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After close calls, Cheektowaga’s Whelan heading for states

YORKSHIRE — Tim Whelan sought redemption.

The Cheektowaga junior found it Saturday afternoon. Whelan was one of many Section VI athletes who earned a spot in next weekend’s New York State Track and Field Championships in Middletown.

Friday, Whelan came in third in the 800 meters. Last year, he missed states by .19 seconds. Saturday, he claimed the Division II 1,600 run in 4:24.93 to punch his ticket to Middletown.

“I knew I could do it,” said Whelan, who entered the race as the No. 2 seed and is considering UB and Cornell for college. “I believed in myself and believed in my training. My motivation was redemption.”

In all, there were 62 finals Saturday. Each of the first-place finishers automatically qualified for states as did some runners-up who met the state standard.

Whelan was just one of the compelling storylines.

Lockport’s 4x100 relay broke a longstanding Section VI record. The foursome of Alex Reid, Andy Reid, Josh Beshaw and Nick Hamilton ran a 42.26 to eclipse the 1986 record of 42.35 held by Bennett.

Amherst’s Michael-Jordan Morris gets comments about his name every day, and he enjoys them – he also believes he could beat the real MJ in a 110 hurdle race. After his performance at Pioneer Saturday, anyone in the audience would be hard-pressed to disagree.

Morris took the Division II 110 hurdles in 15.89 seconds in a too-close-to-call finish that resulted in the sophomore edging Salamanca senior Evan Harrington, who finished in 15.92.

“I’m at a disadvantage because I’m shorter,” the 5-foot-8 Morris said. “I just believe in myself and show people that I deserve to be here.”

Grand Island junior Kevin Freedman won the Division I category of the 110 hurdles. He took several ice baths Friday night to relax and calm his nerves.

So, did they work? Not completely. “I was still a little nervous,” he smiled.

Tonawanda junior Robert Liebel finished second in qualifying for the Division II 400, but he said he knew he could win the race.

“Qualifying, I was jogging that,” said Liebel, who won the same race two years ago.

Last year, he was battling an injury and finished last in the 400. It was a moment he was determined to rectify Saturday.

Liebel finished 11th at states as a freshman.

“I was just happy to go,” Liebel said. “I wanted to win this race to make it back.”

Two athletes thoroughly dominated the boys sprinting events. Amherst’s Lamont Smith (Division II) and West Seneca East’s Andy Smigiera (Division I) each won the 100- and 200-meter dashes in their respective divisions.

Smigiera finished second in the 100-meter qualifiers Friday, and he spent Friday night preparing for Saturday’s competition with an unusual training method: He went to the prom.

Last year, Smigiera missed states by .01 in the 100-meter dash, and though he attended the competition as a sophomore, he wasn’t pleased with his performance.

“I got kind of mixed up in the hype of everything, seeing all the great runners,” Smigiera said.

This year? Smigiera and Liebel had a similar mindset to Whelan’s, and like Whelan they too found redemption.