Spring Preview: Several of state’s best return to the track for 2021 season
(Catch it Kansas) - Hit the reset button. The loss of the 2020 Kansas high school track and field season denied one group of seniors the opportunity at a final season, and denied another group of incoming freshmen their first opportunity to shine. Even after a season off, many of the state’s top athletes from 2019 will be back in action in the much anticipated return of spring sports.
While the girls’ returners are spread thin among the track events and classes, several top performers will be back in 2021. The boys will see a true reset as virtually all the state champions on the track have graduated, and after the lost season, many a medals stand will be completely reshuffled later in May.
Ladies first. The big classes suffered gigantic losses on the track across the board. In Class 6A, the top-12 milers from 2019 have now graduated, as have nine of the top-13 two-milers. All four exceptions are juniors from Eastern Kansas.
[Ed. note: Field athletes will be previewed in an article to come later in the week]
An exception in the sprints is Derby senior Aneesa Abdul-Hameed, won finished second in the 6A 400m dash and sixth in the 100m dash two years ago. She also qualified for state in the 200m dash. The 400m was her best race in 2019, and her time of 57.58 ranked No. 4 in Kansas.
In the smaller classes, Kiowa County junior Addi Heinson won a pair of silver medals in the 100m and 200m dashes in 2019, and she finished fourth in the 400m dash. Besides Heinson, the top-six runners in both of the short sprints have graduated so Heinson enters the season as a favorite to lead her reigning-champion Lady Mav team. Heinson’s best regular-season time of 26.29 in the 200m dash ranked No. 2 in 1A, and she also had top-five 1A times in the 100m (12.61) and 400m (59.90) dashes.
Garden Plain junior Brooke Hammond made a huge splash her freshman season with wins in the Class 2A 100m and 200m dashes. She topped out at 26.05 at state to win the 200m title, and her best 100m time of 12.48 also came at state.
Ellsworth senior Shaylee Leiker has been a mainstay in the sprints across the board. The Bearcats return to Class 3A this spring so Leiker will see a largely new group of runners. Leiker placed third in the 2A 400m dash two years ago in 60.31, and she placed fifth in the 100m dash in 12.82. Heading into the postseason in 2019, her best 100m time of 12.30 led Class 2A, and she was ranked No. 2 in the 400m dash and No. 4 in the 200m dash.
Finally for the sprinters, Circle senior Kimalee Cook returns as the Class 4A champion in both the 100m and 200m dashes. Her 12.25 100m time at state placed her at No. 16 in the state last spring. Her best 200m time of 25.27 ranked No. 8 in all of Kansas in 2019.
Previously mentioned, the big classes were hit hard across the board on the track and perhaps especially in the distance races. Bishop Carroll junior Hope Jackson is one of the exceptions. As a freshman in 2019, Jackson placed second in the 5A 3200m run in 11:15.15. Her best time of 11:06.30 that season ranked No. 6 in Kansas, and although she did not run in the 1600m run at state, her best time of 5:12.17 was 10th fastest in Kansas. Last October, Jackson won the 5A state cross country championship by six seconds.
Maize junior Zoie Ecord and Maize South senior Alexa Rios will provide some competition. Rios is coming off a fifth-place finish at the state cross country championships, and Ecord ran eighth. As a freshman two years ago, Ecord ran third in the 5A 1600m run in 5:19, and she placed sixth in the 800m run. Her best 1600m time of 5:14.62 was a top-20 time in Kansas that year.
Chapman senior Taylor Briggs will be one of the state’s top runners. The reigning 4A champion in both the 1600m and the 3200m, Briggs had the No. 4 1600m time in Kansas two years ago at 5:06.18. Her best 3200m time of 11:10.31 ranked No. 7 in the state. Briggs won this year’s 4A cross country championship by nearly two minutes.
In Class 1A, Lincoln senior Jaycee Vath is coming off a state cross country championship by 36 seconds. She also returns as the 1600m and 3200m champion in 1A, winning the latter race by 26 seconds in 11:27.53, the No. 16 time in all of Kansas in 2019.
Most of the state’s top hurdlers have graduated, and all classes have enjoyed strong leaders in past seasons. Class 3A may be the group to watch in 2021 with Chaparral senior Sophie Francis and Smoky Hill senior Belle Peters going head to head.
Peters will be one of the state’s top pole vaulters to watch this season. On the track in 2019, she finished second in the 3A 100m hurdles, losing only to Cheney standout Layne Needham. Francis placed fourth in that race and finished second behind Needham in the 300s. Peters’ best 100m hurdle time of 14.99 ranked No. 9 in Kansas two years ago, and Francis’ best 300m time of 45.49 ranked No. 7 in the state.
In Class 4A, Pratt senior Sian Helfrich will be a favorite to repeat in the 300m hurdles with Anderson County and senior Abigael Reid dropping to Class 3A. Helfrich ran a 45.90 to win her state title by 0.08 seconds over Reid, moving to No. 11 in the state ranks that season.
Track fans were treated to some spectacular athletes in 2019 with Wichita South’s Deron Dudley running the sixth-fastest 100m dash all-time (10.38) in the state of Kansas. Wichita West’s Xavier Sellers ran the No. 23 fastest time ever in Kansas (10.50), and Smoky Valley’s Timmy Lambert topped out in 10.53, winning a pair of individual golds and just missing a hurdle gold.
Most of the top performers graduated in 2019, and another strong group was denied a shot at the record books in 2020. Goddard-Eisenhower senior Ryan Dreiling returns as one of the top sprinters after a fifth-place finish in the 5A 200m dash two years ago. Dreiling’s best 200m time of 21.81 ranked No. 3 in Kansas in 2019, and he also had a top-20 state time in the 100m dash in 10.85. Dreiling fell to 11.11 at state for an 11th-place finish in that event.
The Mosley name is big in the 400m dash with Wichita Southeast’s Christal Mosley putting up the fourth-fastest time ever in the state. As a sophomore two years ago, Heights senior Elijah Mosley collected his own gold in the event, winning by nearly two seconds in 48.29, the fastest time in Kansas in 2019. Mosley also returns as one of the state’s top 800m runners this year, finishing third at state in 1:57.64 – still the third-fastest time in Kansas that spring.
With Mosley returning to the 800m run, the 5A race was shaping up to be one of the state’s best in 2021 Then Heights moved to Class 6A.
In 2019, the Class 5A 800m field featured three of the state’s top-six runners. Lansing’s Terry Robinson led the pack and graduated in 2020. Mosley moves to 6A, leaving only Andover senior Samuel McDavitt to return. McDavitt saved his best for last in 2019, running a 1:57.03 at state to finish second to Robinson in both the state and the season standings in Kansas.
Class 5A is usually the strongest class across the board for distance running. Thirteen of the 14 state runners in the 5A 1600m run and the top-nine 5A 3200m runners have graduated since the last state race. Twenty of the top-21 finishers at the 5A state cross country meet were juniors or seniors with Great Bend sophomore Kaiden Esfeld being the exception in 18th.
Aquinas senior Tommy Hazen ran the state’s best 3200m time in 2019, but he was eclipsed by Kapaun senior Erik Enriquez and Bishop Carroll junior Carson McEachern at the 5A state cross country meet. In Class 6A, Manhattan senior Daniel Harkin posted the 3200m No. 12 time in Kansas in 2019, and he returns as the reigning 6A 3200m champion and 6A cross country champion.
In Class 4A, Augusta junior Sawyer Schmidt picked up a silver medal in the 1600m run and a bronze in the 3200m run two springs ago. A growing field pushed him to a sixth-place finish at the 4A state cross country meet in October.
The Southeast of Saline boys have been the 3A cross country power in recent years. Senior Luke Gleason ran fifth in the 3A 1600m run in 2019. Senior teammate Dylan Sprecker and Smoky Valley senior Ryan Heline will also be contenders for distance medals in May. The 3A group was disrupted with Girard dropping down from 4A. Senior Cormick Logue, brother of three-time Big 12 Cross Country Runner of the Year Cailie Logue, dominated the 3A state cross country field.
Central Christian senior Collin Oswalt has been the premiere Class 1A runner in recent seasons. He won the 1600m and 3200m titles in 2019 and followed those with the state cross country championship in October. Oswalt had the No. 19 3200m time in Kansas in 2019 at 9:41.52, a time that led Class 1A by 25 seconds.
Beloit-St. John’s senior Caleb Eilert gave Oswalt his best competition at the state cross country meet. In 2019, Osborne senior Reagan Bales finished second behind Oswalt in the 1600m run and also medaled in the 800m run with a fifth-place finish.
The state’s top-two hurdlers in 2019 were both juniors who missed their senior season in 2020. Beyond that, the hurdles were largely dominated by seniors two years ago.
Sheldon Whalen is the exception for Class 2A Wichita County. Whalen already turned heads during the 8-Man, Div. I state football championship game. When he last took the track, he ranked No. 11 in Kansas with a 39.80 showing in the 300m hurdles. With that time, Whalen won the 2A title by 1.5 seconds, and his 15.40 in the high hurdles was good enough for the silver. Whalen also ran eighth at state in the 2A 200m dash in 23.76.
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