There was never a question about Alex Thornburg's running abilities at the high school level.
The former St. Clairsville standout signed with Loyola of Chicago to continue his running careers and has battled a fair share of injuries.
However, this spring, he was healthy and showed just what he could do. Thornburg won the 3000-meter steeplechase at the Horizon League Championships earlier this month in a time of 9:23.76.
"(Winning the conference title) was awesome," Thornburg said during a recent phone interview. "I was excited. I had a really big kick down the stretch, which I normally don't have. I think I was just feeding off my teammates' energy."
It was Thornburg's last chance to win the Horizon League crown. He's got another season of eligibility, but Loyola is moving to the Missouri Valley Conference next season.
Thornburg's time at the conference meet was a personal record by eight seconds, but he wants to go lower because 9-minutes would have earned him a ticket to the NCAA Midwest regionals.
"My training hasn't quite been there," Thornburg admitted. "The 9:23 was a pretty big P.R. and being fairly close to the regional time is quite a bit of motivation. The regional meet is a really big goal of mine."
Thornburg became the Ramblers' top steeplechase entrant. He also ran the school's best time for the season in the 2000-meter event. He posted a 6:01.89 at a meet at Vanderbilt.
Not bad for a guy who doesn't even hardly get to practice the event.
"We don't have a water pit (at our track)," Thornburg pointed out. "But, I've been able to get better and better at it."
Thornburg was afforded the opportunity to run at the prestigious Mt. Sac Relays in California this season.
"I didn't run as well as I had hoped to there, but it was really cool," Thornburg said. "It was a huge opportunity for me and I am glad my coach took me."
Alex and his younger brother Andy, who runs for UNC-Asheville, crossed paths once at the Raleigh Relays, but didn't race against one another.
"He was in the 5K and I was in the steeple, but it was cool getting a chance to see and hang out with him," Alex said.
Thornburg, who is a computer science major, is also doing quite well in the classroom. He's entering an internship working for the Chicago mayor's office. He begins that on June 17 and will be in the Windy City all summer.
Alex is on track to graduate next May.
"It's been a lot of fun and it's gone almost too quickly," Thornburg confessed.
DECISION WITH NO REGRETS
In April, we wrote a column about how we disagreed with River High School's decision not to move its graduation off of a day when the Pilots' track teams would be competing in the district finals.
That day has come and gone and it went with Cassidy McCullough - the Lady Pilots' standout senior - not thinking twice about her decision to miss commencement to focus on her quest for the Division III state track meet.
"It was a tough decision, but one I that I knew, in the end, would be the right decision," McCullough said after winning her third gold medal of the meet. "I didn't really think about it until I went to (graduation) practice."
McCullough, who finished ranked sixth in her graduating class, actually attended commencement practice Thursday and recorded the benediction, which her class rank earned her the right to give during the commencement.
"I was fine with it until I recorded that benediction and it kind of hit me," McCullough said. "But, it is what it is."
While a majority of the River High seniors voted against moving the date, McCullough knew she had plenty of support at that graduation.
"My best friend actually put my name and school on her (graduation) cap, so she was really there for me through the whole thing," McCullough said. "Some people weren't the best about it, but they just don't understand because they don't play sports."
McCullough enters this week's regional at Lancaster Fairfield Union with the top time in both the low hurdles and 200 meter dash. She's seeded second in the 100.
Obviously, the she'll receive that sheepskin in due time. However, she wouldn't have had the opportunity that she has this weekend without missing. But again, as we wrote previously, it's a decision that shouldn't have been made.
The regional track and field championship gets under way this afternoon. The four-day extravaganza will trim the field down to the final 16 competitors in each of the 17 contested events for next week's OHSAA State Track and Field Championship at the Jesse Owens Memorial Track Complex at The Ohio State University.
Local teams in Division III begin today and finish on Friday. The area girls' schools are split. Some head to Lancaster Fairfield Union and others go to Navarre. All of the boys are ticketed for Navarre.
The Division II representatives will trek to Athens to run at The Plains High School on Thursday and Saturday. The weekday meets all begin at 4 p.m. and Saturday's action begins at 11 a.m.
Often times, we don't hear about the good things that so many of the young people are doing these days. I witnessed one first hand Friday evening at Newcomerstown for the Division III Eastern District Track Championship.
The girls' 4x4 was on the track and one of the runners from Strasburg passed the baton to her teammate. After the grueling 400 meters, she was staggering, almost falling before Martins Ferry junior Sarah Applegarth swooped and in basically caught the runner and helped her to a bench near the finish line.
Applegarth is an outstanding runner and contributor for the Lady Riders, but she proved on Friday that she's an even better person. That characteristic will take her far in life. We salute you, Sarah!
ON THE MOVE
St. Clairsville High product Dominic Prezzia - a state wrestling runnerup in 2011 - has enjoyed two solid years at West Virginia University. However, he's decided that he's going to pursue his wrestling elsewhere. He's transferring before next season and is still in the process of narrowing down where he's heading, but he's considering Ohio State, Pitt and Maryland. He's actually visiting OSU this Thursday.
RIVER HIGH product D.J. Duke completed his junior outdoor track season at Ashland at last weekend's NCAA Division II national meet in Pueblo, Colorado. Duke finished 13th in the competition with a mark of 54-ft-6.
THE OHSAA IS expected to announce the classifications for football and other fall sports on June 13. Also, at that time, the schedule for the state football finals will be formally announced. It's believed to be that Division III will play on Thursday, Division I on Friday night and Division II on Saturday. The other four divisions remain unclear.
Staskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org