Top track and field standouts head to Wichita for state meet
By BRETT MARSHALL
It's the biggest high school sporting event in Kansas.
It's one of the few state championships where all of Kansas' classifications gather together in one venue.
When the 2014 Kansas State Track and Field Championship begins promptly at 7:45 a.m. Friday at Wichita State University's Cessna Stadium, it will begin two lengthy days that will conclude Saturday evening, and bring the curtain down on another school year of high school sports.
More than 2,500 athletes from across the Sunflower State, including more than 100 from The Telegram area of southwest Kansas, will be competing in 18 events over the two days.
It's been called the Big Show, an extravaganza. But no matter how you name it, it is a fan and competitor's favorite.
"It's an awesome experience since you get to see other classes compete," Garden City High School coach Mike Smith said on Wednesday. "When I coached in Oklahoma, you'd go to state track and it would be just one class. What a great venue we have in Cessna Stadium, and the kids get to perform before large crowds. It's such an exciting thing for the kids to be able to compete in."
The Buffaloes, both boys and girls, will try to match or improve on fourth-place team finishes from 2013. Those are high challenges considering the caliber of athletes from the metropolitan Wichita and Kansas City areas.
"We've competed against a lot of good teams and athletes all season," Smith said. "About the only group we haven't seen is from the northeast, and we know there are some top-notch teams back there."
On Friday, Classes 4-5-6A will begin the state meet with the girls and boys 3,200-meter run at 8 a.m. Garden City's Alex Miller, a two-time state runner-up in cross country, will lead teammate Chelsea Jackson into the event. The preliminary dashes and hurdle races for the largest three classes will be Friday morning, while Classes 1-2-3A will hit the track in the afternoon.
The Buffs also will have defending state champion Dusty Tempel competing in his specialty, the long jump, at 8 a.m. His season best mark of 22-11.50 is eight inches farther than his winning jump a year ago. His sister, Taryn, was runner-up in the triple jump and fourth in the 400-meters.
A year ago, the Lady Buffs' 4x800-meter relay team completed an unbeaten season by winning the event in 9:35.41 with Kayla and Katy Doll, Alex Miller and Neysa Harman comprising the team. Three of those runners are back, and Harman has been supplanted by freshman Aileen Gurrola, but the team's best mark thus far has been a 9:53.77.
Kayla Doll garnered a third in the 800-meters and her time this season of 2:19.20 is more than three seconds faster than her state time of 2013. Her younger sister, Katy, was second in the 3,200 and sixth in the 1,600 a year ago, but this year didn't qualify in the longer race and didn't run the 1,600. She did, however, make it in the high jump, clearing a season best of 5-02.
Junior Kaylee Kipp, who transferred from Manhattan High, provides field-event depth for the Lady Buffs after she placed third in the shot and eighth in the discus a year ago. The 4x400-meter relay team of Kayla Doll, Taylor Linenberger, Tempel and Gurrola have run 4:05.71 this year, which is 10 seconds faster than their seventh-place finish in 2013.
The Buffs will have entrants in multiple field events on both the boys and girls side, and Smith believes Friday is the day that will determine how Saturday's scoring will develop.
"We've got a lot of kids competing on Friday, so we hope to build momentum with those early events," Smith said. "I think it's like anything else, if you get off to a good start, it's contagious, and you can get a lot of confidence built for the entire team."
On the boys side, the Buffs have multiple entrants in the pole vault and high jump and will have a team entered in the 4x100-meter relay. Dakota Brungardt and Nick Jauche went 1-2 at regionals in the vault at 12-06, but Jauche has cleared 13-0 earlier in the season.
To get the Buffs prepared for their morning competition, Smith has had workouts at approximately the same time earlier in the week. Wake-up calls at 6 a.m., breakfast, arrive at the track about an hour before and then do run-throughs for their events.
"We want to get them acclimated to the time of day, which is different than any other meet we compete in all year," Smith said.
The area schools in Classes 1-2-3-4A are, as always, well represented.
Among the elite competitors are Holcomb's Heath Tucker, the defending champion in Class 3A in the 300-meter hurdles. This year, he also is entered in the 200-meter dash (22.59), the 110-meter high hurdles (14.90) and the long jump (22-06.25). He ran a 14.88 and placed third in the 110s a year ago while his 38.19 was the third fastest in Kansas among all classes. His season best in his specialty came last Friday in the regionals at Cimarron when he clocked a 38.86.
"We knew he'd have the hurdles, and we wanted to build a couple of events around those," Holcomb coach Lindall Cox said of the season plan for Tucker, who will celebrate his 19th birthday on Saturday. "The state schedule is different, so we wanted to look at events that gave him time to recover and be fresh. The open 400 would be a great event for him, but it comes too close to the 300 hurdles. He's been looking forward to the state meet all year. His experience should help. There are some others coming in with faster times, but I wouldn't bet against him."
The Longhorns also had a late-season surge from their 4x400- and 4x800-meter relay teams, both of which qualified.
"It's a group that I've known all along had the ability, so to see these guys come through, is really rewarding for them," Cox said of his relay teams. "They want to create their own memory, and they seem to be peaking at the right time."
For Scott City's Kelly Wycoff, it will be her curtain call to a brilliant prep career. Wycoff, who is headed to Fort Hays State University to run for the Lady Tigers, will try to replicate her double-gold performance of 2013 when she won the 3A 100- and 200-meter dashes. Her times were among the fastest in all classes, and this year she has posted top marks of 12.58 (12.38 in 2013) in the 100, 25.42 (25.02 season best in 2013) and then finished second in the 400 despite running a blistering 58.14.
Now having moved up to Class 4A, Wycoff still has some of the state's fastest sprinters, but last week she recorded her fastest 400 ever, running 57.88 to win her regional at Abilene. Despite that, she is ranked third in the event, behind Baldwin's Morgan Lober (56.4) and Winfield's Courtney Griffiths (57.54). She is ranked sixth and second in the 100 and 200.
"She ran really well last year, and I think she's running just about the same right now," said Scott City coach Jim Turner. "She broke the school records in the 100 and 400 this season, and I think she's competing at about the same level. She's a lot stronger mentally, and I think last year at state helped her a lot. The runners are deeper in 4A, so it will be a big challenge. At state, you just learn how to handle yourself over a day and a half, when to warm up, so it's good to have kids with experience."
Turner's best medal opportunity on the boys side is junior Brett Meyer, whose 2:00.81 is the best in the area this season. He was sixth at state in 2013. At the regionals, Turner had Meyer's split in the 4x800 in the 1:58 range, so he knows that he will be competitive in the open 800, a race that has as many as six to eight who have run two minutes or faster.
"I really believe he's got the 1:58 or faster in him," Turner said. "I'm anxious to see him run against some good competition. He's got a good sprint at the end, but in the 800, you've got to get out quick and not get yourself boxed in."
Ulysses' Chisholm Branscum is among the top 800 (2:22.49) and 1,600-meter (5:29.10) runners in 4A and will compete in both events on Saturday for the Lady Tigers. Jessi Arnold (46.70) will battle an elite group of 300-meter hurdlers. Lakin's Kara Simmons (47.64) returns in the 3A 300-meter hurdles after placing third in 2013. The Tigers' Tregg Rodriguez, with a season best 6-07 is among the top 4A high jumpers.
In Class 2A, Wichita County's Josh Mehl will be looking to match or improve his fifth and second-place finishes in the 800 and 1,600-meters. He had times of 2:044.44 and 4:28.50 at the state meet while his fastest times this campaign are 2:03.00 and 4:32.17. South Gray's Jake Peters was a runner-up in the 2A discus last season (158-06) and now has a season best of 170-00 while his top mark in the shot put is 52-00, which ranks him second in the state in that class.
Deerfield's Marc Skipper ran a 51.47 in the 400-meters at the 1A regionals in Pretty Prairie last week and has the No. 4 time from regionals heading to state. Satanta's Jesus Garcia recorded a 2:04.20 in the 800 and also will be among the top 800 runners in 1A. Dighton's brother-sister duo of Ben and Jordan Speer will be among the top throwers in the discus and shot put in Class 1A. Ben Speer had a season best 158-3, tops among the four regionals while sister Jordan heaved the shot put 39-10.50, also the top mark from the four regional sites.
Competition begins at 8 a.m. on Saturday as well with the final 4x400-meter relay events for girls and boys to conclude at approximately 7:30 p.m.
During the afternoon on Saturday, at approximately 2:45, there will be an induction ceremony into the Kansas State High School Activities Association Hall of Fame. Included in the Class of 2014 is former Scott City great Jennifer (Gruver) Kirkpatrick. A winner of 12 gold medals in the long jump, triple jump and hurdle races, Kirkpatrick is among the all-time Kansas greats.
Kirkpatrick and her husband, Dan, now lives in Junction City. She is a part-time dietician and is the mother of three daughters.
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