CROWN POINT — It did not take long for Merrillville to show it was the top team at Tuesday's Duneland Athletic Conference boys track and field triangular.
In the first track event of the day, Merrillville used a come-from-behind effort to win the 4x800-meter relay. Highlighted by anchor Jeremie Lander, the Pirates finished with a time of 8 minutes, 30.89 seconds. Lander started the last leg a few strides behind Crown Point anchor Sebastian Ashbach, but he was able to pass him early on and lead his team to a comfortable victory.
“My mindset was just to win,” Lander said. “I know us and Crown Point are very close, so my coach told me to do whatever it takes to win. And that’s what I did. I trailed off of (Ashbach) for the first 200 meters and then just took off because I had more gas in the tank.”
Lander also took home third place in the 1,600 (4:42.55) and said that he’s pleased to be contributing on varsity as a sophomore. He added that he wants to break the school record in the 1,600, 4x800 relay and 800, but he wasn’t the only one to have a big day for Merrillville.
The team was also led by senior Jawanza Williams, who finished second in the long jump (21 feet, 3 inches), third in the 100 (11.54) and anchored a first-place finish in the 4x100 relay (42.93). Williams couldn’t hide his smile after a strong performance for the Pirates and said that he was grateful to come through for his squad.
“I was really nervous when they first told me I was going to be the fourth leg,” said Williams, who has committed to Purdue Fort Wayne. “I just started doing it this year. I kept thinking, ‘What if they pass me up at the end?' But I’ve been doing pretty good so far. I haven’t gotten hawked or nothing.”
Williams just joined the track and field team last season and said that he owes a lot to Merrillville coach Patrick Coffey for recruiting him and helping him earn a college scholarship. Coffey said his team showed a bit of its potential against a couple of conference foes and commended Williams and Lander for their efforts in multiple events. But he also made it clear that he's paying close attention to their workload.
“The ultimate goal is to try and get as many (athletes) as we can down to state, if the opportunity is there,” Coffey said. “It’s fun, and we want to do well. But at the same time, we don’t want to do it at the expense of anyone’s health.”
Merrillville defeated Lake Central 83-49. It also beat Crown Point 86-46.
Crown Point was led by a strong outing from Chaqwan Williams. The junior took home first place in the 100-meter dash, 200 and led off for the Bulldogs’ first-place finish in the 4x400 relay.
He won the 100 in 11.36 seconds and the 200 in 22.58. The 4x400 relay finished in 3:26.25.
Williams said his team was reminded all week by head coach Keith Iddings and assistant coach Erik Forehand that Merrillville was the projected favorite, and he took it personal. After winning the 100 and 200, Williams pumped his fist and yelled with excitement.
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He explained that his passion wasn’t directed toward any of the opposing teams but rather he was pumping himself up and trying to inspire his teammates.
“I think the mindset we had today, we need to keep it and build on it,” Williams said. “We see what we can do when we’re motivated.”
In addition to Williams’ performance, junior Quinton Bock earned a victory in the 3,200 for Crown Point with a time of 9 minutes, 59.30 seconds. After crossing the finish line, Bock collapsed to the ground from exhaustion and lied flat on his back.
Iddings commended Bock for going all out and said he’s worked extremely hard to continue improving his times.
“He’s been trying to break 10 minutes,” Iddings said. “He’s had a 10:06 and 10:07, so to break 10 minutes today was a tremendous accomplishment for him. It was something he really wanted to do, so it was great to see it happen for him.”
Crown Point edged Lake Central 82-50.
Jordan Duggan does not lack confidence.
Lake Central’s standout sophomore earned a first-place finish in the 1,600-meter run and also notched a personal record. Duggan finished in 4 minutes, 36.27 seconds and said he enjoyed facing some of the DAC’s best athletes.
“I think when I’m versing some of the top guys, it’s a real confidence booster,” Duggan said. “It pushes me to go harder, so that I can contribute more to my team and so we can be better and move up in the conference.”
Lake Central coach Jeff Rhody believes Duggan and the rest of his young team are just beginning to scratch the surface of what it can really accomplish. The Indians only have four seniors and are relying on a number of underclassmen to hold their own at the varsity level.
“We’ve got a good group of sophomores and (Jordan) is definitely one of those guys we’re going to look to in the future,” Rhody said. “But he’s where he needs to be right now.”