Byrne’s bid is 2nd best
All year, North Harrison High School senior Tyler Byrne had talked about going head-to-head against North Central High School sophomore Futsum Zeinasellassie, who has dominated long-distance running in Indiana. Byrne, however, also has dominated, not losing a race this year heading into Saturday’s state final at Indiana University.
Their matchup became an instant classic, but Byrne had to settle for second place, just two seconds behind Zeinasellassie.
‘I wanted to end my career with a win, obviously,’ Byrne, who won the 3,200 at the regional in a time of 9:28.27, said after the race. ‘I thought today the two-mile was my best bet, and I was trying to set some goals of my own. Futsum is a great runner and a great competitor, and I knew he would definitely be able to challenge me. It didn’t exactly end up how I wanted it.’
There were a lot of things leading up to the 3,200 meters, however; some good and some not so good.
South Central Junior-Senior High School high-jumper Chris O’Connor’s effort fell into the latter category. He had come to the girls’ state finals the day before to get a preview of what his day would be like on Saturday. On his opening jump of 6-2, O’Connor failed badly to clear the height, admitting later to being more nervous than he thought he would be.
‘I’ve had butterflies for a week just thinking about it and coming up here,’ O’Connor said. ‘Once I got up here, it blew me away being up here, seeing all these great athletes. ‘ You have to get past that.’
On his second attempt, it appeared the Rebel senior had cleared the bar, landing safely on the pad. As he looked up, however, he watched as the bar came down and the judge put up a red flag to signal a failed attempt. O’Connor questioned the decision, but the call stood. He also failed on his third attempt, ending his meet and high school career.
‘He said it blew off by the wind,’ Rebel coach Rob Murawski said. ‘I had my back turned because I thought he cleared 6-2. ‘ Then, my assistant told me it fell off. I think it broke his concentration. He had a pretty good practice yesterday. He had two warm-ups today. He just didn’t quite pull it out right there.’
‘It felt like my best jump so far,’ O’Connor said. ‘I clearly thought I was over it and caught a bad break with the wind. I knew I didn’t touch the bar. I knew the wind knocked it off. I should have been upset if that was my third attempt ‘ but I got another shot at it and I just missed it that time … ‘
‘He had a great year,’ Murawski said. ‘You can’t complain. He’s a great kid. He had a great year at conference. He was a three-time conference champion … a sectional champ, a regional finalist, a state finalist. What else can you ask for from a kid from a 1-A school?’
North Harrison freshman Jonathon Reynolds got his first taste at the state finals with his competition in the 1,600-meter run, thanks to Byrne, who had finished first at the regional, scratching out of the event to focus on his 3,200-meter race. That opened the door for Reynolds who finished fourth at the regional.
‘He told me it would go out crazy fast,’ Reynolds said. ‘I kind of figured it, and it proved him right at the beginning.’
Reynolds, the only freshman in the field, started from the back of the pack, but after the first lap, he began to move up. The Cougar freshman continued to move up on his second and third laps and then made a big move on his final circuit, passing several runners. Reynolds finished a respectable 16th in a time of 4:26.59.
‘Since the race went out pretty fast, I knew some guys would probably come back a little bit,’ Reynolds said. ‘The third lap, I picked off a couple of people, then the last lap I got out on the outside and got a couple more people on that lap. It turned out pretty good.’
‘He’s a real smart runner,’ coach Joe Kellum said. ‘He’s been running his races like that all season. He knows his pace. Tim Martin has taught him very well. Tim is his distance coach, and he’s really done well with his thinking. A thinking man’s race is that mile, and you’ve got to make those tactical moves when you’ve got to make them.’
Later in the meet came the race those in the long-distance world knew would be one to watch, the 3,200. Byrne, one of five runners in the outer box, got a good start, getting up front in the top five. Zeinasellassie was a few places behind but was holding his position.
Midway through the race, a group of runners surged toward the front. Byrne became surrounded and had to bump and grind his way to the outside to make up his lost ground, about six to eight positions.
‘It was definitely packed in there, having to shorten your strides,’ he said. ‘I tried to just make a lane to go to the outside, and a few guys eventually let me out. ‘ For about a hundred meters, I was just trying to work my way back up to the outside because I didn’t want to get stuck and out of position for the end.’
After getting out of the jumble, Byrne pushed his way back to the front. The North Harrison senior surged forward and took the lead with about 500 meters to go. Byrne led Zeinasellassie by three steps at the start of the final lap. Zeinasellassie tried to make a move on the back stretch, but Byrne fended off the attack. With 75 meters to go, however, Zeinasellassie had one other gear to push past Byrne and get a two-second win in a time of 9:05.96. Byrne’s time of 9:07.99 matched his personal best.
‘He waited a little bit longer for his kick,’ Byrne said. ‘He was able to get me the last 50 to 75 meters. With about 200 to go, I could just feel my legs kind of going on me. I tried to keep pushing, but it didn’t last.’
The race ended Byrne’s high school career but not his running career. The North Harrison graduate will run for the University of Louisville.
‘I’ve been very fortunate over the years,’ he said. ‘Not too many injuries and not too many sicknesses. ‘ Every race, I’m in it to win it. I obviously want to win. It’s a little disappointing, but runner-up, I’m happy with it and all. I’ve got another four years ahead of me now, so it’s a fresh start.’