By BRETT MARSHALL
JOHNSON CITY — The Hi-Plains League has traditionally been one of the top Class 3-2-1A track and field strongholds for the sport.
And the 2012 season has been no exception, with many individuals and several relays among the state's best as the season winds down toward the state meet in two weeks in Wichita.
On Friday, the HPL held its annual regular-season finale at Stanton County, producing team champions in Cimarron's girls and Stanton County's boys, while also seeing some of its top performers capture gold medals despite performances that didn't match their best efforts of 2012.
Cimarron's Lady Bluejays rolled up 194 points to outdistance runner-up Meade's 122.5, while the host Trojan boys took advantage of a depleted Meade roster to win with 141.5 points to the Buffaloes' 99. Meade brought just six boys and didn't have any relay teams.
Stanton County freshman distance sensation Jenna Black captured two firsts, the most exciting and challenging event coming in the 1,600-meters, where she clocked a 5:18.72 to break the league meet-record of 5:27.60 set in 1997 by former Lady Trojan legend Dodie Martin. She outdueled rival Paige Wells of Wichita County, who clocked a 5:24.82, well off her personal best of 5:16.16 set earlier in the year.
Wells would come back and claim the 800-meters in 2:28.19 in a race that Black did not enter and then Black captured the 3,200-meters in 12:02.26, well off her season best of 11:42.14 where Wells also didn't compete.
"I'm pleased with my time in the 1,600, and excited to stay consistent from my time of last week (5:17.98 at Lakin)," said Black. "I guess now we'll find out how well I'm prepared for next week (Class 2A regional at Greensburg on Friday). The 3,200 time was tough because I had run so hard in the 1,600."
Black took an early commanding lead over Wells and Cimarron's Kari Blattner. By the 800-meter mark, she was in front by nearly 50 meters. It wasn't until the end of the seventh lap that Wells began to close the gap, eventually pulling to within about five meters of Black with about 250 meters remaining in the race.
"Yes, I could feel that she was close, she likes to finish strong," Black said. "I've done a lot of work on my speed this season and I was able to put together a good kick at the finish. It felt really good."
Cimarron used its depth across a wide range of events, but got a double-gold effort from freshman Eva Koopman, who won the high jump (5-04) and the 100-meter hurdles (16.24) despite running into a brisk northeast wind. Koopman, who has a season best jump of 5-06 said she is feeling more confident in the hurdles, too.
"It's becoming one of my favorites, along with the high jump," Koopman said. "I've improved my speed between the hurdles and I'm just keeping lower going over the hurdles. It's fun to do something that's not just the jumps."
The Lady Bluejays also got a strong effort from another freshman — Morgan Ediger — who turned in the second fastest time on The Telegram's Honor Roll in the 300-meter hurdles with a clocking of 47.65, also a school mark.
"That's exciting, I'm really starting to come around in the race," Ediger said. "I felt like I hit a wall coming around the curve when the wind hit me. I got a lot better start coming out of the blocks, it was smoother all the way through."
Ediger had outkicked Lakin's Kara Simmons, who had just narrowly beaten Ediger the week before at Lakin.
It was Simmons who pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the day on the girls side when she captured the 100-meters (13.39) by defeating Meade's Tarah Wiens (13.44). Wiens has been among the top sprinters in southwest Kansas throughout the 2012 campaign. It was just the fourth time the Lakin sophomore had run the sprint.
"I've usually been getting third or fourth and I think I'm just now hitting my stride," Simmons said. "I'm pretty happy since I didn't even run this event until just a couple of weeks ago."
Mauri Steimel, Stanton County's outstanding shot putter/discus thrower, won the shot with a toss of 40-02.75 but fouled on her throws in the discus and didn't post a mark.
The Stanton County boys, likewise, turned in a number of solid performances en route to the HPL crown, and fifth-year coach Andrea Jones was thrilled as the team celebrated afterward in the middle of the Ark Morris Track & Field facility — named after the legendary Stanton County cross country and track coach.
"The boys just performed really well, nothing really outstanding, but I think the wind had something to do with that," Jones said. "We've got some of the better 2A times in several events (4x100 and 4x400 relays) and some other top kids. I don't know what happened with Meade's roster, they submitted their list and a good number of kids' names were missing. But you go with what you have and see who does the best on that day, and today was our day. I'm happy for the kids, they've worked very hard."
The Trojans got winning efforts from Quinn Kendrick in the pole vault (13-06), Raul Pantoja in the 800-meters (2:06.72), and after that had a number of seconds, thirds and fourths to build their point total.
Cimarron's Zach Fields produced one of the top performances of the day in the boys discus, as the Bluejay senior won the event with a throw of 143-02, nearly three feet further than his previous best (140-06).
"I got a little more push off and coach has been working with me," Fields said. "At times, I've wanted to quit, but now getting 143 has me excited for next week. I've thrown 150 in practice and now I know I can do better in competition, so I'm looking forward to regionals."
It's even more impressive when one considers that Fields was barely throwing 120 feet a year ago.
"I couldn't hit much of anything last year," Fields said. "I really did consider giving up when I wasn't doing any good. But the coaches have really helped encourage me, and it's fun to see the work pay off."
Next up for all the HPL teams will be Friday regionals. Class 1A Satanta is at South Gray/Montezuma; Wichita County, Syracuse, Sublette, Elkhart, Stanton County and Meade will be at Greensburg/Kiowa County; and Lakin, Cimarron and Southwestern Heights travel to Beloit for Class 3A.
See results in Scoreboard, Page D2.