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    Genz's Inside the Huddle - State Track Was Masterpiece Sports Theatre

    The 2014 South Dakota Track and Field Championships proffered clarity and substance.  

    In the competition, student-athletes from 7th grade to seniors, played their roles out in dramatic fashion. Athletes chased titles, both individually and as teams, with unbridled passion as the enraptured masses soaked it in. In the end, a lot of those individuals and teams that were favored to win, did so. And, others not expected to win did.

    It is the same every year. The joy of winning is balanced by the frustration of coming up just a little short.

    Reflecting on the two-day meet generates images of all-in student-athletes like Jace Kraft of Wessington Springs, who chased a record in the 1,600 meters, falling just short and dropping to the track, out of energy after leaving it all on the line. I picture Cortney Dowling and Brooke Ireland battling in a pulsating and record-setting 400 meters. I think of Parker winning their first boys state title with a little push from an eighth place finish in the 300 hurdles while the Lincoln Patriots boys rekindled a little history with their first title since 1989. I also remember the domination from girls teams in Ipswich and Sioux Falls Christian as well as the state’s most dominant program, Rapid City Stevens girls. I also think of athletes like Addison DeHaven of Brookings, one of the elite distance runners in state history, and Madison outstanding hurdler Rush Milne unable to compete due to injury. And, I especially think about the seniors who had their final go around and now move onto bigger and better things.

    In the end the state championships, hampered a bit by Mother Nature, was masterpiece theatre, especially that six-hour championship window on Saturday when the pace is furious, if not frantic, and the most ardent fan is drained after the last 4x400 is run.

    So, here is how it all broke down on a sultry Friday and Saturday at Howard Wood Field in Sioux Falls.

    AA Boys – Lincoln Crowned Champs

    In AA Boys Track, Sioux Falls Lincoln concluded a run of success that is likely unprecedented at the school. The title in boys track joined championships in football, tennis, baseball and cross country, along with a runner-up finish in basketball during 2013-14.

    Led by depth in sprints and distance, the Patriots captured its first state title since 1989 and the 11th overall. Long-time observers will note that during the late 1960s and 1970s, the Lincoln program was dominant. In 1967 and 1968, the Patriots won the final two A titles in the former two-class system. Then from 1969-76, the Patriots won eight of nine titles with run of excellence interrupted only by Rapid City Stevens in 1971 when Lincoln was second.  

    Even without the services of top distance runner Will Lauer (a junior), who was out with injury, the Patriots, coached by Jim Jarovski, prevailed with 119 points, outdistancing rival SF Roosevelt with 95 and Brandon Valley with 85.5. For a while, Roosevelt, utilizing the talents of 100-meter champ David Mulbah, and field MVP Jack Lembcke (University of Washington recruit), looked like they were going to curtail the Lincoln title run. But depth on this Patriots’ team was the difference as runners such as Nathan Schroeder in the middle distance races and sprinter Adam Belhaj helped create a little distance between Lincoln and those other contending. Belhaj pulled off a few surprises and why not? He is a guy that has run on record-setting relays. This time he was making a lot of noise individually. Not only did Belhaj upset Mulbah in winning the 200-meter dash (22.61), he tied the 400-meter state record in 48.39 by edging record holder and defending champion Cam Holmes (Nebraska recruit) of Brandon Valley. He also anchored the 1,600-meter relay champions with teammates Ned Sudbeck, Zarek Kahn and Isaac Bindert as the Patriots won the team title and broke the three-year championship run of SF Washington.

    From my own perspective, Belhaj could have been named the MVP. Fact is, Jacob Simmons of Sturgis, who stars on the basketball court for the Scoopers, won the 800 and 1,600 meters and was deserving of the track MVP honors.

    Class AA Girls - RC Stevens Wins 18th Title

    In the AA girls, Rapid City Stevens asserted their long tradition of excellence by unleashing a team dominant in relays with depth in nearly every other area. Directed by head coach Paul Hendry, a former standout at USD, Stevens won 4-of-5 relay titles on their way to their first title since 2011. The Raiders, which finished runner-up in each of the past two seasons, had one individual champ in standout distance and tri-athlete Tamara Gorman, who won the 3,200 (11:07.58), finishing ahead of the competition by 15 seconds. Gorman, who was second in the 1,600 meters (5:08.20), concluded a special year when she was second in the AA cross country meet and become the first American woman to win the International Triathlon (750-meter swim, 22.5 KM bicycle ride, 5 KM run) Union Junior World Championship when she accomplished that feat in London last September. Gorman and her teammates led Stevens to their 18th team title and 25th finish of first or second since girls competition began in 1975. Rapid City Central was second with 82.5 points.

    South Dakota track said goodbye to a large group of standouts, including two of the all-time great field event specialists in North Carolina recruit Alexis Gannon, who defended titles in both the long and triple jump and USD recruit Colette Christensen of Rapid City Central.  Christensen pushed Gannon to the wire in the triple jump. After defending her title in the high jump, Christensen went 40-0 before Gannon was able to churn out a 40-3 1/4 on her final jump. Gannon and Christensen finish their careers as the two best triple jumpers ever in South Dakota. In their final act, they left an indelible mark. Gannon and Christensen are the only two 40-foot female triple jumpers in state history and became the first pair to hit 40 feet in the same state meet (or any SD meet for that matter). Gannon, who also won the long jump, was named the field MVP for the second straight year.

    The electric performance of Pierre Riggs sophomore Cortney Dowling earned her the AA track MVP. She won the 100 (12.15), 200 and 400 meters and now has five sprint titles in two years (as well as a 2nd in the 400 last year) at AA State Meet competition. In the 200 prelims, Dowling set a state meet record and recorded the fifth-best 200 time ever in South Dakota history with a clocking of 24.67. Then, she went out and won the finals in 25.37 and was hardly challenged. Dowling, the special 200 meters champ at Howard Wood Relays, saved her best for the 400-meters. Pushed by defending champ and USD recruit Brooke Ireland, who clocked a 55.77, Dowling put together a state record of 55.11, which broke the all-time state mark of all-time greats Kari Heck of SF Washington and Jasmyne King of Rapid City Central. She also broke former Mitchell and NDSU standout Jill Theeler Schlekaway’s State AA Meet mark of 55.49. Ireland, who finished fourth in the 100, also broke the 56 second mark, one of just six runners in state history to ever reach that mark. Ireland also set a PR as she had a 55.88 in 2013.

    Class A Girls – Sioux Falls Christian Wins 1st title since 1985

    Sioux Falls Christian was the favorite to win the Class A girls crown and they didn’t disappoint. Led by track MVP Jordan Oostra, SFC held to form, recording 119 points and winning a team crown for the first time since 1985. Defending champion St. Thomas More had 98 and Madison, 92.5 as that trio of teams battled all weekend.

    After a first-day total of 26 points, Sioux Falls Christian, directed by head coach Bob Garry, dominated on Day 2. It began with Oostra winning the 110 hurdles in 14.94 and later adding the 300 hurdles title (44.89) with sophomore Shelby Zomermaand finishing in the top three in both races. As a result, SFC scored a combined 34 points in hurdles alone. Throw in the domination in the relays and you get a champion.

    SFC won the 400 relay in (50.23) with Oostra, Zomermaand, Kristin Stern and Julie Yoder. In the 800 relay, they broke their own record in the prelims (1:44.21) and cruised to a 1:44.74 final wins as seniors Kara Koth, who won the long jump; Stern, Stacy Smidt and 400-meter champ Miranda Veldersdyk had it rolling. In the medley, Zomermaand, Smidt, Stern, and Erin Alpers set a state meet record of 4:14.72 (Custer, 4:15.30, 1984). They ended the day with a record performance in the 4x400 as Koth, Stern, Oostra and Velgersdyk crossed the line in 3:59.52, cracking their own 2013 state meet mark of 4:01.25.

    Class A and Class B were both marked by youthful star power. Freshman Hailey Streff of Madison could have won the track MVP. She won both the 1,600 (5:08.78) and the 3,200 (11:32.06). She was also the anchor for Madison’s 4x800 relay champs, which consisted of four underclass athletes.  The Bulldogs could be an early favorite to win a title next year. Youthful exuberance was everythwere. There was the breakout performances by eighth grader Shayla Howell of Belle Fourche, who won the 100 (12.68) and took third in the 200 (27.26). Lest we forget, eighth grader Tori Glazier repeated in the 800 where she was joined by two other eighth graders in the top four. they included West Riverians Marion Hohn of Hill City, third; and Klaire Kirsch of St. Thomas More, fourth. The runner-up was a sophomore - Josie Heeren of Elk Point-Jefferson. In the 1,600-meters, Streff won with the next four placers all middle school athletes. Hohn was second and eighth grader Maddie Lavin was 3rd with Kirsch, 4th, and 7th grader Mattie Fairburn of Lead-Deadwood, 5th. 

    Still, seniors also stood tall, including Oostra, Veldersdyk and Keeley Bertram of Elk Point-Jefferson, who won the 200 title in 26.73, edging Veldersdyk, also a senior, by .10 and finishing second behind Howell in the 100 at 12.78.

    Class A Boys – Custer Defends Title

    Custer, led by Brennan Witt, defended their title in Class A Boys.  While they were pushed by Dell Rapids with 85 points, the Wildcats were in control pretty much throughout. Sometimes, it is hard to figure out MVPs. Witt was a candidate as was Hot Springs Eric Yager and Chamberlain's Hudson Priebe. But it was Dell Rapids grabbing both as track MVP Zach Schroeder won the 100 (11:06), 200 (22.82) and anchored the runner-up 4x100 squad. Brett Nichols won the long and triple jump and took the field MVP honor. Witt was also deserving of track MVP as he anchored the winning 4x400 (Chase Glazier, Clayton Wahlstrom, Joel Thomsen, Witt) and the sprint medley (David Gaston, Thomsen and Glazier), showing extraordinary heart by hanging on at the end in both races. Custer won the medley in 3:38.43, just ahead of 1,600-meter champ Eric Yager and Hot Springs at 3:38.44. In the 4x400, Custer edged St. Thomas More, 3:26.59 to 3:26.62. In addition, Witt won a third straight 800-meter crown in 1:56.84, just ahead of Yager at 1:58.41. Logan Burns also did his piece for Custer with a win at 3,200. Nick Jensen of Vermillion pulled off a surprise in the shot put, edging favorite Tyler Lems of Canton by a half-inch. Lems rebounded with a win in the discus. We can’t forget about ]Priebe, who dominated the hurdles, winning the 110s in 14.8 and the 300s in 39.04.

    Class B Girls – Ipswich Wins Third Straight Title

    It is easy to look at Ipswich and point to three-time MVP Macy Heinz as the reason for the Tigers’ run of three-straight B girls titles. Ok, that makes sense. The freshman phenom is undoubtedly a major reason for the team’s success. Directed by head coach Todd Thorson, Ipswich became the first school to three-peat since Chester in 1999-01. Armour girls also won three straight in 1981-83.

    At the 2014 state meet, Macy Heinz won four individual events, pushing her total to nine for her career with 11 overall titles (two relays). She has won four events in two straight seasons (seven individual). But, before branding Ipswich a one-Heinz show, note that the 17-member Ipswich squad would have won the meet without her points. They finished with 97, which bettered the 89 when they won the meet two years ago but was a little off from a year ago when they had a state meet mark of 116.  Without Heinz’s total (40 points), Ipswich still outdistanced second place Irene-Wakonda, 57-35.5.

    Remember, this team also features junior Tori Moore, who won a fourth straight 3,200 title, clocking an 11:48. She could go for a 5th title next year.  Then there is the contributions of a couple of others, namely Angela Heinz (2nd in the 200, 3rd in the 100), two-time pole vault champ Autumn Pitz and pole vault runner-up Kristi Pond.  

    As for the freshman phenom, Heinz won the 800 on Friday and then had a trio of wins on Saturday, including her first-ever 100 in 12.51. She won a second straight 400 meter title in 57.10, which was a faster time than her title win in 2013 (58.56) and 2012 (59.43) when she was second. In the 1,600, she won a third straight crown in 5:13.53 or more than three seconds better than Laura Nelson of Gayville-Volin at  5:17.54. In that race, she has been steady with a state meet best 5:11.91 as a 7th grader and 5:14.58 a year ago. In her three straight 800 wins, she has been remarkably consistent. In 2012, she ran a 2:17.35 with a 2:16.89 as an eighth grader and 2:17.09 in 2014. One final note on Heinz, she performed somewhat of a rarity when she won the sprint title (100) and added the 1,600. Really how many 100 specialists in state history have been the best in their class in the mile? She is the only one I know of.

    As for the rest of the class, Lauren Sokolowski, the 100-meter hurdles champ (14.98), led Irene-Wakonda to second with 35.50 points. They were in a close battle with Chester Area at 35 points and Arlington and Freeman tying for fourth with 34 points. The battle was joined by sixth place Sully Buttes at 32 points and seventh place Gayville-Volin with 30.

    In a little bit of a surprise, senior Sierra Stugelmeyer of Harding County received the field MVP after runner-up finishes in the long jump and triple jump.

    Class B Boys - Parker Edges Herreid-Selby For 1st Title

    The Class B Boys race was a wire-to-wire finish with Parker edging defending champion Herreid-Selby, 58-to-57. Parker won the title with strength in both its running flexibility (sprints and distance) and field events. And, helping push the Pheasants over the top was Eric Hunstad, whose re-run in the 300 hurdles due to being impeded in the prelims on Friday was crucial.  In the rerun , he posted a qualifying time and later was 8th, garnering a point, the difference in team points at the end. Remember, in team championship small points almost always add up big. In addition, Zack Anderson won the high jump at 6-4, unseating pre-event favorite Dakota Thorstensen of Herreid-Selby, who finished third due to criteria (6-2). Thorstensen, who was the field MVP, still had a solid meet winning the triple jump in 42-04.75. Herreid-Selby nearly pulled off a team championship repeat by field event strength and solid work in the relays. The Wolvereines won the 800-relay with Cade Opheim, Logan Schaefbauer, Cooper Schaefbauer and Austin Iverson edging Freeman, 1:32.30 to 1:32.35. In addition, Austin Iverson placed in both hurdles and C. Schaefbauer defended his pole vault title, going a PR of 13-6. Freeman, led by 400-meter champ Brennan Schmidt and relay excellence, was third in the team race at 51 points. Kole Heller of Platte-Geddes was a sprinting star, capturing his first and only state title by cruising to a 100 win in 11.11. He was also third in the 200.

    In conclusion, I must point out the stupendous effort of Sioux Falls recruit Jase Kraft of Wessington Springs. He told the Argus Leader after the meet that he wanted to win the distance triple crown (800, 1,600 and 3,200) and he met that goal. Named the track MVP, Kraft battled humidity and hot weather in pulling off that tough triple. Kraft showed a tremendous heart and spirit throughout but especially in the 1,600, which was his second to last event of his high school career. Chasing a 1988 record, Kraft pushed himself as hard as he could, falling just .56 short of the 1600 record. As he crossed the finish line, his body gave out as he fell to the track. The effort stood tall as he raised cheers from the crowd.

    Final Ramblings – Kudos to Greg Merrigan and Mike Holt, who provide the voice to the events. The pair do a tremendous job with all the notes about athletes. They help introduce athletes and urge them on during competition. Merrigan of Vermillion, who has been announcing for 20 years, and Holt of Sioux Falls were both solid track athletes in their own right. Now, they bring the races to gathered populous in an information-laced effort at the state meets. I have worked with the pair for about eight years and these two guys get better with age – like fine wine. In addition, kudos to Mark Meile and his staff for their tremendous efforts in carrying out the administration of the state meet. My friend Kevin Brady and his guys on the video board also enhance the meet with graphics and pictures.






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