Close team hopes for another record breaker

HANOVERTON-A visitor entering the United boys locker room might notice the first four lockers on the left all bear the label “4×100 relay.”

From the very first day of practice, the foursome of senior Mike Martin, junior Riley Fillman and sophomores Alex Phillips and Tyler Powers felt they possessed an unusually strong chemistry and requested the arrangement.

“We came in the first day of practice and all wanted to locker next to each other,” Mike Martin said. “We’ve all been friends for a long time and you could tell right away there was a good feeling with the team.”

“They decided right away they were going to be side-by-side-by-side,” United coach Troy Brunner said. “

Three months later, the four are still linked together.

For the second straight year, the United boys 400-meter relay team will be running at the state track meet. The Eagles-who finished seventh at the Division III meet last year-will run in the Division II state semifinals at 2:55 p.m. today at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus.

Their qualifying time of 43.05 seconds at last week’s Austintown regional broke a school record set by the 1990 state runner-up squad, and is fifth best out of the 16 qualifying teams.

“Ever since we started running in the 43s last year we started thinking about the school record,” Phillips said. “Coming into this year, all we thought about was breaking the record and making it back to state.”

Fillman, Phillips and Martin all return from last season’s team. Powers-the newcomer-ran track in junior high, but sat out as a freshman and had to be coaxed onto the team.

“I’ve been pretty close with the 400 guys for a while,” Powers said. “They tried to get me out last season, but I wanted to concentrate on weightlifting. After a year away from track I wanted to get back into it this year.”

“We got on him (Powers) a little more before this season,” Martin said. “I’m glad we did.”

The consensus amongst the returnees and coach Troy Brunner was that Powers has injected some additional speed into the team.

“A.J. Bokanovich (who graduated) brought a lot of attributes to the team last year and we wouldn’t have made it to state without him,” Brunner said. “But with Tyler this year we knew we were adding a little more speed. From the start of the year, I thought those guys had a great shot at the school record.”

According to Brunner, the Eagles times were solid but not spectacular during the season. Without stiff competition from many of the area teams, the Eagles spent parts of the season trying out different combinations. Fillman has also spent the season battling a back injury.

“Our goal all season was to make sure we were fresh and peaking at the end of the year,” Fillman said. “We’ve really started pushing in the last couple of weeks. We’ve faced a lot of tough competition at districts and regionals. That forces you to take it to another level.”

The Eagles don’t view the jump to Division II with much concern, as their qualifying time would have placed them fifth in last season’s state meet.

“We are definitely going for a top-five finish,” Phillips said. “Once we broke the record last week, all I thought about was breaking it again. With it being the state meet, our adrenaline will be up. Our goal is to get below 43 seconds.”