The storylines are plentiful as they usually are for the final athletic event of the Kansas high school calendar year.
Southwest Kansas, traditionally a stronghold of cross country and track and field performers, will send another strong contingent to Wichita for the 2018 Kansas State Track and Field Championships, which will get under way at 7:45 a.m. Friday at Wichita State University’s Cessna Stadium.
The finals of the Class 4-5-6A girls and boys 3,200-meter run will be the opening gun for the two-day affair, which brings together thousands of high school athletes in all six of Kansas’ classification system. In addition, the meet, which may be the only one of its kind where all classes compete at the same site, annually attracts between 15-20,000 fans as the prep sports year comes to a close on Saturday.
For the 12-county, 19-school Telegram area schools, the final chapter is yet to be written, but here is a snapshot of the top possibilities:
Holcomb will send a strong boys contingent, with Devin Mader among the top-ranked 100- and 200-meter runners, while Isaiah Armstrong has the best time in 4A in the 400 meters at 49.05, a school record. The Longhorns’ 4x100 relay team, which has twice rewritten the school mark this year, ran a 42.50 at the regionals a week ago, but still barely won, finishing .01 seconds ahead of Mulvane.
Defending 110-meter hurdle champion Carter Blackburn, who battled an injury for much of the season, ran in the high 14 seconds to qualify to defend his title. While he won last year’s 300 hurdles as well, he missed qualifying for that event at regionals.
“It’s been our tradition that when regionals rolls around, it’s showtime,” said Holcomb boys coach Lindall Cox, who is retiring after the state meet and will be moving with his wife to North Carolina this summer. “We decided to stay one more because of the seniors we had in cross country and in track, as well as some of these kids are in show choir, and my wife is the piano accompanist for that group.”
Cox, who coached area legend Levi Gillen of Leoti/Wichita County in middle school back in the early 1990s, has been the head coach at Holcomb since the 1995-96 school year, and then re-booted the cross country program, which won a pair of 3A state titles in the late 2000s, in 1997.
“The kids competed really well at probably the toughest regional meet I’ve seen,” Cox said of the Andale regional. “We knew we’d have to, and the kids went out and ran even faster.”
The Longhorns finished eighth in the team chase a year ago with 30.5 points while Scott City was third with 46, but the Beavers have moved down to Class 3A, and will be among the contending teams in that class.
Cox will have company with another departing area coach as Hugoton’s Nick Rodriguez will be stepping down following the state meet after serving as the head track and field coach since 1999 and the head cross country coach since the fall of 1995.
He will be heading back to his hometown of Ellsworth, where he will be teaching and his wife has accepted a position in the health care industry in that area.
“We’re pretty healthy, and we’ll be moving some of our kids back into the relays and just see how they do,” Rodriguez said.
Hugoton’s 4x400 finished just behind Holcomb at the Andale regional (3:25.34 to 3:25.89), and those teams are seeded second and third. The Eagles 4x800 baton team is seeded second at 8:21.51, but has a season best of 8:16.21 and will welcome back distance ace Abraham Garcia-Aguirre to the team.
“4A is just a monster this year, so for us, a top 10 finish would be good,” Rodriguez said. “I think we have a chance to medal most of our kids if they perform well, but Andale and Buhler are just so tough.”
Mitchell Hamlin is seeded third in the long jump (22-00) and fifth in the 400 (50.23) for Rodriguez’ Eagles.
Well before the spring track season began, Scott City coach Jim Turner could look to 2017 Class 3A cross country champion Jack Thomas as his anchor for the distance races and a likely spot on the 4x800-meter relay team.
But Thomas has sat out most of the spring season with a hip injury, but did run a leg on the 4x800-meter relay team at the regional in Beloit last week and will do so again in Wichita.
Turner’s other major ace is junior Marshall Faurot, who has the state’s best pole vault, clearing 16-00 back in mid-April at the Scott City Relays. He also has cleared 6-06 in the high jump and has run 14.81 in the 110-meter high hurdles, but didn’t run the 300 hurdles due to recovering from an injury that sidelined him for the last half of April and the first week of May.
Faurot will compete in the two field events and the 110 hurdles, but Turner said he is far from 100 percent.
“He’s a tough kid, a great kid, so we’re gonna find out how tough he is this weekend,” Turner said of Faurot, whose younger brother, freshman Loren, qualified in the vault by clearing 13-06.
The Beavers’ three relay teams also punched respective tickets to the state with the fastest qualifying times across the four regional meets. They clocked times of 43.41 (4x100), 3:24.19 (4x400) and 8:22.28 (4x800).
“We just kind of approach the state with the goal of getting as many kids on the awards stand as possible,” Turner said of his expectations. “We know the kids will compete hard. So many things can happen in a day and a half, and many of those don’t have anything to do with us.”
On the girls side, Turner said Madison Shapland (10-00 pole vault), Makaela Stevens (12:19.97, 3200) and Emily Smith (47.42, 300 hurdles) will be the top individual entrants for the Beavers. Their 4x800-meter relay team is seeded third at 10:11.23 and the 4x400 is seeded second (4:08.37).
Junior Wyatt Hayes sped to a 2:00.52 in winning the 800 meters, and comes in as the top seed in that event.
“It’s pretty cool with all the classes competing,” Turner said of the state meet. “It’s a great atmosphere and quite a show for Kansas kids.”
Lakin’s JP Perez comes in with the top-seeded time of 39.27, which he ran at the Cimarron regional on Friday. Cimarron’s 4x800-meter relay team enters as the top seed with a season best mark of 10:03.97, which came at the Hi-Plains League mark while they ran a 10:06.91 at their regional meet.
Sprinters Devin Berens of the Stanton County Trojans boys and Laiten Greeson of Sublette’s girls were both top three finishers in 2017 in Class 2A, with Greeson having finished second in both the 100 and 200 in 2017. Greeson has the area’s top marks in her two specialties, and Berens, who was second and fifth in the 100 and 400, respectively, at last year’s state meet, ranks No. 2 on the area list in this year’s 100, 200 honor roll.
Berens, who set a Hi-Plains League meet record in the 200 two weeks ago (22.17), also has clocked a 10.92 in the 100 and anchors the Trojans’ 4x100-meter relay team, which has a season best of 43.52 seconds.
“We certainly know there’s plenty of challenges and some other teams will be very tough this weekend,” said Trojan coach Cory Bixler.
The Trojans, though, were dealt a severe blow for a chance at the team title when junior Creed Puyear suffered an appendix attack and had an emergency appendectomy just before Friday’s regional.
“He’s improving every day, and coming out to support his teammates, but it certainly does change the points that we were expecting,” Bixler said of the loss of Puyear, who was one of the top-ranked long and triple jumpers in Class 2A, with season best marks of 22-08.50 and 42-08.00.
Trey Summers’ 12-09 pole vault puts him seeded second.
Syracuse’s Payson Hawkins, who sizzled with a 44-08.50 triple jump, went 42-02.25 at regionals in Spearville to earn the No. 5 seed.
Wichita County’s Mareli Salazar is the third-seed in the javelin with a toss of 127-01, but has a season best mark of 133-08.
It was just a year ago that South Gray roared through the state’s smallest class of schools by scoring 90 points to win the state team title by 25 points.
The Rebels appear to be poised once again to challenge for the No. 1 team finish.
They are led by senior thrower Gilbert Peters, who captured both shot put and discus last year, and is back to defend those titles. He has Telegram area best throw of 58-03 in the shot put and had his season best throw in the discus at the South Gray regional last Friday, with a tape-measure of 184-06.50.
But the Rebels have more than Peters.
Senior Craig Griebel finished second in the 100 and 400 as a junior while placing third in the 200, and enters Friday afternoon’s semifinals seeded first in the 100 (10.97) and 400 (51.80) and fourth in the 200 (23.25).
The Rebels’ 4x400-meter relay team also enters with high hopes after posting a state best qualifying time of 3:33.03. Davis Brock is seeded fourth in the pole vault at 12-06.
“I feel really good about where we are right now going in,” said Rebel head coach James McMillan. “We’re gonna have to perform really well because there’s a couple of schools (Beloit-St. John’s and Centralia), who are pretty good. Hopefully, we’ll be one of those top three teams.”
McMillan said Peters is primed for a big day at this year’s curtain call after suffering a case of nerves as a junior.
“We’re planning on getting a couple of good throws in and then being able to turn him loose for a state record,” McMillan said. “We’d like to get those two over early and then let him go have fun.”
On the girls side of things, several Rebels will be contending.
Emily Salmans has the top 400-meter time of 1:00.24 with her season best being 59.27, and also is seeded fourth in the 100 (12.92). Sarah Tarn is seeded second in the 1,600 meters (5:50.67).
Satanta has a group of sprinters in the girls division with Alex Howie (12.72) and Sicely Jackson (12.89) among the top 100-meter entrants. The Indians also captured the regional with a time of 52.50, which seeds them sixth among 16 teams.
Deerfield’s Sheridan Rodriguez (5-06 high jump and 27.16 200 meters) and Griffin Cherico (34-02 shot put) will be the top Spartans’ entries. Ella Roberts of Dighton is seeded fourth in the shot put (36-09). On the boys side, Gabe Salas’ 21-10 long jump puts him in the No. 2 seed.
Greeley County’s Evan Crotinger has the No. 1-seeded time from regionals, taking the 800-meters in 2:02.81.
Saturday’s final day competition begins promptly at 8 a.m. with field events finals while track events begin at 8:30 a.m. with prelims in the 100-meter dashes for all classes in both girls and boys.