Salem 1600-relay team hitting stride in time for state meet

SALEM-After a season spent tinkering with their lineup, the Salem 1600-meter relay team hit on the right formula when it mattered most.

The team of seniors Paul Matak, Ryan Bush, and Blake Veglia and junior Daniel Rumsey advanced to the state track meet with a fourth-place finish at Saturday’s Bedford Division II regional meet.

They will be joined in Columbus by alternate Cameron Turney, a junior, and will provide some welcome company to their three teammates, who qualified in the field events.

“I was probably the happiest person when they qualified,” said senior Anthony Shivers, who qualified in the discus and shot put. “They are a fun group of guys and it will be nice having a bunch of people to go down with.”

While a state berth this season was a near certainty for Shivers as the defending state discus champion, the relay team has been a work in progress. For most of the year, Turney and junior Marcus Crittenden shuffled in and out of the lineup as the Quakers worked to find the fastest combination.

“We knew at the beginning of the year that we would have a good team, but we weren’t sure how all the pieces would fit together,” Veglia said. “During the year we’ve tried working on different things to try and find the smartest way to use everybody.”

The Quakers saved their biggest changes for the Bedford regional meet. First, they switched the running order, moving Rumsey from anchor to the leadoff spot and moving Bush from leadoff to anchor. Second, with Crittenden injured and Turney absent with a prior commitment, Matak-who hadn’t run the race all year-was called on to fill the gap. After barely making the finals with an eighth-place qualifying time, the revamped lineup yielded Salem’s best time of the year in the final at 3 minutes, 27.42 seconds.

“Paul really helped out,” Rumsey said. “He’s run this race in the past, but this was his first of the year and for him to come right in and help us get to state was awesome. We’re looking forward to putting up a great time this weekend.”

Matak ran his part of the race in 50 seconds, blowing away his own expectations and earning him a spot back in the order this weekend.

“Coming in I was hoping for 52 or 53 seconds at best,” Matak said. “I have no idea how I pulled that 50 out.”

“It had to have been adrenaline,” joked Veglia.

The state berth is especially satisfying for the Quakers considering that they had to replace three runners from last year’s state-qualifying 1600 team. Bush was the only one who ran in last years race, while Veglia went to Columbus as an alternate.

“The relay team changed a lot this year,” Veglia said. “Anytime you replace three runners, that is going have a huge effect.”

In the end though, it all worked out for the Quakers. A season-long process has yielded the result everyone was shooting for.

“We’re a really close team,” Veglia said. “Everyone here has played sports for a while and we’re really familiar with each other. It’s nice to be able to go down together.”