SALEM-The faces have changed, the results haven’t.
Despite a changing cast of characters, the Salem boys 1600-meter relay team is back in a familiar place, making its third consecutive state track meet appearance this weekend at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus.
The team of senior Dan Rumsey, senior Marcus Crittenden, junior Cameron Turney and freshman Ethan Bailey will compete in the Division II state semifinals at 4:10 p.m. Friday.
“We have a strong relay tradition at Salem,” Rumsey said. “It’s something that’s really emphasized. A lot of guys realize their best chance to make it to state is on a relay team. I think that’s why we’ve been able to do so well no matter who’s in there.”
Rumsey is the only holdover from the team that ran in Columbus and failed to place last year.
“Last season we didn’t necessarily expect to be at state,” Rumsey said. “We went into the regional final with the eight best time and had a great race, but we couldn’t carry it over. This year is different. this year we expected to be there all year.”
Crittenden is the only current runner who ran on the 2012 state qualifier. He missed out on last year’s trip to Columbus due to a late-season hamstring injury.
“It feels great to be going back after being healthy all year,” Crittenden said. “I was a little upset that I didn’t get to last year. All I thought about this year was getting back.”
Turney was an alternate at the state meet last year.
“Last year was a great experience as an alternate,” Turney said. “It gave me a taste of what to expect if we got back. I’m anxious to experience running the race this year.”
The team has gotten a big boost from Bailey. The freshman struggled early this year, but eventually found his footing.
“I didn’t know what I was doing early in the year,” Bailey said. “I was struggling running the race correctly. I was going too slow on the backstretch. I did a bunch of 150-meter buildups to try and get better.”
Salem coach Todd Huda shuffled various runners in and out of Bailey’s spot during the season before finally settling on the freshman before the district meet.
“It took Ethan a little while to get going, but he’s brought a lot of energy to our team,” Rumsey said. “He never stopped working and has gotten his splits down around 51 seconds. For a freshman to contribute like that is huge.”
The Quakers qualifying time of 3:22.31 is a half second away from the school record and places them sixth out of 16 teams. It betters their state time from last year by more than 7 seconds.
“We are much more ready to do well this year, we feel we can break the school record in the semifinal on Friday,” Crittenden said. “Last year, Dan (Rumsey) was the only one running splits under 50 seconds. This year, both me and him are in the 49s, Cameron is around 50 and Ethan is in the 51s.”
The Quakers will be running beside a familiar foe on Friday as East Liverpool’s 1600 team will be running right beside them in the second heat.
The Quakers and Potters finished 1-2 at the Columbiana County Meet a month ago. East Liverpool’s qualifying time of 3:28.15 is the slowest of the 16 relay teams.
“It will be fun to run against them again,” Crittenden said. “We’ll give them a good race. If we run our usual race, we think they’ll be chasing us.”