HILLIARD — The bright lights at Hilliard’s Darby Stadium didn’t seem to bother Mount Vernon’s Erich Rhodeback.
Rhodeback, who by his own admission has at times struggled in marquee events throughout his career, turned in a performance for the ages on the state’s biggest stage Friday afternoon during the preliminary round of the Division I state track and field tournament.
Rhodeback recorded the fastest preliminary time in the 300 meter hurdles, finishing in 37.90 seconds. His time was more than a half-second faster than No. 2 qualifier Isaac Brooks of Madison (38.47).
Rhodeback won his heat and qualified third in the 110 hurdles, finishing in 14.52 seconds. The top two finishers in each of the three qualifying heats automatically advanced to Saturday’s finals. The remaining two at-large finals bids went to the athletes with the next two fastest times.
Friday’s performance was a continuation of a strong postseason run for Rhodeback. The senior was sometimes his own worst enemy during his freshman and sophomore seasons.
“For me it’s about confidence,” Rhodeback said earlier this season. “I know I can do better. I just haven’t yet. I just haven’t had the confidence to do it.
“I struggled with that my freshman and sophomore years. I’d get to the big meet and mess up.”
Rhodeback is looking to carry on Mount Vernon’s strong hurdling legacy. In 2019, Sam Bethea won a state title in the 110s, while Cory Berg was runner-up in the 300s.
Friday’s strong showing helped Rhodeback exorcise a few demons.
“He struggled when he came to big meets, believing he could do it,” Mount Vernon track coach Kathy Thayer said. “You have to train an athlete’s mental mindset. And that was what we worked on the most.”
Bryce Wiles competed in the prelims of the 200 meter dash Friday afternoon. Wiles finished 13th in 22.35.