Baldwin wins back-to-back crowns
Before each state meet the Baldwin High School coaches predict how many points the team will earn to have a grasp on where the team might finish. This year coach Mike Spielman had 69 points predicted.
He counted 38 points in the 800 on up from Matt Noonan and Eric Black, 18 points from his duo of javelin throwing giants, Eric Brown and Hugh Murphy, and the rest of the points from the three relay teams.
It all went as planned except for one difference that turned out to be surprise and possibly the biggest highlight of the meet for the Bulldogs and their fans. The 10 points that Spielman had allowed from the 3,200-meter relay team came instead from the 400-meter relay team.
"We wanted to show that there is more than just distance runners at Baldwin High," said senior Tyler Inzer with a big smile after limping off of the medal stand with his hardest earned aggravated hamstring of the season. "The 4x800 team said they were supposed to pick up 10 for us but when that didn't happen we knew we needed to score some points."
On paper the outlook for the fearsome foursome was not too positive. Coming into the meet they had the slowest time of any team. However, it would not be the same team that had run that time the previous week. After Eric Black did not qualify in the 110 hurdles he was inserted on the team and with two days of hand-off practice he was ready to go.
"With Eric's ability we had to get him on the track as much as possible and the 4x100 was the place to do it," said Spielman.
Other factors went the Bulldog's way as well. Three of the top ranked teams either did not finish or were disqualified in the preliminary round on Friday, which allowed the team to slip into finals. Additionally, with only the last hand-off to make the Lansing team had a sizable lead but dropped the baton. This opened up a chance for the other seven anchor legs to win the race and Inzer outran them all.
"There was somebody definitely looking down on us today," said junior Brian Lauridsen.
"It just goes to show that miracles do happen," added Black.
According to sophomore Micah Mason the team was as surprised as anyone else.
"After I handed off to Tyler I watched him until he leaned and I wasn't sure where we had placed but it looked good," he said. "Then everyone in the crowd kept saying it looked like we had won but they weren't sure."
It wouldn't be until shortly before the awards ceremony, an hour later, that the team heard that they had gone from worst to first.
The size and audible level of the Baldwin support crew was also a hot topic during the meet.
"The crowd was phenomenal," said coach Ted Zuzzio. "We must have had around 100 people come today."
"I couldn't believe how loud the crowd was when I was up on the award stand," said Black. "I was over 100 yards away but everyone from the Baldwin section was yelling for me."
The Bulldog boosters were more than just students and parents, there were BHS alumni back to watch along with teachers and people from the community.
"I think the amount of people we had in the crowd just shows what kind of kids we had competing," said Spielman. "They were special to more than just the immediate people they knew."
Friday Brown and Murphy gave the cheerers their first opportunity with 18 points in the javelin.
"We didn't throw that well, but it was what we had to do," said Brown.
After contributing the exact points that Spielman had penciled in for their event, the javelin throwers sat back and watched their teammates on Saturday.
Noonan opened the morning with a blistering last lap in the 3,200 to hold off Clay Center's Joe Moore and Mill Valley's Griffin Lee.
"I was sort of hoping to go after the 4A record in the two mile," said Noonan. "But the pace was a little too slow in the beginning so I kicked it in when I needed to. That last lap was the fastest I've ever run at the end of any race."
Following Noonan's 3,200 was the 3,200 relay team of seniors Hans Broers, Glen Stansberry and Black and freshman Zach Towns. Many of the teams entering the meet had very similar times and the Bulldogs felt they had a strong chance to win the race. The team ran a solid seasonal best (seasonal best without Noonan) but four other teams ran "out of their minds" to finish ahead of the fifth place Bulldogs.
After the 4x800, it was back to the Matt Noonan show as he held off another last lap kick from Griffin Lee to win his third consecutive mile title in a seasonal second best of 4:24.29.
The famous 4x100 relay followed up Noonan's second win of the day and all but locked up the title for BHS tracksters.
The hardest race of the day for Noonan followed. His arch rival, biggest nemesis, and the only man who had beat him at state in the last two years was lining up against him. This same person was also his teammate, good friend , and the only person Noonan would ever want to beat him, Eric Black.
"I really wanted to win that race," said Noonan. "But I knew if Eric was at his best there was no way I could pull off the triple win."
With about 200 meters remaining in the race it looked as if Noonan would obtain his final goal. But Black's final kick was too strong and they finished as they had last year, in alphabetical order with a first and second for their team.
"I hoped to break into the 1:54s but I had done so much racing it just wasn't quite there," said Black.
In the final event of the day the defending champions had already wrapped up the state title but they had the opportunity to accomplish two other achievements; be the first team to ever have all three relay teams place at state and have Hans Broers run a faster 400 split than his dad did "back in the day."
On the final leg of the relay the former accomplishment was in jeopardy as Black received the baton back from the rest of the field. Black caught one team, two other teams fell and another was disqualified allowing the quarter milers to move up to fifth.
As for the Battle of the Broers, the younger claimed that he had run faster, but still wasn't confident enough to claim the title of fastest in the family due to the "cinder track handicap."
Spielman expressed his thoughts as the team received its second straight title.
"I was trying my best to savor the moment because you never know when it will happen again," he said. "We are losing some great talent, but I just have this feeling that we'll be back here."
Regardless of the future, the expected greatness of Noonan, Black, Brown and Murphy and the pleasant surprise of the 400 relay combined with the cheering capacity of the biggest supporting staff in the stadium, the 2002 state track meet will be one to be savored for awhile.