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Usually, either football or baseball is referred to as a “game of inches,” but on Friday at the 4A regional meet in Hoyt, the same case could have been made for track and field.
With some state qualifiers sneaking in by one-half or one-quarter inch, the Royal Valley athletes held their own and the Panthers will be sending 10 athletes to the state meet in Wichita this coming weekend. For the most part, RVHS coach Jason Grider said the Panthers got those necessary inches when they needed them.
“I thought the breaks worked more in our favor than they did against. I think that’s a testament to our kids’ work ethic and grittiness,” Grider said. “I’m just as pleased as I could be with what they accomplished on Friday night. I thought again we far exceeded my expectations of what was going to happen.”
In total, eight boys and two girls will represent Royal Valley at the state track meet, though a few others just missed out on joining them. Macy Putnam was one of the female athletes to come very close without making it to state, but Grider said that could be a benefit for her moving forward.
“It might end up being a blessing in disguise with her being a freshman. She’s come so far this year and she is a hard-working kid. She’s a kid who gets it and with her being that close, I think it’s just going to fuel her,” Grider said.
As for the boys, that game of inches led to some ups and downs. Skyler Link and Austin Hodison missed qualifying (in the long jump and triple jump) by less than an inch, while Gary Smith earned the final qualifying spot in the discus by a mere two inches.
Smith also qualified in the shot put, though he didn’t make it in the event he has routinely won throughout the season, the javelin.
It happened to be a tough field at the regional, with Smith needing to set a new personal record just to qualify, but Grider credited him for being able to recover from that and still qualify in multiple events.
“It’d be really easy for a kid to feel sorry for himself, but he didn’t. He went and qualified in two more events and that’s not an easy thing to do,” Grider said.
One athlete that really stepped up to the level of competition was Chris Chapman. The jack-of-all-trades has done all sorts of jumping events for the Panthers this season, including the hurdles, high jump and the pole vault.
Chapman competed in two of those events on Friday, the high jump and pole vault, which took place simultaneously. That made what Chapman did all the more impressive as he earned the regional championship in the high jump (on a judge’s decision based on the fewest missed attempts) and also qualified for state in the pole vault with a fourth-place finish.
“He found a way. He said before the competition, ‘I’m going to go in two events,’” Grider said. “Chris is a kid who started figuring some things out last year and really turned into a very good leader for us. I could not be happier for the young man knowing how hard he works and how he’s developed himself into being a great athlete.”
Royal Valley ended up taking fourth as a team in the boys division and other individual boys who qualified for state included Wemiko Lewis and brothers Patrick and Thomas Broxterman. All three had particularly strong days, but Thomas Broxterman may have had to push himself the most.
Grider noted that when all is said and done, Thomas will most likely go down as one of the great all-time athletes at RVHS and he put forth a fitting performance on Friday.
In the individual 800m run, Broxterman ran his best time of the season to take second in the race while also turning in a stellar time to solidify the Panthers’ lead in the final leg of the 4x800m relay on the way to a regional title. That relay team also improved upon the school record it already holds by seven seconds.
“They’re going to make that record extremely tough to beat and they’re going to give themselves a chance to win a state title as well,” Grider said.
Two female athletes will also be representing Royal Valley at the state meet and both Mara Winter and Elizabeth Blevins are walking examples of tenacity paying off. Both, Grider noted, do things the right way, working hard to earn their success, and both have also fought through some adversity.
Grider points to Winter as an example of the right work ethic turning a good athlete into a great one. While she had struggled to break through to the state level in years past, Winter qualified in both the long jump and the triple jump, winning a regional championship, in her senior year.
“She’s just extremely focused. She’s turned herself into a mentally tough individual when really her first three years she’s been a mess when it came to crunch time and it’s gotten to her and she’s the one that’s made those adjustments,” Grider said.
All of these athletes have been prepared through a tough schedule and Grider noted they have put in the necessary work to reach the state level and should be confident as these Panther athletes now prepare to compete in Wichita.
“They’ve earned the right to be confident and they’re focused and I’m expecting to see big things at the state meet from them,” Grider said.