COLUMBUS — Jake Rethman had already established himself as one of the best runners in Fort Loramie’s history before starting his senior track season. He made appearances in several events in his first three seasons in addition to having several strong finishes in state cross country meets.
In his final high school meet on Saturday, he established himself as a state champion.
Rethman pulled ahead in the final seconds to win the Division III boys 1,600-meter run in 4:23 and earn the first state gold medal of his career at the state meet at Ohio State’s Jesse Owens Stadium. He finished about a half-second ahead of senior teammate Joe Ballas, who finished third.
Rethman — a long-distance runner who didn’t compete in the event in tournament meets last year — had struggled in state meets in previous years. He finished 18th in the 3,200 run last year, which was the only final he competed in.
“It’s great to see Jake on top of the podium, because state has been so difficult for him,” Ballas said of Rethman. “Just to see him truly dominate is awesome.
“In the past, we both have come away really disappointed with how we’ve done in this meet. We set a lot of high expectations and failed to meet them. Now to finally meet them, it feels pretty good. We’re just glad to have went out doing our best.”
Ballas and Rethman have run side-by-side throughout their prep careers in track and cross country. Ballas finished third in the D-III state cross country meet last November while Rethman was fifth.
Ballas had been Fort Loramie’s 1,600 specialist. He qualified for state in the event last year and won a regional title last week in 4:23 while finishing two seconds ahead of Rethman.
Rethman pulled away in a close race on Saturday.
Ballas led early, but Rethman and East Canton’s Demetrius Snellenberger pulled even heading into the last 200 meters. Snellenberger pulled ahead for several seconds after the last turn but slowed as the group neared the finish line. Rethman accelerated and pulled ahead and won with about a .5 edge over Snellenberger.
“After that first lap, I thought it would become a sit-and-kick type of race,” Rethman said. “Going into that last 200, it was just an all-out guts finish — really about the last 400 meters. It wasn’t a race I was expecting, but Joe and I have been working on ours kicks a ton.”
Ballas nearly caught up late and finished second but finished third in 4:24.28, .08 behind Snellenberger. It’s the highest state finish for Ballas, whose previous best was an eighth-place finish in the 800 as a sophomore.
He said he was happy with Saturday’s performance — and pleasantly surprised when Rethman won.
“It’s just so awesome,” Ballas said. “I didn’t realize it was him at first, I thought it was (Snellenberger), and all of a sudden he’s sitting on top of the podium, and my mood was just so happy after that.
“… It was quite the race. We all just sat back and weren’t really pushing it at all in the middle. At the end — it was probably a poor strategy taking the lead at the beginning, but it worked out, and we’re happy with it.”
Rethman said it was great for the pair to wrap up their high school careers at the top of the podium.
“I’ve been running with him so long, and we’ve been through thick and thin all the way since junior high,” Rethman said. “I couldn’t imagine a better person to run my last open race with.”
Ballas also finished eighth in the 800 on Saturday in 1:56.40 and teamed with Rethman for a sixth-place finish as part of the 4×400 relay. The pair — along with Gavin Schulze and Carson Moore — finished the 1,600 relay in 3:27, a little less than two seconds behind fifth-place Grandview Heights.
Fort Loramie junior Kennedi Gephart capped off a big meet on Saturday. She finished fourth in the 100 dash in 12.73 and was third in the 200 dash 25.75.
“I’m really proud of how I did,” Gephart said after picking up a bronze medal for the 200. “I didn’t get a silver or a gold, but I’m not going to hang my head about it. I still feel it’s something to feel accomplished about.”
Though both times were a bit slower than Friday’s preliminary races, Gephart was happy she was able to finish near the top of the podium in both events. It’s becoming a trend for her at the state meet — she was second in the 200 last year and fifth and in the 400.
“After doing it two years in a row, you want to do it three times,” Gephart said. “It’s exciting every single time, so I want to continue to do that.”
Gephart also teamed with Alyssa Wrasman, Anna Detrick and Erin Chaney to finish sixth in the 4×200 relay in 1:46.77, a little more than a half-second behind Lehman Catholic, which was fifth.
Wrasman also earned a spot on the podium in the 100 hurdles by finishing eighth in 15.47.
Fort Loramie’s boys squad finished sixth in team standings with 25 points while the girls finished eighth with 21. The boys team won team titles in district and regional meets the last two weeks while the girls squad finished runner-up at each.
“It’s so much fun when you’re with a team and a group of friends and through it together,” Rethman said. “The regional title was really neat, because it indicates that so many people are going to state, and that’s something our program just loves. Having loads and loads of kids here makes the experience so much fun.”
The loads of athletes helped attract a sizeable Fort Loramie cheering section atop Jesse Owens Stadium near the finish line, which Gephart said she heard a lot on Saturday.
“It’s amazing,” Gephart said. “Everyone knows that Fort Loramie is really good at showing up for any single sporting event, and it’s awesome to see that for a sport like track and field, which usually doesn’t get as much recognition.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.