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Injury, illness can’t spoil national meet experience for Polk County runners

That its time on a national stage didn’t end quite as expected Friday for Polk County’s boys 4×800-meter relay team took nothing away from the experience for the team and its coaches.

“These kids had a blast,” said Polk County assistant coach Jenny Wolfe. “They had the time of their lives.”

The Wolverines had hoped to make a mark on the New Balance Nationals Outdoor track and field meet, an annual gathering of elite high school track and field athletes from across the United States. The meet, which runs through Sunday, is being held on the campus of North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, the same venue at which Polk County won in May the state outdoor 2A 4×800-meter title and posted a qualifying time for the New Balance event.

FullSizeRender (2)But injury and illness prevented Polk County’s group from returning to the track and truly measuring itself against the 43 other teams registered for the event. Junior Nate Smart was not cleared to participate after recently suffering a concussion while junior Jacob Wolfe has been sidelined by mononucleosis since the state meet. New Balance rules prevent teams from substituting alternate runners, so Polk County began Friday’s race knowing it wouldn’t finish. The Wolverines officially recorded a “did not finish” in the event.

“Sean ran the first leg and led the first lap,” Wolfe said. “He handed off to Caleb for the second leg, and Caleb was right there at the front. We were seeded 12th in the heat but we were second after two legs. We were right in it. It was amazing.

“Wolfe did an entire lap, but then he had to step off the track. That’s all he could do. Caleb and Sean got to have the glory, and it was awesome for them to have that.”

As juniors, Doyle, Smart and Wolfe will have one more opportunity to make the national event. For Brown, who will attend The Citadel this fall, the race offered a perfect way to cap what has been a stellar senior year.

“It was awesome to be around world-class athletes and to get out and see a lot of talent,” Brown said. “Being able to run against such good athletes was a neat experience.

“My attitude coming in was that it was my last race ever, so I might as well enjoy it and make the best of it and having fun with the boys while I still can.”

Brown began running just over a year ago, joining Polk County’s track program in the spring of his junior year. That began a journey in which he was part of three state championship relay teams this season as well as a Western Highlands Conference team title.

Getting to return after graduation and lace up his shoes one more time served as the proverbial icing on the cake.

“It’s been truly amazing,” Brown said. “I realized how blessed we are to be on such a good team. It’s hard to get four athletes who run good 400 or good 800 times together, so it’s been very special to me.

“At the state meet, when I realized we qualified for nationals, I was ecstatic. It was awesome to be able to toe up the line one more time.”

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