Rinker runs her way to state title

May 24—A Tuscola High School track and field athlete has run to a state title and into the record books.

Senior Eva Rinker capped a stellar career for the Mountaineers with a state 3A title in the 1600-meter at the NCHSAA State Track and Field Championships on May 19 in Greensboro.

"It was amazing," Rinker said. "It feels good to know that my hard work paid off and I accomplished one of my goals."

Rinker is the first individual state champion from Tuscola since 2015-16 when Jack MacDonald captured the 100-yard freestyle at the state swimming and diving championships.

Tuscola head track and field coach Kevin FitzGerald said Rinker might be the only female track and field state champion in Tuscola's history.

Rinker was in the lead pack through a slow first 800 meters (3:35) and led the rest of the way, fighting off a challenge from North Lincoln's Olivia Ferraro at the 200-meter mark and outkicking the field to win in 5:03.76. Rinker ran a 69-second final 400.

"It's a great feeling to see somebody achieve a dream that they have," FitzGerald said. "We sat down last winter and looked at specific times we wanted her to hit this spring. Five minutes was the time for the 1600, and she hit it."

Rinker entered the race as the No. 1 seed following her personal best of 5:00.34 at the 3A West Regional on May 12 at North Lincoln High School in Lincolnton.

"She was running a lot of these times on her own," FitzGerald said. "Nobody was pushing her but herself. She went from 5:10 to five flat, which is really impressive."

Rinker said personal satisfaction motivates her during those solitary moments.

"Just knowing I have achieved those times and that I can do it again," she said.

At the state championships, Rinker followed her 1600 victory a couple of hours later with a third-place finish in the 800-meter run (seeded third) in a personal best time of 2:18.17, which was .55 faster than her previous personal record set at the regional meet.

Rinker was in seventh place after the first 400 and, once again, used a strong kick over the last 150 meters to pass several competitors down the stretch to capture the bronze medal in this event for the second year in a row, FitzGerald said.

She scored 16 total points and, combined with two points from senior female discus thrower Mikaeyla Hyatt, placed Tuscola 17th out of 53 teams with 18 points.

Rinker said the win still hasn't sunk in but that she hopes her state title helps motivate other team members.

"I hope it inspires people," she said, "and shows that you can put in the hard work and get the results you want."

FitzGerald said Rinker's path to a state title was straightforward: set goals and work to achieve them. He hopes younger girls follow in her footsteps.

"I hope that they see that you see somebody who is focused, sets goals, is motivated, does the work and gets results. That's a pretty straightforward progression," he said. "I hope others see that and say, 'If we buy in, we may be able to achieve our goals.'"