City Honors freshman Rachael Ruhland sprinted across the finish line and immediately dropped to her knees on the All High Stadium track. The 1,500-meter champion was overcome not by fatigue, but by exhilaration.
It was that kind of day for the Centaurs.
City Honors claimed five of the 10 girls events at the Buffalo Public Schools track and field championship meet Wednesday afternoon. Hutch-Tech pieced together an impressive performance on the boys side, winning three events.
Ruhland (who won the 1,500-meter final last year as an eighth-grader) prepared to defend her title with sprint workouts, which she said “wound your ego and your body.”
“I really love this race,” said Ruhland, who also ran on City Honors’ third-place 4 x 800 team. “People kept telling me, ‘you’re going to win it this year,’ and I didn’t want to disappoint.”
Hutch-Tech’s Robert Graves leaned forward just ahead of the second-place finisher, City Honors’ Jeriff Sanchez, in one of the most edge-of-your-seat thrilling events, the 110-meter hurdles.
“My stomach was hurting before the gun like crazy,” Graves said between huffs and puffs moments after winning the race. “I was so nervous, it’s ridiculous. I usually come in first, but this is All High finals.”
The race was dead even until the fifth hurdle, when Graves said he “felt his technique kick in and it was smooth the rest of the way.”
Graves was not the only champion who admitted to dealing with unsettling nerves. Centaurs freshman Julia Ziaja, who was arguably the most dominant athlete in the entire competition, said she was “really nervous” and kept looking over her shoulder to see if a competitor would catch up.
Ziaja won the girls’ 100- and 200-meter races and ran the second leg of the Centaurs’ victorious 4 x 100 relay.
Ziaja got called up to varsity when one of City Honors’ track stars, Leah Ganey, went down with a hamstring injury.
“She’s just been tearing it up,” City Honors coach Dave Curry said. “It’s amazing. She’s our fastest runner now, so it’s been a nice surprise.”
In other action, Olmsted’s Delenci Shannon-Brown powered his arms and legs just enough to outstretch Hutch-Tech’s Jamie McQuiller and win the boys’ 400 meters with a time of 50.9. Shannon-Brown also narrowly won the 200.
Olmsted owned both 400-meter finals. On the girls’ side, it came down to two Owls vying for the top spot on the podium.
Brittany Higgs (1:01.4), running in lane 4, edged teammate Erika Thompson (1:01.7), who ran in lane 5.
While City Honors and Olmsted dominated the girls side and Hutch-Tech took home much of the hardware on the boys side, 16 schools competed at a high level and Burgard, MST at Seneca, McKinley, daVinci, East, Performing Arts and Emerson also earned top-three finishes.
In regular season team competition, the Olmsted girls and Hutch-Tech boys team both went 15-0 to claim the titles.
As the Buffalo Public Schools track and field season came to a close, Centaurs coach Curry concluded it wasn’t his team’s copious medals that made him most proud.
“Seeing all the girls love it, that’s the best thing,” he said. “They come across that line, they’re so happy after all their work.”
As the scorching sun gave way to shade and a cool breeze, nerves were settled, champions were crowned and athletes like Rachael Ruhland left All High Stadium feeling triumphant.