tears they poured in during the season will pay off at the end of the year when they stand on top of the podium and hear their name announced over the loud speaker as they receive their gold medal.
There is one thing, though that’s arguably tougher than winning a championship. If one athlete is an underclassmen, then they are targeted and it is their job to defend that title.
For four area athletes, they did just that at the West Virginia State Track Meet last month at Laidley Field.
Oak Glen’s Maggie Kovalcik (long jump) and Kellen Tropeck (discus), Weir’s Sebastian Spencer (200) and Magnolia’s Jakob Barrows (shot put) won their respective events in 2018.
All of them had the opportunity to return to the state capital to defend their title and they did so with flying colors.
On the Day 1 of the meet, Kovalcik was the first to stand on the top spot of the podium for the second consecutive year. With a jump of of 17-10.25, Kovalcik made her final track meet in a Golden Bears uniform count as she also outjumped her mark from 2018 (17-04.75).
“There was a ton of pressure,” Kovalcik said about trying to win back-to-back championships. “There was so much coming in from last year, then you have all this pressure to be the best again, so it made me work harder and get ready for this year.”
And when Kovalcik claimed her second straight title, her thoughts were short and sweet.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Kovalcik said.
On the boys’ side for Oak Glen, Tropeck, while he knew he had a target on his back, he went into the discus with a little bit of a different mindset on the second day of the meet.
“I guess it’s a motivator for some people, but I consider myself my biggest competition,” Tropeck said. “So the season was more about bettering myself rather than worrying about who else is out there.”
And the recent Golden Bears graduate did just that. With a throw of 158-03, he captured his second straight gold medal, bettering his throw from last year (156-02).
Tropeck also captured the shot put title to go out a double-winner.
“Shot put last year was a great motivator because most of the year last year, I was leading the state,” Tropeck said. “When I came down, I didn’t throw as good as I wanted to last year. But this year, I obviously wanted to do the best that I could.”
Next was Spencer, who had not lost a race since the 100 of the state meet in 2018. With a chip on his shoulder, he powered through that race breaking the state record set by his brother, Donavan, in 2017.
His next race was just as impressive as he backed up his performance in the 100 and ran away from the pact in the 200 crossing the finish line in 21.61. Not only did he defend his title, but he tied the state record in the event. He also tied the record last year as Dunbar’s Eric Knapper set the mark in 1985,
“It felt really good, knowing out there that everybody was trying to beat me,” Spencer said. “Talking to those guys and talking about how great it is to compete against each other. To be able to compete for a state championship in front of all these people felt really good.”
It’s more bad news for the Class AA field as the Red Riders speedster is only a junior and will be back on the track one final time for this senior season. And with Spencer’s mindset, there’s no plans of him to slow down.
“Now no more hunting. I’m the hunted,” Spencer said. “Everybody’s coming after me. I really got to push hard this offsesaon and keep working, keep working and make sure that record goes down with my name and get that 200 record again.”
It was a little bit of a different scenario for Barrows, as he had to wait a little longer to try and defend his state championship. As he was warming up on Day 1, Mother Nature had other plans. After about a four-hour delay, it was decided the field events were postponed for the day and he would have to wait until 4 p.m. the next day to try and capture gold again.
“(Day 1), I wasn’t the happiest person,” Barrows said. “I was pretty bummed and I sat here for four hours in the delay, then they said it was canceled. I was pretty ticked off, but I went back to the hotel and refocused.”
Barrows patience paid off for the Magnolia junior. With a throw of 52-05.00, Barrows captured his second straight state championship in the shot put and also beat his mark in 2018 (49-00.25).
With one more year left, he will have a chance to go for a three-peat his senior year.
“Repeating is a lot of harder to do and everybody is coming for you,” Barrows said. ” The low-ball guy and you’re trying to chase everybody else. So I always went by the quote, ‘The wolf on top of the mountain is not as hungry as the one climbing it.’ So I worked extra hard and these conditions, it’s real hot outside. I tried to stay out of the sun as much as possible. I came out and competed, ended up on top on my second-best throw ever. It feels great.”