A third-straight Max Truex Invitational championship would be nice for the 16th-ranked Warsaw boys track and field team, but it won’t be the most important thing Friday night at the Tigers Athletic Complex.
Fresh off a championship at Saturday’s Goshen Relays, the Tigers sit at 5-0 overall and 4-0 in the Northern Lakes Conference heading into tonight’s dual meet with Concord and host Wawasee, and they’re feeling pretty good.
According to head coach Matt Thacker, feeling good is the most important thing he wants his guys to celebrate following Friday’s invitational.
“You always want to win your home invitational,” he said. “With that being said, we have a conference meet (tonight) and the conference is the No. 1 priority. That’s just the way it is. I think it’s that way in every sport. At the same time, we’re not different from any other team in that we want to win our home tournament. Hopefully, we’ll be in a position to do so, but more importantly, we want to come out healthy and be ready for Northridge next Wednesday and then for the conference meet (May 13 in Warsaw).”
Invited for the 32nd annual Max Truex Invitational were Fairfield, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne Wayne, Hobart, LaPorte, Penn and Valparaiso.
In a meet that features two fields per event, each team has a competitor in the ‘A’ field and the ‘B’ field. The duo’s times/distances/heights are then combined to figure out the overall winner of the event.
Because depth is one of the biggest factors to win the format, Thacker is confident in his team’s chances, but knows Valpo and Penn will also bring pretty large squads.
“Valparaiso is a very good team,” he said. “By just looking at their times, I’d say they’re the team to beat. I haven’t seen Hobart much, but they always have some athletes. Then, of course, you always have Penn. I would say, us, Penn and Valpo will all be in the mix.”
Looking primed to win their 10th overall Truex title, the Tigers have a little bit different feel than the team that won last year’s title and went on to claim sectional and regional championships before placing fifth at the state finals.
Gone from that team are distance runners Jacob Poyner, who’s running at Wake Forest, and Robert Murphy, who’s competing at Vincennes.
At the 2013 state finals, Poyner was fifth in the 3200 and finished third in the 1600, one spot ahead of Murphy, who also finished seventh in the 800.
Minus so many points from those two, there were some questions entering the season, but they didn’t go unanswered for long.
“We knew our team makeup would be a little bit different,” Thacker said. “When you take away a Robert Murphy and a Jacob Poyner, the team is going to be different. So, obviously, we had some question marks coming into the year, but with the addition of (senior) Tanner Balazs and (senior) Mike Miller, (sophomore) Riley Rhoades and (junior) Rashaan Jackson – they’ve really given us some quality front running pieces and some quality depth. We also have some freshmen in DeAndre Street and Joseph Harness. You don’t see their names in the paper, but you're going to pretty soon.”
Miller and Balazs are former baseball players that went out for track this year, and Jackson is in his first year on the track team after excelling on the basketball court.
Picking up top talent from the high school, the team has picked up right where it left off.
“I think it’s just a process of the success we’ve had and students are taking notice,” Thacker said of athletes going out for the team this year. “Obviously, we’re getting quality athletes that truly want to be on the team and help us out. They’re all a welcome addition.”
Trading his baseball cleats in for track spikes, Miller has been the biggest addition to the team, and showed his speed at the Goshen Relays, finishing second in the 100 and anchoring the first-place 4x200 and 4x100 relays.
“He decided to run track, and I’m pretty excited that he did,” Thacker said.
Thacker’s also excited about the performance of senior Seth Fouts, who set a school and Goshen Relays record in the shot put with a throw of 60-feet, 7-inches.
Since joining the track team as a sophomore, Fouts has continued to get better and has already signed on to compete at the University of Kentucky next year.
“For one, he’s 6-foot-3, 260 pounds, so that kind of helps,” Thacker said of Fouts’ success. “It’s all been a maturation for him. He came out as a sophomore and kind of got things figured out toward the end of that year.
“He’s really bought into what we do, and it’s paid dividends for him,” he added. “I would expect that his discus throws will continue to increase, because we’re still taking baby steps with him in that event, because he’s still coming back from a hamstring issue.”
Someone else the Warsaw coaches are being cautious with is senior Ellis Coon, who missed all of his junior track season with a foot injury after placing eighth at the cross country state finals.
Coon was back for his senior cross country season, placing third at the state finals, and coaches are being sure not to overexert the future University of Tulsa runner, as he only competed in one event at the Goshen Relays.
“We’re an older group now,” Thacker said. “These guys aren’t freshmen anymore. We’ve kind of had to do things a little different, because the guys have been running on the track, running during cross country. They’ve also played basketball or football for four years, so their bodies are different now. They’re still young, but at the same time, they’re still maturing, so you have to treat their bodies a little bit different. Anything we do right now is precautionary for any of our runners.”
The precautions are being taken to ensure 100 percent health for the state tournament, but that doesn’t mean the Tigers will be putting any less effort into winning another Truex title.
“I would expect nothing less from our guys than an excellent performance,” Thacker said.