DODGE CITY — And the beat goes on.
At least almost for the Garden City High School girls track and field team.
By a mere half-point, the Buffaloes girls track team just missed claiming their seventh consecutive Western Athletic Conference team title, as Dodge City won the final event of the night — the 4x400-meter relay — while the Buffs placed fourth, a differential of six points that allowed the Red Demons to just nip the Buffs at the finish, 98 to 97.5.
The Buffaloes’ boys, meanwhile, who won their first and only WAC title in 2016, and placing second a year ago, finished in the runner-up slot again to favored Liberal, scoring 103 points to the Redskins’ 115.
All in all, it was a successful day with plenty of highlights for the Buffs on both the girls and boys side of the competition.
First, Taylor Savolt captured four individual golds — winning the long jump with a personal best of 18-07.25, and the triple jump with a leap of 36-11.50. She added a surprising gold in the 100-meter hurdles, an unexpected first after Dodge’s Savana Wilson hit the middle hurdle halfway into the race and finished out of the scoring, allowing Savolt to win the race in 16.17 seconds, her season best. She then capped off the night with a 300-meter hurdle win in 47.23, off her season best but still a night to remember.
The four individual golds enabled her to be named the 2018 Track Athlete of the Year in the WAC.
“It was an amazing and special day in so many ways,” said Savolt, a junior, who has also competed this season in the open 400 meters and run on the 4x400-meter relay team. “The long jump means the most because it was by far my best (17-11.75 prior to), and I was able to finally go farther than Mom (Melissa).”
More than two decades earlier, her mother, then Melissa Henry of Holcomb, went 18-05 and that has been the standard in the Savolt household for three seasons. The torch has now officially been passed.
The long jump victory was also the first in the WAC in three tries for Savolt, who had finished second to teammate Mackenzie Hanigan her freshman year and then lost to Hays’ Tasiah Nunnery a year ago.
“There was a lot of emotion and it’s really special,” the younger Savolt said. “She’s helped me more than anyone through the years, and when I heard the distance and looked over, I almost lost it. I thought there’s no way I could go 18-07.”
She beat her nemesis, Chidera Okoro, who went 18-00.75, and then in the triple out-jumped the other Okoro sister, Ezinne, who went 36-03.50 in that event.
The WAC Athlete of the Year Award was just icing on the cake.
“It was a goal once I knew I would be doing four events today, so to be able to go out and have some good marks makes it that much more rewarding,” she said.
Senior Raegan Linenberger continued her consistent high jumping by clearing 5-06 to tie her personal and season best, and in the process equaled the WAC record set in 1999 by Katie Fitzgerald of Liberal and Heather Robinson of Hays.
“I was able to adjust to the wind, and it just feels good to have some consistent jumps this time of year,” Linenberger said. “I didn’t get 5-06 last year until state, so now I’ve got some higher goals to go after.”
Annie Gerber cleared 10-00 to win the pole vault, tying her season and personal best, as well.
The fact that the Buffs didn’t win any other events of the 18 was a testament to the team’s depth, head coach Brian Hill said afterward.
“We just ran out of gas there at the end, and we had to move some kids around due to some nagging injuries, but I thought we competed well and had a lot of P.R.’s (personal records) today,” Hill said. “I’m proud of the way the kids competed. A half-point was all, and we knew it would be close all the way through.”
On the boys side, Garret Doll doubled in his two middle distance races — winning the 800 in 2:01.29 and then beating his chief WAC rival, Kerby Depenbusch of Great Bend, in the 1,600 meters (4:35.70 to 4:36.61).
While both marks were off his season bests, Doll, who also ran the second leg of the winning 4x400-meter relay team, was still satisfied with the results.
“I guess I won both of my events, so I graded out an A,” Doll said with a smile when asked to grade himself. “It’s not so much about times here at the WAC, but just about getting points. That’s all that matters today.”
The 4x400, consisting of Jarrod Springston, Doll, Kameron Wildeman and Nathaniel Hubbard, nudged the favored Liberal team 3:28.22 to 3:28.30.
It was Hubbard who held off Liberal’s ace 400-meter runner, Austin Mullens, on the anchor leg. Hubbard began the final lap with about a 15-20 meter lead, saw it mostly disappear at about the 300-meter mark, but then held off Mullens at the finish line in a photo-finish.
“I couldn’t be more proud of a group,” Hill said of his 4x400 squad. “For Nathaniel to hold off a guy who has been running in the 48s in the 400, that says a lot about how much guts he showed.”
Springston, a junior, had a highlight day of his own, soaring 44-02 in the triple jump to finish behind state leader Ethan Nunnery, who went 46-07.
“I shortened my approach at the last after coach Holloway suggested it, and it gave me more speed and I was able to really get some height on my jump,” said Springston, who went more than two feet farther than his previous best of 42-01, and he did it on his final jump. “It was hard to imagine the distance when I heard the guy yell out how far I went. I told coach I was going to go 43 today, and then I get 44. Pretty fun today. I just felt like I had more energy today. It was really good with it being hot (91 degrees).”
Tom Turpin captured the pole vault at 14-00 with Jaycob Vargas second at 13-06. It was Turpin’s best vault of the season and impressive considering he has been vaulting at the JV level all three of his previous seasons with the depth of the Buffs’ vault team.
Demarcus Elliott won his gold medal in the shot put, throwing a distance of 50-10, well off his season best mark, too.
“Now we have a chance to have the weekend to regroup and rest, and then come back Monday and get ready for Friday,” said Hill of the upcoming 6A regional set for seven days down the calendar at Wichita Northwest. “We’ll evaluate a lot of things and see where we’re going to put people for regionals, because we’ve got a number of the kids who can do multiple events and we’ll see how our times and marks compare with the other schools."