By Mark Huffman
ELKHART -- In a meet where two heavyweights collided, a collision of a different kind helped account for a four-point Penn victory over Central at Rice Field Tuesday night.
"In a meet like this, you can look at a number of things where if 'this' or 'that' would have happened it may have been the difference between winning and losing, but the turnaround had to be the 3200 relay -- that's a four-point swing," said Central coach Tom Kurth.
Headed into the first exchange, Central's relay runners collided and yielded a strong lead to the Penn contingent that would eventually secure a Kingsmen team victory.
Penn ended the Northern Indiana Conference three-way meet with 72 points, followed by Central with 68 and South Bend Clay with 27.
The conference favorites offered fans an exciting preview of next month's NIC Championship Meet battle, with no more than seven points separating the top two teams throughout the evening.
"Characteristic of this meet is the last race. What a competitive race. The whole group of kids from Penn, Central and Clay were all going at each other and that's what makes this fun,'' said Penn coach Brad Robertson. "It's always a big rivalry because it brings the best out of our kids."
Entering the meet ranked No.8 in the state on the basis of its strength in the field events, Clay also provided fans a look at some of the state's better athletes in the shot put, pole vault and long jump, winning all three events in convincing fashion.
Penn and Central staked claim to the remaining events and while the Blazers had seven individual firsts to Penn's six, the Kingsmen showed their depth with three more second-place finishes than the hosts.
"We both knew we were even and in meets that are close like this you have surprises and have disappointments and that will happen again in the conference meet," said Kurth.
In addition to Penn's 3200 relay win, Chris Effertz placed first in the 110 high hurdles and 300 intermediate hurdles, Tony West took the 200, Jay Dieringer was at top in the 400 and Ruchin Patel captured the 3200.
Placing first for the Blazers were Aric Woodward in the 800 and 1600, Jerimy Robinson in the 100, Ryan Martin in the high jump and Rashaun Curry in the pole vault. Woodward was also a member of the winning 1600 relay team, while Robinson was a member of the 400 and 1600 relay teams that placed first.
"That's the first time in his life that Jerimy has run the 100 and he had a great time (10.8). He also did a nice job in the relay," said Kurth, noting that the Blazer senior anchored the 1600 relay and captured the Penn runner on the backstretch after the Blazers had trailed the first three legs of the race.
Ben Strycker was also cited for his efforts, having to run the 400 after just stepping off the track from anchoring the 400 relay.
"Having Stuart Mayes out of the lineup caused us to juggle a few positions," Kurth said, referring to his senior sprinter, who was held out due to a hamstring injury. Mayes usually runs the 200 and 400.
"With Mayes in there, Strycker would have run the 200 and that probably would have given us some more points, but you have to work with what you've got. ... They probably had just a little bit more depth then we did," said Kurth.
Robertson agreed that the second and third spots played a huge role.
"The conference meet will probably come down to the three teams here, but it doesn't matter that we won this one because it's who can score the big points -- the firsts and seconds and thirds -- and I think our depth may have shown up a little bit here," he said.