By Jeff Nations
The ending might not fit the story, not in Justin Bauserman's case, but the recent Central High School graduate wouldn't trade his experience this past season.
Bauserman, a two-time defending Group 2A state champion in the 300-meter hurdles, couldn't quite make it three in a row this year in the newly reclassified 3A state track and field championships in Harrisonburg. The competition was better, no question about that. Bauserman knew it, and in typical fashion pushed himself to the very edge of his capabilities.
This time, he pushed just a bit too much.
"I hit the second hurdle," Bauserman said of his 300 hurdles event. "That's the first time I've ever done that."
Any hurdles coach will tell you -- if you're not occasionally clipping a few hurdles, you probably aren't trying hard enough. Bauserman hit that second hurdle in the 300 hurdles during his fourth-place finish, after earlier doing the very same thing in the 110 hurdles in a sixth-place effort. The results might not have been ideal, but the effort was to the max. For that and his dominant senior season, Bauserman is The Northern Virginia Daily's 2014 Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year. It is the second straight honor for Bauserman, who is making plans to enter the United States Army this summer.
"I like order, having things in order," Bauserman said of his decision to enlist. "In that way, it's kind of like track. I think I'll fit right in."
Central coach Rick Lytton has seen enough of Bauserman over the years to never doubt the capabilities of the Falcons' standout athlete. It wasn't always that way, of course.
"He was just learning to hurdle as a freshman," Lytton said. "As a matter of fact, he reminded me that when he went to the regional meet his freshman year he fell in both hurdle events, and that was it for that season."
That was a rough finish, but perhaps just the spark necessary to propel Bauserman forward. By his sophomore year, Bauserman had become a force -- enough so to win the first of two straight state championships in the 300 hurdles.
"He sort of exploded on the scene," Lytton said. "He had grown a little bit and he had learned to three-step the high hurdles. Once you learn to do that, it just changes everything dramatically."
Heading into his final season, Bauserman knew the competition was likely to be tougher in the newly reclassified state competition. He found that to be true early on in the April 12 Turner Ashby Invitational, where Bauserman discovered that Spotswood's Elijah Haag had a much faster seeding time in the 110 hurdles -- by more than a second.
"I was coming into that meet with a really slow time," Bauserman said. "The kid from Spotswood was first in the state at that time, and I just got into the mindset that I needed to be first."
Bauserman was on that day, lowering his own season-best time in the 110 hurdles from 16.25 to 15.57 to handily win that event. He also clocked his best 300 hurdles time of the year (39.26) in winning that day, and for good measure had his top long jump of the season with a leap of 19 feet, 10 inches.
"I think that must have been the best weather day that we had," Lytton said. "That's where he had his best long jump of the year, it's where he had a good high hurdles race and he had an excellent 300 hurdles race."
Bauserman, who also anchored the Falcons' 1,600 relay that included Jonathan Feaster, Daniel Molina and Carston Shockey, only got back into jumps this season and still ranked as Central's best.
The hurdles were Bauserman's signature events, though, especially the 300 hurdles. Throughout the season until that final race in the state meet, Bauserman went undefeated in that event as he piled up Shenandoah County, Bull Run District, Conference 28 and Group 3A East Regional championships.
That streak still looked safe at the state meet, where Bauserman entered the 300 hurdles as the top seed based on his qualifying time. A decision to slow down the meet, which had been running ahead of schedule, likely cost Bauserman and his rivals some speed when they had to sit and wait in the blazing sunlight for nearly 20 minutes before getting on the track for the finals.
"It was very hot that day, and I was just drained," Bauserman said. "I think we all were."
From Lytton's vantage point, the race got off to a very fast start and Bauserman soon ran into trouble. He clipped the second hurdle in the 300 after doing the same in the 110s, and it cost him as he battled eventual winner Ryan Sims of Blacksburg and Haag to the wire. Lafayette's Zarron Moses, who didn't even run in the fast heat, ended up third with a time of 41.56 behind Sims (39.92) and Haag (39.41).
"It was so close at the end, it could have been any one of those three kids in that heat who'd won it," Lytton said. "It started out as a very fast pace, and eventually all of them ran out of gas at the end. He just ran out of gas three feet before the others."
Bauserman's fourth-place finishing time of 40.43 wasn't his best this season, but it was a solid final effort. Same goes for his 15.61 in the 110 hurdles, after going even faster in the preliminaries (15.19).
"Throughout the year, I felt like I was getting better," Bauserman said. "I PR'd this year -- by like a millisecond, but I still PR'd. At the state meet, we were all neck and neck to the finish line. It was tough competition."
Contact staff writer Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com