Bull Dogs’ 4×800 relay team a contender for state title

Columbus North’s Jace Works takes the baton from Akot Tong to start the final leg of the 4x800-meter relay at Thursday’s Greenfield-Central Regional.

The Republic file photo

When Columbus North set a state-meet record in winning the 4×800-meter relay two years ago, Jace Works and Logan Vanzant had just finished middle school, Frankie Polyak was still a football player and Akot Tong was a mostly-JV runner on a loaded Bull Dogs track and field team.

Saturday afternoon, the collection will attempt to bring North another 4×800 relay crown. The 4×800 relay is the first running event and will begin at 4:15 p.m. at Indiana University’s Robert C. Haugh Track and Field Complex.

“I think the atmosphere will be really cool,” Works said. “The whole state will be there, and a bunch of different people from all these different teams, and you have everybody cheering. It will be a fun atmosphere to run in.”

Works, a sophomore, anchors the relay. He was the Bull Dogs’ top runner in the open 800 all season until he had an off night in Thursday’s Greenfield-Central Regional.

That night, Tong came through with a third-place finish in the 800 to capture a berth in the state finals in that event. But that will come later in the meet, about three hours after the 4×800 is contested.

“I think we’ve put ourselves in good position, and I think we have a good chance of winning state,” said Tong, a senior who runs third in the relay. “As long as everyone does their part and sleeps and eats well and races for each other, I think we can win.”

The Bull Dogs are seeded second in the event, based on their regional-winning time of 7 minutes, 49.06 seconds. Zionsville is first at 7:48.84, and Bloomington North is third at 7:49.22, meaning the top three are separated by less than a half-second.

“We think we can run a little faster,” Columbus North coach Rick Sluder said. “They’ve been training really well, and their attitude is really good. Bloomington North and Zionsville are really good, so hopefully, if it’s a three-team battle, we’ll beat at least one of them, and maybe we’ll beat two. But we’re just trying to stay focused on giving it our best, and we think if each guy PRs just a little bit, we’ll be right in the middle of that title race.”

The Bull Dogs did, however, run 7:47.06 in their sectional a week earlier.

Columbus North’s Logan Vanzant runs the second leg of the 4×800-meter relay during the April 6 Columbus North Invitational.

The Republic file photo

“We all have PRed really well, and it’s all coming together right before the state meet,” said Vanzant, a sophomore who runs second on the relay. “It’s really exciting for us.”

“I think we’re peaking at the right time,” Works added. “We’re putting all the pieces together finally, and we have a good chance to go up there and win it.”

Columbus North’s Frankie Polyak tries to catch Greenwood’s Henry Barrett as they come down the stretch for the first exchange of the 4×800-meter relay race at Thursday’s Greenfield-Central Regional.

The Republic file photo

Meanwhile, Polyak is a relative newcomer to distance running. He gave up football to run cross-country his junior year.

Now a senior, Polyak was inserted onto the 4×800 relay before the sectional when junior Neal White was sidelined because of an illness.

“This year, I’ve just kept working hard and kept improving, so I’m really happy to be in a position to run the 4×800 for the tournament,” Polyak said. “I think we have a great team of guys, and I’m really happy with the way that we’ve been racing recently, and I think we’re going to have a really good shot to race really well.”

Frankie Polyak

Polyak leads off the relay and has run around a 2:00 split the past two weeks. Vanzant has been around 1:59, while Tong and Works both ran 1:53s in the sectional and went 1:53 and 1:54 in the regional.

Sluder likes the slowest-to-fastest approach to the order of the relay.

“It’s really kind of neat when you have two guys (to start) that run at or break 2:00,” Sluder said. “So they can keep us in it, and then we kind of backload it and go after it. It kind of gives Frankie and Logan a different responsibility to race a different way and keep it close and do their best. I kind of like the way that fits.”

Akot Tong

Tong is the only member of the relay team to have run at the state track meet. He was on the 4×800 team that finished seventh last year.

“I think (the experience) will help because last year, the handoffs were kind of bad, and I wasn’t really prepared for that,” Tong said. “Now, with that past experience, I think I’ll be more prepared for the handoffs with how crowded it will be.”

Jace Works

Works, Vanzant and Polyak were alternates on last year’s relay team. Tong, Works and Vanzant ran in the state cross-country meet last fall.

Tong and Works also have been running the 4×400 relay this season, but the Bull Dogs fell 6-hundreths of a second short of making it to state in that event. Tong, who is seeded 10th in the open 800, will be running two events, but the others will be running only in the relay.

“The whole season, I’ve ran three events, so I think it will be interesting to see what I can do, knowing that I only have to go race hard one race,” Works said. “I’ll leave it all out there because I won’t have any more shots.”

Logan Vanzant

That also will be the case for Vanzant and Polyak.

“I’m just looking to go hard because I know the competition is going to be really tough, and it’s going to come down to milliseconds, so I’m just going to give it my all,” Vanzant said. “I usually try to do it every race, but I feel like this race definitely has a lot more meaning to it. Hopefully, that gives me an extra gear in the last 400.”

“I think we all just want it really bad,” Polyak added. “We’ve all have been working so hard, and the state meet is such a good opportunity for us to showcase what we’ve been working toward. We’re ready to race well.”