MOUNT VERNON — Erich Rhodeback is beginning to believe in himself.
That’s music to Mount Vernon coach Kathy Thayer’s ears.
A senior, Rhodeback heads into this week’s Division I state meet at Hilliard Darby as one of the favorites in both the 110 meter and 300 meter hurdles. He is the top seed in the 300s and No. 2 in the 110s.
Teammate Bryce Wiles will join Rhodeback at Darby after qualifying for state in the 200.
In the past, the biggest hurdle standing in Rhodeback’s way often was himself. That’s not the case this season.
“For me it’s about confidence,” Rhodeback said after winning three gold medals at the Ohio Cardinal Conference meet in mid-May. “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.”
That wasn’t the case at Ashland University’s Ferguson Field, site of the OCC meet. Rhodeback swept the 110 and 300 hurdles — edging fellow Division I state qualifier Isaac Brooks of Madison in both events — and added a third title in the long jump. He placed third in the high jump and was selected the conference’s combined male athlete of the year.
Rhodebeck used the OCC meet as a springboard into the postseason, winning a district title in the 300 hurdles at Hilliard Darby. He was runner-up in the 110 hurdles, the high jump and the long jump, single-handedly scoring 33 points as Mount Vernon finished sixth in the team standings with 53 points.
At last week’s regional meet at Pickerington North, Rhodeback won the 300 hurdles in 37.95 seconds and was runner-up to Pickerington North’s Zemen Siyoum in the 110s, finishing in 13.92 seconds — three-hundredths of a second behind Siyoum.
Rhodeback finished fifth in the high jump and seventh in the long jump at Pickerington North, becoming the first athlete in Thayer’s tenure to score points in four events at a regional meet. Only the top four qualify for state.
“That wasn’t our original plan coming in. We knew that the hurdles were where he was going to excel, and where he should go to state,” Thayer said. “We didn’t know how well he would do in long jump and high jump.
“For any athlete to qualify for regionals in four events and then place in the top eight is amazing, and then to get out in two is a big accomplishment.”
A Rhodeback win in the 110 hurdles would give Mount Vernon back-to-back champs in the event. Sam Bethea won the 110s in 2019 (Cory Berg was runner-up in the 300s). The 2020 meet was wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thayer wouldn’t be surprised to see Rhodeback reach the top of the podium.
“Technically, he’s great. He has that sprint speed as well as that endurance to run a long race and not lose it,” Thayer said. “Our whole focus was on just mentally believing that he could do it. It’s taken two or three years to get there, but he finally believes he can.”