EAST LIVERPOOL - It has been 44 years since an East Liverpool boys mile relay team reached the state track meet, but the long wait will end Friday.
After posting its best time in three decades at last week's Division II regional meet, East Liverpool seniors Shae Long, Zack English and Jake Allen, and junior Chase Mahon will race in the Division II 1600-meter relay at 4:10 p.m. Friday on the campus of Ohio State University.
"This is very exciting for us," East Liverpool coach Scott Thornberry said. "There hasn't been a 1600 relay go to state here since 1970. They still have a little work to do if they want the school record."
The Potters finished fourth (3:28.15) at Saturday's regional meet at Muskingum University, which will send English to his second trip to state.
"There are so many people in the stands," English said. "When you're going down the last 100, you can hear the crowd cheering, and the feeling of that crowd, it's just unbelievable."
English competed last year in the 400 dash and the long jump, and looks forward to returning to the meet in a different event.
"It's great to be able to go back," English said. "The team is a great team, we've been working hard for this and it's great to do this as a senior."
Long, meanwhile, looks to follow in his family's footsteps. His father and assistant coach Shawn Long is the only state track champion for the East Liverpool boys, winning the Division I high jump in 1990.
"I've had some big shoes to fill," Shae Long said. "My father was a state champion, my uncle ran track. I've had to be able to work hard and keep the family tradition going in track."
Long himself has seen success in state indoor track meets, but looks forward to making the most of his first and only outdoor meet before continuing his track career at Allegheny College.
"I have competed at state for indoor track, but this will be my first outdoor meet," Long said. "It's surreal, but it's bittersweet. Thankfully it's only going to continue after I leave here, just somewhere else."
Allen, who has remained healthy throughout the season, has his sights set on the state championship in, also, his first and only shot.
"We're just hoping we can PR (personal record) and win it all," Allen said.
The four pulled themselves together after both English and Long missed top-four finishes to state in their individual events. Long finished fifth in the long jump and seventh in the 300 hurdles, while English was seventh in the 400 dash.
Regardless how long the breather was for both guys, Allen knew both had very little, if any, time to rest.
"It felt like 10 minutes," Allen said. "It seemed like it wasn't much of a break."
The setbacks, along with a sore hamstring for English and knee injuries for Long, brought the team's hopes down, but Mahon wasn't ready to kiss his chance at his first state appearance goodbye.
"These guys were hurting Thursday," Mahon said. "I said, 'You guys, I'm going. I just hope you guys stay with it,' and after I handed off, they did their work. They kept up with it and they were strong."
The dedication and hard work paying off with the fourth place finish, but everyone was glad the day was over.
"Everyone was just laying on the ground," Thornberry said. "We were going to get our team picture, but Allen was nowhere to be seen. We don't know if he was getting water or throwing up, but everyone was just tired."
The Potters now look towards the state semifinals Friday, and will find a familiar face as the Salem boys track team will also compete in the relay.
It is the Quakers' third straight state appearance in 1600 relay.
"We're very familiar with them," Long said. "They have a good team, and we know they're going to be tough, and it's a nice little rivalry we have with them. We look forward to racing with them again."
"We know that Salem will be a good team," Mahon said. "Hopefully we can hit the school record there too."