Until 10 days ago, Chase Ballard had never competed in a sectional track and field meet.
That hasn’t stopped the Columbus North senior from making a big splash in his first and final track postseason. He won sectional titles in both the 1,600 and 3,200 meters, and after dropping the 1,600, picked up a regional victory in the 3,200 on Thursday to qualify for Friday’s state finals.
“It’s a different atmosphere — a little bit better competition,” Ballard said after his win Thursday at Connersville. “You have more fans here cheering their kids on. It’s an energizing atmosphere. I’m more excited than you can understand. I’m pumped.”
After being mainly a junior varsity runner as a freshman, Ballard was set to run the 3,200 in the sectional as a sophomore, but a paperwork snafu prevented him from competing. He was injured last season.
“I think he is a real adaptable kid, so even though the experiences are new, he’s really good at getting the best out of himself,” North distance coach Rick Weinheimer said. “So I certainly wouldn’t have counted on this happening, but I’m not surprised that it happened.”
That’s because Ballard finished seventh in the state cross-country meet in the fall, helping lead Weinheimer’s team to a fourth-place finish.
“He’s certainly matched at least how well he did in cross-country,” Weinheimer said. “He was great at the end of the year.”
So was his senior teammate, Seth Williams, who finished fourth in the state in cross-country and qualified for the Foot Locker National Championships. Williams has finished second behind Ballard the past two weeks and will join him at the state meet.
Ballard, who ran 9 minutes 20.23 seconds in the sectional, went 9:26.41 in the regional.
“He’s become a confident front-runner,” Weinheimer said. “He pushes hard every single step, and I think that’s a big way in which he’s grown.”
“Chase works really hard,” North head coach Lou Sipe said. “He’s earned everything he’s got, so it’s very exciting to watch a kid progress like Chase. He’s a very talented young man, and I’m excited to see him run next week.”
Although his regional time has him seeded 10th in the state meet, Ballard’s personal-best of 9:18.04 was better than all but four regional performances. Carmel’s Ben Veatch had the fastest regional time at 9:03.41.
“It will be an interesting race because you have guys in that race who are some of the top 2-milers in the nation this year with (Brebeuf Jesuit’s Zack) Snider and Veatch,” Ballard said. “They’ve both broken 9 minutes for the 3,200, but if we can hang in there with them, push them on that first mile and tire them out so that hopefully, we can have more than them in that last 400.”
Ballard is hoping to break 9:10 on Friday.
“The state meet is going to be nice for us because we’ll have more people pulling us along,” Ballard said. “We’ll get to race big names like Zack Snider and Ben Veatch again that we haven’t raced since the state meet in cross-country. That should be good for us.”
Even though it’s his first postseason, the Belmont University-bound Ballard was confident he could get to state. The top nine at state earn medals.
“I definitely expected to get to state,” Ballard said. “I know that our training is good enough to get me there. I was looking more at how high I could medal than if I would get there.”
What: Boys Track and Field State Finals
When: 3 p.m. Friday
Where: Robert C. Haugh Track and Field Complex, Indiana University
Who: State qualifiers including Columbus North’s Chase Ballard and Seth Williams (3,200 meters), Mitchell Burton (long jump). Trent Larson (400) and Joe Wright (800), Columbus East’s Rhett Myers (shot put and discus), Jennings County’s Zach Miller (long jump) and Wes Furgason (high jump) and Seymour’s Seth Ragon (high jump)