Niagara Falls High School has produced a number of state and sectional champions in track and field over the years.
The most recent came in March, when the 4x200-meter relay team won the public schools title at the New York State Indoor Championships on Staten Island.
The plaques and medals are all fine and dandy, but what Wolverines coach Jonathan Robins is most proud of can’t be worn around a neck. It doesn’t hang on a wall next to champions past in the athletics wing.
What Robins is most proud of is the reputation of his program.
“When you walk out on that track sometimes and other teams look at you and then look at the other guy and says, ‘OK, who’s getting second? Who’s getting third?’ They’re not worrying about first a lot of times,” said Robins, who’s in his 25th year at Niagara Falls and 10th as head coach. “I’m not just saying that about us, but I’ve seen it because I’ve been blessed with some really great athletes.
“We can walk on the track and people go, ‘that’s a good team right there,’ when we might not even be a good team. But they’re going to think we are because of our reputation.”
That reputation, and success from the indoor season, has made its way outdoors this spring.
Tariq Taul, Christian Meranto and Roshain Wallace are holdovers from the state-champion 4x200 team, while Che’Kore Moore takes the place of Rodney Barnes on the 4x100 team that will surely be in the mix for a sectional title at the Section VI Championships at Jamestown on June 2 and 3.
STATE CHAMPIONS!!!! Way to go Wolverines 4x200! pic.twitter.com/CnHlW9tfeZ
— NFHS Track (@TrackNFHS) March 4, 2017
The Division I (large schools) field is filled with stiff competition, including Sweet Home and Lockport, which as of last Sunday are ahead of the Wolverines’ fastest 4x100 time of 44.04 seconds by 1.36 and 0.67 seconds, respectively.
Taul, Meranto, Moore and Wallace, the order in which the relay competes, are all blessed with the natural athletic abilities to win on any given day, but the success of this event goes beyond just being able to run fast.
“It’s a chemistry that makes a good relay,” Moore said. “You can have four of the fastest runners, but the biggest aspect of the relay is how well you work together.”
This moment for the group of four seniors has been years in the making, ever since they started training with one another in the middle of their freshman years. The bond that has been formed both on and off the track cannot be overlooked.
“Those guys have been together now three, four years, and they’ve grown as a team,” Robins said. “A couple of them play football together (Taul and Moore), but track has brought them closer together because we’ve gone all over the state together and they’ve grown much closer that way. They’re friends in school. They’re friends everywhere. They do everything together, so it definitely helps.”
Hundreds of practices and dozens of meets have helped form a certain comfort level among the teammates – a comfort in knowing each other’s tendencies, and a comfort in believing they can make up for each other’s missteps.
“We’ve all been running together for a really long time,” Meranto said. “We have faith that we can catch each other up if there’s a mistake on a handoff. We trust each other that we can make up the time.”
When it comes to the 4x100, as opposed to the 4x200, time is the biggest difference. Half the distance means it takes about half the time to get around the track. It makes the efficiency of the handoff that much more important.
“Handoffs are the key to making the 4x100 work well,” Robins said. “So it’s a lot more technical, where you get much more athleticism involved in the 4x200.”
When Wallace and Taul aren’t torching the competition as part of a relay, they’re usually dominating in individual events.
Wallace is the defending Section VI champ in the 110 hurdles and is also among the fastest in Western New York in the 400 hurdles. Taul excels in the 100, 200 and high jump. Meranto said his top individual events are the 200 and 400.
“They’d be a heck of a 4x400 relay, too, if we put them out there,” Robins said. “We have at times, and they run a hell of a time in that as well. They’re sprinters from top to bottom, and they like running all the races.”
They like winning more.
On May 20, the 4x100 relay won at the Pioneer Invitational in a meet-record unofficial time of 43.35. Taul also took home track MVP honors with his additional wins in the 100 and 200.
— NFHS Track (@TrackNFHS) May 20, 2017
Still, despite all the success, the team has made a commitment to avoid looking too far ahead to the future.
“We just as a team take it one meet at a time, see the competition,” Taul said. “We stay humble because we never know. We don’t take it for granted.”
But make no doubt about it, they all want to cross the finish line with some more hardware as their high school careers hit the homestretch.
“They have a confidence that they’re a good team,” Robins said. “They’re going to run their best time hopefully and leave it all on the track. Whoever wins, wins. If somebody beats us with a better time, good for them. But we’re going to run the best we can, and hopefully that’s good enough to beat all the other teams.”
“We want to make a name for ourselves,” Wallace said. “Finish our last years. Try to become champions.”