There would be no repeat for the Coventry 800-meter relay team. That was a good thing.

There would be no repeat for the Coventry 800-meter relay team.

That was a good thing.

The Comets returned to the North Canton Division I district track meet carrying the memory of a narrow miss 12 months earlier. The team of Devon Jones, Jaret Skaggs, Kelan Siner and Zack Lake finished a close fifth at last year's district meet, missing out on a trip to the regional meet by one spot and less than one second.

Presented with an opportunity to reverse its fate, the quartet wasn't going to let that chance slide by.

"We were really upset last year, but we were young, with a sophomore, two freshman and a junior, but we were upset that we didn't make it," Skaggs said. "That was one of our big goals for this year, to get to regionals."

After placing fifth in the preliminaries, the Comets faced a deep field in the finals. Competing against much larger schools such as Massillon, North Canton Hoover, Jackson and Canton McKinley, they drew lane No. 2 and junior Devon Jones began the race staggered behind all but one team in the field.

"It was hard and chasing everyone was difficult, but I made up a little ground," Jones said.

Both Skaggs – running the third leg – and Jones knew that if they could gain ground in their respective legs of the race, they had one of the best closers in the race running the anchor leg. Lake, after all, was the winner of two individual events and two championship relay teams at the Portage Trail Conference Metro Division championships.

Lake took the baton a few meters behind Louisville for fourth place, but quickly pulled even and outran the Leopards' Andy Minster to finish .34 seconds ahead and claim fourth place, along with a spot at the regional meet.

"It was really exciting," Skaggs said. “Before the event we were pretty confident we could sneak into that fourth spot, maybe even third.”

Jones, still recovering from his leg of the race less than a minute earlier, wasn't initially aware of the results. He was with his teammates when head coach Danny Savage notified the group that they had qualified to move on.

"It was great knowing that you're going on," Jones said, noting that there was a raucous celebration when news of the fourth-place finish was delivered. "It was a little bit of both (excitement and relief)."

The district meet was doubly sweet for Skaggs and Jones, who also ran legs on the 1,600-meter relay team that broke the PTC meet record and qualified for regionals. Because the two relays are at opposite ends of the regional meet schedule, both runners will have a chance to rest up for that race after running the 800-meter relay.

Success in both races are heavily predicated not only upon speed, but on smooth handoffs that make an immense difference in close races contested by top teams. In the final weeks of the season, both Coventry relay teams have drilled down on their exchanges, knowing that a tenth of a second grasping for the baton could cost them at the finish line.

"We've been working a lot on handoffs and the (1,600 relay) was really claustrophobic at district," Skaggs said of handoffs within a crowded finish line atmosphere. "We're trying to work and make sure we're perfect."

Having conquered their district meet demons, the Comets have an added infusion of confidence and, while they won't let themselves think too far ahead, all six members of the relay teams are charging into the future with an expectation of success.

Reach Andy at 330-580-8396 or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB