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Chardon 4x8s sweep during Division I Mentor District track and field Day 1

May 15—Make no mistake, May 15 and Day 1 of the Division I Mentor District was in part about emphasizing state-caliber intention while hopefully on the road to Dayton for Chardon's boys 4×800-meter relay.

For Matthew Sopchak, however, this one had meaning beyond that as he stared down the last 400 with a district crown hanging in the balance and duty beckoning.

"Yesterday, my coach told me, 'Finish what your brother couldn't finish,'" Sopchak said. "My brother, (nine) years ago, almost came back — same thing as me. He wasn't able to do it. This time, I was able to do it. That was what was playing through my head."

Sopchak was referring to the 2015 D-I Mentor District 4×8, in which his brother Josh was edged on the anchor as a senior by the host Cardinals.

The Hilltoppers' senior middle-distance staple made good on his word.

?? Here are my usual NH area video meet highlights, this time from D1 Mentor District Day 1

Obviously focused on finals — ugh, my field-event timing was atrocious today ... that WILL get better in the next 3 days if I have anything to say about it pic.twitter.com/H9TQKkD0Cv

— Chris Lillstrung (@CLillstrungNH) May 16, 2024

Teaming with Jacob Nieset, Taman Chokshi and Jack Roman, Sopchak and the Hilltoppers captured boys 4×8 — easily one of the best at this district in recent memory — in a hot final with a time of 7 minutes, 56.09 seconds.

Sopchak's anchor management could not have been better or more precise.

PHOTOS: Division I Mentor District track and field Day 1, May 15, 2024

Engaged in a battle with Euclid and Mentor, Sopchak was undeterred by Panthers' anchor John Jordan going out hard in his first 200. At the turn, the senior's backstretch attack was pacey yet smart and purposeful. Sopchak saw his opening on the homestretch for a last-60 kick to edge Euclid for the crown.

"I told my teammates, 'If you guys keep me within like three seconds, two seconds, I'm taking him,'" Sopchak said. "They did that, and I didn't let up on my promise.

"I've never raced Euclid before, so it was kind of a learning experience. Came through 53.3 through 400, which I have never done that before. Never felt worse after a race, to be honest. But yeah, it was crazy. He took me through fast. I wasn't expecting it. When my coach told me my split, I was surprised. I just wanted to do whatever I could to help my team win."

The hard-charging Panthers, an epiphany on the local 4x8 scene with their breakthrough work this spring, logged their third deep sub-8 in a month with a runner-up in 7:56.61. Mentor saddled up for a strong third in 7:57.07.

2024 area track and field regional qualifiers list

As the old saying goes, "A rising tide lifts all boats," — and that may be the case here en route to what is always one of the highlight finals of the D-I Austintown-Fitch Regional.

"Oh yeah, for sure," Sopchak said. "That was a close race. I wasn't expecting us to be that close. But hey, it happened. It's going to be even deeper at Fitch. There's going to be like six teams all right with each other, and only four make it. So it's going to be a battle."

It completed a sweep for the distance-proud Hilltoppers.

Chardon's girls 4x8, with Rae Kawalec, Bethany Cappello, Cate Dawson and Eve Downs, was impressive 1-through-4 to put up a 9:35.85, bettering their regular-season PR by nearly 30 seconds.

"So we actually haven't been running our team, so we finally put together our team," Downs explained. "And yeah, we didn't know what it was going to come to. But we are really excited about the time."

Downs was sturdy on the anchor. In a clash with Shaker Heights, she picked her spot well on the backstretch as the Red Raiders' anchor's stride was visibly getting tighter and less upright. That was all the open 8 standout needed to bring home Chardon's fifth girls 4x8 district crown since 2015.

"I felt, the last 200, sometimes I kind of taper back a little — I don't know if I belong up there," Downs said. "But I definitely felt it today. Yeah, it was good.

"Running is 90% mentality. So if you don't believe that you can do it, you're not going to do it honestly. You could have all the ability, all the training. But you're not going to have it if you don't think you can be out there with them."

Madison's Sienna Sidoti continued her laudable sophomore campaign by prevailing in high jump at 5 feet, 2 inches on a least-misses tiebreaker against Cleveland Heights' Robbie Caldwell. Sidoti will be profiled in a separate story in the coming days online and in our print edition in advance of the Fitch Regional.

Blue Streaks sophomore Addison Wesley recorded a breakthrough in her own right, taking shot put with a best effort of 37-4. Wesley's regular-season PR was a 34-7 1/4.

Riverside's Nathan Gaspersic repeated as district champion in pole vault, clearing 14-0.

The Beavers' Kyndall McCaleb, to his utmost credit, came through with quite the pleasant-surprise title in long jump in a strong field, taking first with a 21-10 1/2. McCaleb hadn't gone 21-plus in the regular season and was seeded seventh coming into the competition.

Madison's Bryce Brock took discus with a top throw of 159-10.

In preliminary heats, the top coverage area performance with room to spare came from Mayfield's Ty Jackson. The senior and likely D-I state title contender turned in a 13.76 in 110 hurdles, a mere six one-hundredths off the all-time News-Herald coverage area record in the event held by Riverside great Russ Pernus.