By BRETT MARSHALL
WICHITA — Greeley County's Kennedy Schneider won the first of what she hopes will be the Triple Crown of Class 1A distance races on Friday evening at Cessna Stadium, as the opening day of the 2012 Kansas Track and Field Championship got under way.
Nicole Kinser of Hugoton earned her third gold medal in as many years at the state meet, except this time it came in the event that left her most surprised — the long jump (17-05.50). Meanwhile, her favorite, and most likely best, event — the triple jump — where she had been the two-time defending champion, saw her finish a disappointing third (36-02.25) and left her in tears just off to the side of the jump pit midway through Friday morning.
Those two events highlighted finals in a number of events, while the preliminaries saw area girls prove worthy of their state-caliber times entering the biggest meet of the year.
Scott City sophomore Kelly Wycoff had the second fastest time in the 200- and 400-meter dashes (26.54 and 58.88) but will be chasing defending champion Mandy Wilson (26.47 and 58.28) when the two meet up today in the finals. Wycoff also will start this morning with a prelim race in the 100 meters.
For Schneider, Friday's winning time of 12:07.41 in the 3,200 was well off her personal best when she won a year ago in 11:45.42, but the Lady Jackrabbit didn't seem to mind too much. All that mattered was that she had won her first gold of 2012.
"It was really weird, waiting all day to run," Schneider said. "It wasn't hot like yesterday, but the wind made things different."
For most of the race, at least through six of the eight laps, Schneider was locked in a battle with Axtell's Audrey Schmitz, who finished fourth a year ago. The two were still nearly shoulder to shoulder with 300 meters to go when Schneider decided it was time for a kick that she had been working on all season.
"I definitely wanted to push the pace the last two laps," Schneider said. "I've run the 800 quite a bit more this year and I think I'm stronger now than I was then."
That strategy paid off, as she blew past Schmitz and eventually won going away, putting on a stretch run that let her win by nearly 12 seconds.
"It feels good to get the first one done," she said. "Now, I'll just get off my feet, drink a lot of water and rest for tomorrow. It's a big day and I'm really pumped for it now."
Her freshman teammate, Coraima Yanez, took third, running a season-best 12:22.36. And perhaps she is poised to take the torch from Schneider for the next three seasons.
For Hugoton's Kinser, the long and triple jumps were conducted back-to-back for the first time in her three years at the state meet. The joy of winning the long jump was quickly replaced by tears that could not hide her disappointment.
"The long jump was surprising," Kinser said of her victory. "It was my personal best. But I just had trouble with the triple jump today. I scratched twice and I had only done that once all year."
Kinser said that the toll of making 12 jumps in the two events in less than two hours took something out of her legs for her triple jumps.
"I was just off the board, my steps weren't there and I just struggled with it," she said. "I'm so disappointed in this. This has been my event and I wanted to win it all four years. In the past two years, I would do one in the morning and one in the afternoon or one on Friday and one on Saturday. I don't know why they changed."
Ulysses' Kaylea Britton completed her career with a two-medal performance, but it wasn't what the Lady Tiger had in mind. She was fourth in the shot put (39-11.50) and seventh in the discus (115-09).
"Just wasn't my day," Britton said matter-of-factly. "Everyone has one of those and it was mine today."
For Wycoff, the Scott City sprinter also was happy with her day, yet still knows that her big challenge will be in the finals today.
"I'm still nervous for tomorrow, but I did what I wanted today," Wycoff said. "My times were OK for the weather, it was really humid. But I've got to really go after it to beat the Rossville girl (Wilson). But it should be fun. I'm looking forward to it. I think the wind was stronger in the 200 than the 400, so I know what to expect coming off the curve on Saturday if we have the same kind of wind."
South Gray's Dusty Watkins placed fifth in the Class 1A girls' discus (110-04).
Stanton County's Jenna Black and Haley Floyd, both freshmen, finished fourth and sixth in the 2A 3,200-meters. Black clocked an 11:55.35 while Floyd ran a 12:22.84. Lincoln sensation Jenna Farris ran away with her third straight title in the event in 11:43.22.
Qualifiers were plentiful for the area girls.
Diamond Brown made it in the 1A 200-meters (27.43); Cimarron's Eva Koopman (16.22) and Holcomb's Kyshia Prieto (16.77) in the 3A 100-meter hurdles; Ulysses' Jessi Arnold in the 4A 300-meter hurdles (47.03); Cimarron's Morgan Ediger (47.67) and Lakin's Kara Simmons (48.50) in the 3A 300-meter hurdles.
Relay teams earning places for today's finals included Scott City (4:16.95) in the 4x400-meter relay; and Ulysses in the 4A 4x400 (4:11.70).
See results in Track Scoreboard, Page D4.