If there’s one thing that Brian Hill has learned in his first season as head track coach for both the Garden City High School girls and boys teams it is this — don’t underestimate the competitive heart of his Buffaloes.
“That’s held true in almost every big meet in which we’ve competed,” Hill said Wednesday, just two days prior to the opening day of the 2018 Kansas State Track and Field Championships. “Many kids that weren’t seeded with the way the results shaked out.”
The Buffs will open their Class 6A track meet Friday at 8 a.m. when seniors Alex Nickell and Annie Gerber compete in the boys high jump and girls pole vault. Gerber, who has a season best vault of 10-00, will be joined by junior Marissa Hernandez and sophomore Saleen Wears, who also made it through the regional qualifying last Friday in Wichita. Nickell equaled his season best high jump of 6-00 at the regional meet.
In all, the Buffs qualified 12 boys and nine girls, while also punching tickets for two boys relays (4x400 and 4x800) and all three girls relays.
“We’ve got so many kids where we’ve really timed up our training,” Hill said. “They’re in the best shape they’ve been in, and these kids have learned to rise to the occasion.”
While both teams finished fourth in their respective team standings in 2017, accomplishments that were pleasing, Hill’s objective for his teams are to be on the podium late Saturday with a top 3 finish.
“The football coach in me wants to be on the podium as a team,” Hill said. “There’s a lot of individual components to track, but for me the bottom line is how we do as a team.”
As far as Hill is concerned, throw out what’s transpired during the eight regular-season meets. All that matters is what transpires on Friday and Saturday.
“It only matters what happens out there (Cessna Stadium),” Hill said. “We know the kids will give it their best shot. I’m comfortable to let the chips fall where they may.”
Senior Garret Doll will be going for potential double wins in the 800- and 1600-meter runs, where his best marks this year are 1:58.10 (his personal best) and 4:30.44, although he ran a P.R. of 4:22.7 at the 2016 state meet when he finished sixth.
Junior Taylor Savolt comes in with the top seed in the 300-meter hurdles, an event in which she placed second at the 2017 state meet with a time of 45.83, with her season best time of 45.92 coming last Friday when she won the Wichita Northwest regional.
“I’m excited to see how she runs when she’s fresh and not having had to do the jumps (long and triple) before her 300s,” Hill said of Savolt, who will wait until 1:15 p.m. Friday to compete in the triple jump and 11:30 a.m. Saturday in the long jump. “She’s hit three of her top marks in the past two weeks, so she’s really at the peak of her conditioning for state.”
Senior Alex Nickell had perhaps one of the best, and maybe surprising, efforts at the regionals where he qualified in three events — the high jump, and both the 110- and 300-meter hurdles. Nathaniel Hubbard lowered his best mark in the 400-meters to 50.11 and earned his trip to the state.
“Really, you just look across the entire list of our entries, and there’s many kids who have met and exceeded expectations,” Hill said.
Seniors Javier Cervantes and Brooke Navarro were double qualifiers in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs, with each lowering their times throughout the spring season after strong fall cross country campaigns.
Senior Raegan Linenberger comes in with the second best regional high jump of 5-06, equaling her season best mark for the fourth time in as many weeks. Last year, she cleared that height for the first time in placing fourth at the state meet.
Hill also has been pleased with the continued improvement of the relay teams, with the girls 4x100-meter baton unit being the most surprising with a season best of 50.74, after they had dropped the baton the week before at the WAC Championship in Dodge City.
“Those girls have continued to work hard, work on their handoffs, and it paid off,” Hill said of his sprint team.
Another perspective from Hill is that Garden is one of the few 6A schools that puts multiple competitors into multiple events on a regular basis.
“At a normal track meet, we don’t have a lot of recovery time, so our marks sometimes aren’t as good as others,” Hill said, “but at the state meet, most events are spread out much more and over two days, so we have more time to re-charge, and be ready, and that’s why I think you see our kids exceeding their seeding places from regionals.”
The weather forecast for the two days is for temperatures to be in the low 90s, with the likelihood of higher humidity. But the last three weeks of the season finally warmed up, and Hill sees the weather forecast much like what the team experienced in regionals in Wichita last Friday.
“It was 90 degrees there and I thought the kids performed really well,” he said. “It’s about staying out of the sun, hydrating, and just being smart to keep your legs rested as much as possible. I don’t think it will have as big an effect as maybe in the past.”