AUSTINTOWN - The rivalry between Salem, West Branch and United throughout the years has provided great competition, and Thursday's discus competition at the Austintown Division II regional was no different.
With only room for the top four to advance to next week's Division II state meet, West Branch junior Jake Zinni, United junior Lucas Cooper and Salem senior Elijah Bricker threw their hearts out for that golden opportunity.
The rivalry will continue for one more week as all three placed in the top three Thursday, and advance to their first state meet.
"I feel pretty good," Cooper said. " I'm glad I made it."
Only 3 inches separated Zinni and Cooper, but Zinni's throw 155-9 was good enough to clinch the regional championship. He won the district championship last Thursday in Salem.
"I knew the competition was going to be tough," Zinni said. "It had come down to inches between me and second place."
As Zinni picked up his victory, he noted how he had to pick up the pace from last year, and felt he has done so.
"Based on last year, it seemed as though the competition has been a little tougher than last year's senior class," Zinni said. "This year, I've only lost in about two meets, so I think I've been on track this year."
After placing third in last week's meet, Cooper took second at 155-6.
"It was pretty tough, I got third last week," Cooper said. "Then I come here and get beat by three inches."
After managing a fourth-place performance in the Salem meet in what seemed to be an off-week, Bricker's biggest concern was to throw good enough for the chance at state.
Bricker's worries were put to rest as he placed third (a personal-best 153-6) on his third throw, similar to last week.
"It was really hoping to get it on my last throw," Bricker said. "Coming in I had placed fifth, and I was really looking to get it on my last throw, and I'm just happy I got it."
Bricker's third-place finish cemented his trip to Columbus along with Zinni and Cooper, but with this being Bricker's final opportunity at a state title in his career with the Quakers, the trip to state was the sweetest for Bricker.
"It means everything to me," Bricker said. "All year long, we've worked hard to reach this goal. We've practiced very hard throughout the year, and the goal has always been to go to state. The coaches have been all this extra time in, and we've just been trying to keep the legacy going with great throwers."
With all three advancing to state, the rival schools will be represented again, and the feeling is exciting for Zinni, who is also friends with Cooper and Bricker.
"It's definitely real exciting for the area," Zinni said. "When I'm not throwing, I'm a Cooper/Bricker fan, and when they're not throwing I'm hoping their a fan of me, too. So it feels really good to know someone who will go to state."
Bricker is not only happy that the Quakers' rival schools will advance, but is also proud of the talent from the students of Columbiana and southern Mahoning counties.
"Our county is awesome, we just have so many good players," Bricker said. "We have a great rivalry, but we're also good friends. And it's just awesome to have all three advance."
Once all three enter the ring at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium next week, though, it'll be all business.
"We're good friends and we've cracked jokes, but on the field, the friend hat comes off," Zinni said. "The competition was tough, and I expect the same for next week."
The Division II state discus will be held at 9 a.m. next Saturday, June 7.