The margin between the second and fourth seeds in the 300-meter hurdles for today’s Shelbyille Regional is razor thin.
With only the top three in each event guaranteed spots in the state finals, that means a slow start out of the blocks or clipping one of the eight hurdles could be the difference between a ticket to Bloomington or the end of a girls track season.
Columbus North junior Olivia Malone sits in the middle of that second-through-fourth jumble, based on her season-best 47.64-second clocking that was good for a runner-up finish in last week’s Franklin Sectional.
“I’m satisfied with my time and the way I ran it,” Malone said. “I do think that there’s always room for improvement, but I ran it pretty aggressively, which is usually always a hard thing for me to do. You need to find it within yourself to want it so much, and I did tonight.”
Jennings County junior Keri Ertel, who won in 45.95, has the fastest qualifying time by more than a second-and-a-half. Then comes Oldenburg Academy junior Kirsten Ricke at 47.54, a tenth of a second faster than Malone. Center Grove junior Victoria Long, who was edged by Malone at Franklin, sits fourth at 47.82.
“We’re going to work on a few things and try to get (Malone) a little bit faster and get her in that top three,” said North assistant coach Jamie Brinegar, who works with the hurdlers. “We’re working on her start to the first hurdle a little bit and just polishing up technique-wise.”
Malone is looking for her first trip to state in the 300 hurdles. She finished fifth last year in 46.65, exactly one second out of third.
“I think that I have a good chance to make it this year in the 300 hurdles,” Malone said. “I do think that my chance is a lot more than the previous years, especially from all this experience that I’ve had.”
That experience includes three years on the Bull Dogs cross-country team, including a varsity spot as the No. 7 runner on the squad that finished third at state in the fall.
“Running cross-country has been one of the greatest experiences of my life because it’s changed my whole mentality of running,” Malone said. “It’s an opportunity to do it. It’s not like a chore. Going to race with a positive attitude makes it so much easier to run faster and to run for your team.”
Malone also ran on North’s 4x100 relay team in last year’s state track meet.
“As a freshman and sophomore, it’s a lot about learning the ropes and starting to be a significant part of the team,” Malone said. “As a junior, you take on more of a leading role, and that’s a different position. I like all the people that I’ve ran with, and I think that each experience is different, and because it’s different, it’s more exciting. It makes me more versatile in what I can do because there are so many situations that I need to apply myself.”
Malone also ran on the Bull Dogs’ state-qualifying 4x400 relay team last season, but was replaced in that event for the state meet. This year, she anchors the 4x100 relay team, and with standout senior Gabby Sims not running the 4x400 in the sectional, Malone anchored that event, as well.
“That was interesting,” Malone said. “I’ve had a lot of experience in the first leg of the 4x400, but anchoring it was exciting because you get to see how your teammates do, and you can calculate how hard you need to run and how far ahead you need to get and you can see where you already stand in the race, so it’s a whole new level of nervousness.”
North is seeded fifth in the 4x100 relay and ninth in the 4x400 relay for today’s regional. But if Sims, who finished third in the state in the 400 last year, runs the 4x400 relay, the Bull Dogs might have a shot at getting to state in that event.
“Our team has so many good runners on it that we can absolutely make it to state,” Malone said.
North coach Lou Sipe thinks Malone has an excellent shot of qualifying in the 300 hurdles.
“She’s a phenomenal athlete,” Sipe said. “I think she’s a great leader for our team. She’s put in a lot of work over the summer and obviously through the year, so I like her chances. We have to run the race, but I think she has a good shot.”