One year ago, the Pike Boys won their regional with 84 points, over host North Central's 82 points. 8 days later, they would lose the state title to North Central by just one point, 42-41.
Well to say the least, very big things looked to be in store for this team. For a team that has never won a state title, 2020 looked to put an end to that
Returning such a large number of athletes from a state championship caliber team is rare. Usually the athletes that are on the varsity roster come tournament time are upperclassmen with a majority being seniors. Pike's 2019 team was made up of a majority of sophomores and juniors. Which would prove to be a vital key to being the No.1 team in 2020.
Their biggest player, Jahn Riley, appeared set for a big season. Riley competed in the 100, 200, 400 and was a member of the 4x4 team. He placed 7th in the 100, 2nd in the 200 and 1st in the 400 as well as assisted Pike to a 2nd place finish in the 4x4.
Riley after the 2019 State Meet
This year, Riley had big individual as well as team goals. He had hopes of breaking both the 200 and 400 state records. At the 2019 state meet, he virtually tied HSE Junior, Noah Malone in the 200, with both crossing in 21.31, just .21 off the state record. So in one years time, with proper training staying in place there was a great chance of either Riley or Malone breaking the record, or potentially both for the matter. The 400 appeared to be one that may be more challenging as he would need to take about half a second off his state meet time to break David Neville's record of 46.99. He would also likely need the help of his competitors to push him just a little more. Breaking records isn't something that can be done completely solo, having competition there to help push you even that extra little bit can prove vital.
Interestingly enough, Riley had taken on an event we rarely see traditional sprint athletes step up to. The 800. Indoors he had run a best of 2:05.46 in early March. That is by no means a time that would have won him many open 800 events. But the additional endurance training this gave him, would likely turn right back over into the 200 and 400 and make him that much more of a competitor.
Riley didn't just want those two records for himself, he also wanted to see his team break the 4x400 record of 3:13.66 set way back in 1980. The Red Devils ran a 3:18.19 last year at the state meet, so each member of the team would need to drop just over 1 second from their times to accomplish this large undertaking. Every member from the 2019 team would have returned this year, it was very likely that they all would've made strong improvements and been able to lower their time enough. But just like Riley in the 400, they would've needed some strong competition to step up and push them along as well. Relays can be even tougher to break records if there is no one else to race you.
For Pike to win a title, they would need more than Jahn Riley though to do so. Another key player was looking to be Kehinde Oladapo. He took 20th last year in the 800 finals, but had been a part of Pike's 4x800 team earlier in the day that took 3rd overall from the first heat. Oladapo was to be the No.9 returner from the state meet in the 800. Now that doesn't make him immediately sound like a major threat in the event, but take into account who his coaching staff is, the same coaches that coached Elizabeth Stanhope to breaking the state record.
With a similar training regiment to Stanhope's, Pike would've been a force to reckon with in any event featuring the 800. Oladapo surely would have been a threat to win the 800 as well as assist the team in winning the 4x800 with teammates Alijah Anderson and Keyshawn Harris returning as well. Only one spot would've needed filled, but with new talent coming in from all areas of athletics that spot wouldn't take long to be filled and improved upon.
The 4x8 team after a 3rd place finish in 2019
These two athletes would prove to be a big part of Pike's success this year on the track, but newcomers and underclassmen would also look for their time to shine as Kalen Cummings, Troy Golden, Lamar Echols, Kevin Reed and Malachi Gornik all looked like they were set for major improvements from the year before.
There's potential to win a state title without strong field events, the North Central girls showed that last year, scoring just one point in the field. But the boys of Pike were not going to settle for letting their track athletes do most of the work come state.
Zavier Simpson was looking to make a return to the high jump pit this year, after sitting all of 2019 out due to an injury. In his freshman season, he cleared 6'5". In 2020 he opened his season clearing 6'6" indoors. As long as Simpson was able to stay healthy and keep improving, he would have proved valuable to the team in the jumps area.
The team's throws, that's where we would have had to just wait and see what improvements could have taken place. Last year, they had no throwers compete at the sectional level. The addition of new coach Orlando Lowry, former Indianapolis Colts Linebacker and thrower at Ohio State would have likely boosted the program.
The 2021 season will see some big voids that need to be filled for the Pike team with losses of athletes like Jahn Riley and Kehinde Oladapo, but overall the Red Devils again do not lose many athletes to graduation. Looking towards next season, as athletes continue to improve, the potential for Pike just increases. A single point will no longer remain between the Red Devils and a state championship.
The loss of 2020 for this team is a big hit to the "What if?" question that will always be in our minds.