By Chris Chaney
The pinnacle of high school track in Ohio is standing atop the podium at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. Five Clermont County athletes went up to Columbus to compete in the state meet on Friday and Saturday with that goal in the forefront of their minds. Yet, while none of the five were able to climb to the highest landing, three were able to get on the podium, solidifying their claim as some of the best athletes in the state.
New Richmond High School, which led the area with three athletes competing in the meet, placed two seniors on the podium in their respective events: Hannah Hall in the high jump and Olivia Behymer in the 400-meter dash. Clermont Northeastern sophomore Jenna Mummert staked her claim as one of the county’s rising track and field stars by also making her way onto the podium in the high jump.
For Hall and Mummert, both competing in the Division II high jump, the state meet was the site of the jumping pair’s final showdown.
Friendly off of the track, Mummert and Hall were shooting for the same goal on Friday morning in Columbus — a state title.
As the bar rose and the field dwindled, the two Clermont County stars settled in for their latest battle, this time on the state’s biggest stage and with the best competition the Buckeye State had to offer.
“(Hall) had a goal to win state,” New Richmond head coach Terri Flamm said. “That was a legitimate goal for her. She was coming in with the highest (qualifying) jump and she was completely prepared when the competition started.”
While Hall had proven to be the thorn in the side of the younger Mummert all season, beating her rival at the Southern Buckeye Conference meet, the district and the regional meets, the Lady Rockets’ jumper had closed the gap between them in recent weeks.
Still, the state meet was Hall’s last hurrah and the senior made it count. After a shaky start that gave her coach some pause, the Lady Lions jumper settled in and worked through the nerves that had cost her high finishes in years past.
“She has notoriously been inconsistent at state,” Flamm explained. “In the back of my mind, I was hoping she would change that this year and ultimately, she did. Once she cleared 5-2, she came over and told me, ‘okay, that feels good now.’
“She cleared every jump the first time, but she started a little slow. She’s a very calm, confident athlete and got all the way up to 5-6 again.”
Hall’s 5-6 jump duplicated the height she cleared at the regional meet, a personal and school record. Mummert’s foil again was that same mark.
Making her way up the podium with just one slip up at 5-3, Mummert cleared 5-4 and 5-5 on her first try. 5-6, however, proved to be just out of the sophomore’s reach as she failed to clear the bar on three jumps. Her relatively clean slate gave Mummert the tiebreaker and the No. 4 spot on the podium over Maggie Loeffler of Bloom-Carrol.
For Hall, clearing 5-6 guaranteed a top-3 finish; Hannah Barlome of Vermilion and Paula Wollenslegel of Clyde were the only two jumpers besides Hall that cleared the threshold.
In an impressive display, Wollenslegel cleared 5-8 to take home the state champion honors, while Hall and Bartlome tied for second.
“When (Hall) missed on ,her second attempt at 5-7 and (Wollenslegel) cleared it, there was some obvious disappointment in her body language,” Flamm said. “But she realized that she had done her best. She said she was really happy for (Wollenslegel) and to be beaten by someone who bettered your jump by two inches is, at that height, pretty phenomenal.
“(Hall) was completely satisfied with her performance. I was worried that she would be disappointed and not realize that second place is a great accomplishment, but she wasn’t. She’s very mature and in the matter of five minutes, she was able to rationalize in her head where she’s at and how far she’s come.”
With Hall and Mummert already wearing their state medals before noon on Friday, Behymer was still yet to race her preliminary 400. A solid time of 56.38 got Behymer the second-best qualifying time and a place in a middle lane.
“She knew going in what she needed to do to qualify,” Flamm said. “She knew going into (the finals) what (Oksana Lawrence) from Meadowdale and (Shyla) Cummings from Finneytown were capable of because she’s been racing against them all year. She also knew not to underestimate them and her goal was to go out and run with (Lawrence).”
Running with Lawrence proved to be a daunting task as the eventual state champ knocked more than a second off of her qualifying time to win by more than two seconds over Cummings of Finneytown and Regan Clay of Rossford.
Behyer finished fourth, yet another improvement on her two previous state appearances in which she finished sixth (2011) and fifth (2013).
“Olivia’s has had a great career,” Flamm said. “She is the most decorated female athlete at New Richmond and in the realm of running, probably one of the most decorated runners in Clermont County.”
While the three female athletes from Clermont County ended their season’s on the state podium, Pierce Burnam of New Richmond and Jake Robinson of Bethel-Tate were unable to duplicate their female counterparts’ accomplishments.
Burnam finished in 14th place in his preliminary of the 300-meter hurdles and Robinson similarly logged a 14th-place finish in the long jump, posting a 20-feet-3.75 inch jump.
Complete results from the state track meets in Columbus are available on ohsaa.org.