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State Track Feature: Whiteoak Wildcats ready to make history at Division III State Championships

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Two sets of brothers in (l-r) Weston Blair, Landen Eyre, Sawyer Blair and Keegan Eyre have qualified for a combined four events at the Division III OHSAA State Track and Field Championships. (Photo courtesy of Doug Hughes)
Stephen Forsha, The Highland County Press

SUGAR TREE RIDGE — Two sets of brothers are set to represent Whiteoak High School this week at the Division III OHSAA State Track and Field Championships, as the Eyre and Blair brothers have qualified for a combined four events at the highest level to compete in high school competition in Ohio.

The lone senior is Weston Blair, and the lone junior is Landen Eyre, while the two sophomores are Keegan Eyre and Sawyer Blair. The group of four will be running in the 4x800-meter relay on Thursday, while Landen Eyre has qualified for two individual events, the 3200-meter run and the 1600-meter run. Weston Blair will be battling in the 800-meter run as an individual competitor.

First, with Landen Eyre, the junior enters the 3200m run with the best time at any regional, that being 9:24.20 for a first-place finish and regional championship. At districts this year in the 3200m run, he was first with a time of 9:15.03, and in the Southern Hills Athletic Conference championships he was also first place at 10:08.78.

Eyre spoke about getting back to state once again, giving his thoughts on having the top time entering state.  

“It’s really exciting. It wasn't a surprise, because I've worked really hard for a few years,” he said. “It’s not really any added pressure because at this point, everyone knows that I am a competitor for a state title. I think it was not expected for me to be ranked number one, but expected for me to be ranked at least like in the top five.

“I've worked a lot harder this year and last year. This year, I quit basketball so I could do indoor track, and I think that helped a lot. Just harder training in general, and more motivation, because knowing that you're a competitor for a state title, it just motivates me more than anything.”

Then, in the 1600m run at regionals, his state-qualifying time was 4:19.38 for a third-place finish. Before that, at the district championship event, Eyre was first place at 4:24.28, and to start the postseason at the SHAC Championship, he was first place with a time of 4:35.07.

“The 1600, it was my favorite race last year, but this year, it's not. I've grown on the 3200 a lot more because of my showing at the state cross-country meet,” Eyre said. “I came out state runner-up, and that really notified me that I was better the longer the distance and the race gets. I really like the length of the race, and like I said before, I just really think I am way better the longer that race gets.”

Eyre also talked about whether he expected to make three events at state, and what it is like to race on a relay team with his brother and close friends.

“I expected to make two. The 4x8, everyone's worked hard, so it's not surprising anymore, because I see how hard everyone works on our team. It's really cool to go with a squad of brothers, and even before it was a squad of brothers, it was still cool, because we still all got to train together all the time. I think it motivated the two younger ones to get better, so then they could go to the state meet with me and Weston.”

Even with all his success this postseason, Eyre is only focused on the goal ahead.

“It feels good, but my mind is not focused on what happened at regionals. My mind is focused on what's going to happen ahead. When everyone steps up to that line, the times go out the window, and it's a battle for who wants to win a state championship and racing against that level of competition,” he said. “It's fun. I've grown to be friends with my competition and not enemies, so that's really cool. At the state level, everyone likes each other. There's no real rivalries. Everyone's friends, and everyone wants to do good, so that relieves some pressure.”

Weston Blair is a highly ranked athlete at the 800m state event, going into the race with a regional time of 1:56.45, a third-place finish. During the district 800m race, Blair was second at 1:56.90, and when the SHAC meet took place, Blair was second with a time of 1:58.98.

“I've never, never gone into a race not wanting to win it. I mean, my goal is obviously to win, but I'm still happy to make it,” he said. “Every race I'm right there with the guys, right at the top of it. I think I'm ranked fifth, but it's a half second behind first, so I'm ready to go out and run, see what we can do against those guys.

“From the beginning of the season in the 800, my goal was making it back to state. I struggled with some injuries last year, so it was good to get back this year.”

Blair spoke about the injuries to his lower leg and how he gradually worked his way back into running.

“Last track season, I had two stress fractures, one in my tibia and the other in my fibula. It took a lot [last] summer to overcome,” he said. “I wasn't able to run much. I did a lot of swimming training. I was in the pool almost every day just to stay in shape. Getting closer to the season, I was able to get back on it, and then I was able to work on it during the cross-country season. We’ve had no problems since — it was a long summer not being able to run, but we got back into it.”

Blair said he is proud to make the 4x800m relay race as well.

“Really, it's been great this year with them. I mean, being the anchor, they've put me in a good position most of the time,” he said. “Most races, I just have to bring it in for the win. Almost every race, they put me in a great position, and I just finish it out. Whatever they need, I usually got it, but they always put me in the right position for what we need to do for those races.”

Being that it is his senior season, Blair looked back and talked about the many people who helped him in his career.

“It's been great here at Whiteoak, all the support from all the coaches, all the staff. I mean, I love being at Whiteoak. It's a family here, and everyone's supportive of it,” he said. “Throughout my whole year, all the coaches I've had — from track, cross-country and basketball — all the coaches have helped me so much in all this, and I really enjoy being here. It means a lot.

“Thanks to all the teammates who have been here throughout the years. There's been a lot of guys that have helped me from a young age. The seniors when I first came here — who knows what would’ve happened if they didn't get me into running? If they would have ran me off, none of this would have happened. All of them, all the coaches, my family — a bunch of great people. It's not just one person who makes it. It's a group of people. I appreciate all that.”

The 4x800m relay team ran together at districts for a first-place finish at 8:18.78, and to qualify for state, the group of four was sixth place with a time of 8:14.68.

Whiteoak head coach Doug Hughes spoke about finding the right group of four to compete in the relay.

“Obviously, being the two brothers, knowing how genetics work, we figured that things would work out pretty well that way, but [Keegan and Sawyer] had turned into two of the hardest workers also. It wasn't all brothers all along. I have had several other kids in this race,” Hughes said. “I've used totally different kids, and we've won the 4x8 at different meets, because I have a lot of kids that have worked super hard. Everyone’s pretty good at it, so it did turn out at the end of the year that the two brothers were the next two best, and we plugged them in, and we kept getting lower and lower.

“The district really surprised me, how low they went at districts without really a whole lot of competition during that race. Then they cut off four more seconds, but they had to. They had to cut off those four seconds at regionals, and they did. Here we are at state, and we're going to try to cut off four more seconds and see if we can get down under 8:10. It’s harder to get down low, the lower you get, so it's going to be hard to cut four more seconds off. I’ve got some words for these guys, and I'm not going to count these four out of anything.”

Keegan Eyre — who’ll be racing on the 4x800 team — talked about making state for the first time in his high school career, as he’s the runner who starts it all at the beginning of the 4x8 race.

“It feels awesome, first time ever, so especially to qualify with my brother is pretty nice,” Keegan Eyre said. “It's awesome (being the first runner of the relay), getting out there and showing what I'm capable of and what the team is capable of, and there is lots of adrenaline.

“I feel like I've had a great season. I made it to regionals in the open 800, so I feel like that was pretty cool. Being able to run the 4x8 with two best friends and my brother was a lot of fun. It's awesome, being able to do it with people you know well and know what they can do.”

Keegan Eyre also spoke about how he got his start in running the event.

“I didn't really decide. My brother thought I'd be good at it, so I said, you know what, I'll try it out and see what I can do,” he said. “After the first two meets, I was getting a lot of compliments, and everyone was telling me that I can do better and get better from where I started and to see what I can do.”

Sawyer Blair also is making his state debut, and one word he used to describe his feelings was “exciting.”

“It’s been really exciting. This whole season is so exciting, just running the 4x8 all year with brothers and friends,” Sawyer Blair said. “This year is the first time I've ever run the 800, and it took me a couple of meets to still get into the 4x8. I didn't run it until about over half the season was over, and I got in it.

“It makes it so much fun, being so close to everyone on the relay team. We all get out and run together.”

Blair also talked about the 4x8 team cutting their time at regionals by nearly four seconds, plus what it is like to be the second leg of the relay team.

“That week, we worked really hard for about two days, and the other days, we just put in some miles, light easy miles, got some speed work in, and then we got some miles in,” he said. “As for the second runner of the relay team, Keegan gets (the baton) to me first, and I just try to hold on just as long as I can to get it to Landen so they can finish it out.

“It’s really tough, especially when you get into the handoff and everyone's there because you're not in your own lane, so everyone's bunched up. That's really hard to handle. It's really fun, getting it in first most of the time and just trying to hold on to it.”

Hughes spoke about coaching these four since they were in kindergarten and seeing them improve over time.

“The fun part is I had these kids in kindergarten. I know their ways. Weston was always a big-time runner, and Landen figured out he was about fifth and sixth grade, and we just kept on going from there, and it's been great,” Hughes said. “I coached from 2006 to 2010, and then my kids got into their sports back at school and I took that time off. I've got back into it.

“My son ran track, and I followed all his stuff, and I just never really got out of watching from afar. I probably learned a lot more than I knew in the first place when I coached, so it's really fun being back.

“Seeing these kids improve, from the kids that don't compete well to the kids that might be running for a state title — I love watching kids improve and give great effort, showing up every day, working hard and seeing the smile on their face when they see what they've gotten to,” Hughes continued. “It’s been great, and it's been very fulfilling, and hopefully these next two days kind of culminate and peak everything out just like they're going to peak out. I'm going to be proud no matter what happens.”

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