INDIANAPOLIS — Zaimar Burnett wanted to finish his high school track and field career with a bang, and the Marion senior did just that in Ben Davis’ Giant Stadium Friday evening.
Burnett chased a state championship in both events he qualified for at the IHSAA’s 117th-annual boys state track championships and doubled his medal count for his outstanding four-year career.
Though Burnett was the only Grant County athlete to bring home hardware, the five local underclassmen to compete gained valuable experience and insight to the spectacle of state track meets, while Oak Hill senior Mason McKinney and Eastbrook senior Hayden Raikes each capped stellar years and careers as one of the fastest athletes in the state in their respective events.
As has been the case throughout the tournament, Burnett took only his three preliminary long jumps to start his day of competition. After fouling on the first attempt, he leaped 23-feet on his second and stood in second-place after the first of three flights, each filled by nine competitors.
Burnett’s distance was third best when all 27 athletes had finished, and despite opting not to take another jump in the final round because of the 200-meter trials, he claimed a third-place medal and was narrowly beaten by Boonville senior Devin Mockobee (23-3.75) and junior Stephen Snydor (23-2.75) of Hamilton Southeastern.
“I feel great. All the times I’ve qualified at regional for (long jump) but I always scratched it because I did the 200,” Burnett said. “To come here and place third, I feel good. I was aiming for top-3.”
Burnett entered the 200-meter heat races as the No. 11 seed based off his time from the Marion Regional (22.46 seconds), but he ran his half lap in 21.97 seconds to win his race and entered the finals as the only runner to break 22 seconds.
He shaved .06 off his time in the finals, but crossed the finish line as the 200-meter runner-up to Harrison junior Connor Czajkowski (21.55). Burnett earned a sixth-place finish in the state 200 as a sophomore in 2019.
Burnett’s facial expression said disappointment as he stood on the podium and received his runner-up medal, but by the time he retreated to his teammates and coaches behind the stadium, it had subsided a bit as he proudly sported both medals.
“After the first time I ran (at state) and came in sixth, sixth to second that’s still good. I’m good with second,” Burnett said. “I feel like I could have done better. My stomach was feeling weird before the first race. Whatever I ate but didn’t sit right, but I just pushed through.”
“Zaimar approaches it like any other meet and he’s been afforded the opportunity to come down here three times. We’d like to think it would have been four last year,” said Marion coach Nate Larson. “He’s very much aware of what’s going on, what the competition level is like, to him it’s another meet.
“To us, in the last one we wanted to see him put the hardware on, and we’re super excited for him.”
Marion junior Cubie Jones had a preliminary long jump of 20-feet, 6-inches, which was short of the distance he needed to qualify for the finals, and he ultimately finished 22nd in the state.
“I think it was a great experience for him. Maybe a little nerves,” Larson said of Jones. “We love Cubie. He’s so coachable. He’s such a great athlete. I know he was disappointed, you could see it in his face. We tried to tell him only 27 guys in the state of Indiana come down here and jump and you were one of them.”
The day’s most excruciating disappointment was endured by Mississinewa’s Hayden Nelson. The sophomore fired out of the starting blocks in the 100-meter preliminary round and led for more than half the race. But as the fast-nine approached the finish line, three competitors managed to get by Nelson. The top four was separated by only .07-seconds.
Unfortunately for Nelson, his 11.17-second dash left .01 from qualifying for the finals and he ultimately finished as the 10th-fastest dasher in the state.
Nelson, along with sophomore classmates Jayden Crick and Trevon Hess and junior Payton McPeak, finished the 4x100 relay in 43.847 seconds and 23rd overall.
“Everbody had the wind knocked out of them after the Hayden preliminary. He was so close and it just didn’t work out for him,” said Ole Miss coach Ean VanWinkle. “The coaches, we kept our mouths shut and let the 4x1 group talk to each other and about an hour we were back ready to compete again.
“They gave great effort. The time was probably appropriate for what they normally run because everybody ran a little slow today, including all the 4x1s from Warren Central, Center Grove, all the big boys. It was about the same margin of slowness,” he added. “We’re going to be hungry for next year. You learn a lot of lessons, not just out here (on the track), you learn a lot lessons just how to manage yourself before they start. They’re building huge experiences being sophomores and one junior. We’re excited about next year.”
The official results show Oak Hill’s McKinney ran a 50-second flat 400-meter dash, but only after the time was rounded up from his 49.993-second lap.
Either way, McKinney’s time was a career best and good enough for a 15th-place finish. He was less than a second from finishing third.
“I think it was God’s plan and I think it was a perfect spot for me,” McKinney said. “I PR’d, I placed four spots higher than what I was supposed to, so I think it was a good day overall.”
“I know he’s disappointed because he didn’t win his heat, but I said ‘Dude, you PR’d, and you finish 15th in the state of Indiana in anything in one class sport you’ve got to take it,’” said Oak Hill coach Paige Brunner. “I said if you would have run 51 or 52 today I’d let you pout on the way home, but I’m not going to let you be upset.
“He’s a competitor and he wanted to win that race,” he added. “A great end to a great career, a great end to an unbelievable senior season.”
The last race in Raikes’ career resulted in a 15.30-second run over the 110 hurdles, which ultimately left him .32 seconds shy of qualifying for the finals and gave him a 16th-place finish.
Still Raikes, who is the valedictorian in Eastbrook’s class of 2021, capped a stellar year and career with a strong showing on the state’s biggest stage.
“He ran a nice race, but you can’t just run a nice race when you’re running against incredible competition,” said Eastbrook coach Stu Goble. “A lot of us found that out today. Rough start, and after that the race was almost decided at that point. For the season it was like his third or fourth best time, just when you’re running against the best you need it to be your best time.
“It’s hard for seniors today. He’s graduating today and you’ve probably got a little bit of that on your mind when you’re trying to do this,” he added. “The last time you get to be with your classmates. He ran a great race, it just wasn’t good enough today. That all. It’s hard to be on every time.”
Carmel scored 68 points to easily capture the team championship ahead of Brownsburg (40), Center Grove (38) and Fishers (32). Harrison and Warren Central tied for fifth with 24.
Burnett scored 15 points which resulted in a 12th-place finish for Marion among the 76 teams that scored at least one point.