Tuscola shines in first day at state

May 24—CHARLESTON — For Aiden Weaver, the realization came a year ago at Tuscola's end-of-year banquet, following a fourth-place team finish at the Class 1A boys' state track and field meet.

"We saw what we did last year," Weaver said, "and we know we can build on it."

For Jackson Barrett, it was just a week ago at the Okaw Valley Sectional.

"We had a bunch of guys PRing like crazy," Barrett said. "All of a sudden, I saw them in the top-10 rankings. When I saw that happen, I said, 'Heck, we've got a chance to win the whole thing.'"

For Josiah Hortin, that expectation has been there all along.

"Everybody sees where everybody's ranked. Everybody sees how many points we're supposed to score," Hortin said. "It's a matter of, 'We're the favorite. What can we do to stay the favorite and win?' Every point is special here, so we just have to win. ... We've got to live up to what we can do. We're ranked No. 1 for a reason."

The Warriors came into this season knowing they had a good chance to win a few individual state championships in distance events, led by seniors like Barrett, Hortin and Will Foltz. The trio of Division I recruits — Barrett is heading to Illinois, Hortin to Louisville and Foltz to Southern Illinois — all placed in the top 10 at last fall's 1A state cross-country meet.

A meet that saw Tuscola win a team state title.

Now, with the emergence of some teammates in other events, the Warriors have a chance to do the same in track and field.

After a successful showing in Thursday's prelims at O'Brien Field, Tuscola owns 11 starting positions across seven different events for Saturday's finals. If the prelims were any indication, the team competition will come down to Tuscola and Ridgeview/Lexington, and the Warriors have every intention of one-upping the Tuscola girls' track and field team's state runner-up finish from last Saturday.

"Coming into the season, I didn't think we'd be nearly as loaded in all our other events, and they've shown up out of nowhere," Barrett said. "We're in the position to do it, so we might as well do it."

Everyone knew Tuscola's distance trio would put the Warriors in a good spot with their races alone, and they showed why on Thursday. Hortin won his heat in both the 800- and 1,600-meter runs, and he looked like he had more left in the tank as he crossed the finish line. Barrett won his 1,600 heat, and Foltz made the 800 final with a faster time than Hortin (1 minute, 59.08 seconds for Foltz compared to 2:00.11 for Hortin). Barrett and Foltz also qualified for the 3,200 final with times that rival anyone in the state. And they have a legitimate shot to take first and second in all three events.

"I'd be lying if I said there wasn't any pressure," Barrett said. "I have confidence in Will and Jo, and they have confidence in me. All around, especially our distance squad, we were pretty sure we were going to get some good points. I wasn't sure about the other guys at all, but they've done absolutely incredible the past two weeks."

Those others include Weaver, Sawyer Woodard, Kam Sweetnam and Carter Simpson, all of whom will be competing in Saturday's finals. Even David Hornaday and Kamden Flenner, who finished 10th and 11th in their respective events to just miss out on making the finals.

Weaver and Woodard are Tuscola's throwers. Weaver currently sits in eighth in the shot put, with Woodard right behind in ninth, and Woodard added a sixth-place mark in discus on Thursday.

"We're right there. It's just about staying focused and business-like," Weaver said. "We don't want to get into our heads thinking we're going to win it all because it's still a fight. If people do what they're supposed to do and win their events, we can definitely get it. We've got some guys who came in here on the borderline of placing, and with the right atmosphere, we think we can make that jump to get on the podium."

Weaver is hoping to move up a couple spots in shot put while Woodard wants to place top three in discus.

"We want to win," Woodard said. "Our distance guys have a lot of points coming in, and Weaver and I need to seal the deal with some points in shot put and discus. We're going to come out here and do our thing."

Across the field is Sweetnam, who had no track and field experience before this year. He was the Warriors' leading scorer during basketball season, and teammates Hortin and Barrett convinced him to take up long jump and triple jump. While he didn't have the greatest long jump prelim, he's seventh in the triple jump heading into the final.

"They're the top tier," Sweetnam said of Tuscola's distance runners. "It's cool to see their work ethic, and I'm just trying to follow and help them win a state championship. ... This is a big deal. I wasn't expecting anything like this. They said we needed jumpers, so I said I'd give it a try. I'm really glad I'm doing it, and I'm having a great time."

To top off the Warriors' finalists, Simpson had the seventh-fastest time in the 110 hurdles after entering the meet ranked 22nd.

Barrett said the improvement all around has been "crazy" to watch, and Hortin threw "insane" into the mix.

Tuscola didn't bring a 3,200-meter relay team to state, even though it had the opportunity to compete for a title and even set a state record in the event. Hornaday, Barrett, Foltz and Hortin ran a time just three seconds off record pace at last month's Spartan Classic in St. Joseph, but they sacrificed that relay so they could compete in more individual events and potentially score more points.

"I think we'd have a pretty good shot at breaking it," Barrett said, "but at the end of the day, I'd rather get a state championship as a team."

All that's left to do is win it, and the Warriors are ready to make history once again on Saturday.

"I'm confident in them," Hortin said. "They put in the work all year for a reason, to get to this point."