Cobras strong at regionals, send 14 athletes on to state track in Wichita
By all measurable marks, this track season has far and away been a success for the Jackson Heights team. On top of the collective success earned by having one of the largest squads in the county, the Cobras saw that equaled at the individual level in last Friday’s regional at Washington.
In total, 14 individual athletes qualified for state competition, which was the top mark in Jackson County, and for the first time that coach Lyle Alley can remember in his 36 years with the JHHS track program every male athlete who went to regional qualified in at least one event.
“I’d say we did pretty well. It just seemed like once we got going, every time we stepped on the track somebody was qualifying for state,” Alley said.
While the Cobras turned in some of their best performances of the season, Alley was quick to remind his athletes that the regional is a qualifying meet. As long as they placed in the top four, they would be heading to Wichita, regardless of final times or distances.
That was important to remember for one athlete in particular as sprinter Peter Rupnicki had some uncharacteristic stumbles out of the starting blocks in the preliminary heats of the 100m and 200m dash.
Rupnicki got through to the finals in both races, though, and picked himself up to finish fourth in both events and punch his ticket to the state meet, which Alley said the junior was very excited about on Friday.
Alley left his athletes with two pieces of advice while getting off the bus before the regional began on Friday and Rupnicki ended up taking heed of both notes.
“There were two things I told them. Number one, just the tidbit about it’s all about finishing. If you want to qualify for state, when the gun goes off get yourself in the top four and stay there. And then, I’m a firm believer that this time of year, if you don’t take your ‘A’ game you don’t deserve to go on to state, but, yeah, we brought the ‘A’ game with us on Friday,” Alley said.
That carried over to other events as well, with all three boys relays (4x100m, 4x400m and 4x800m) qualifying for state, while Wyatt Olberding (triple jump) and Seth Holliday (800m run) captured a pair of runner-up finishes at the regional meet.
Holliday in particular really anchored the team and seems to be settling into a rhythm in the 800m events especially, according to Alley. The senior had a season best time in the individual 800m while staying right on the heels of the defending state champion (Washington County’s Dylan Hodgson) in the event.
In the 4x800m relay, Holliday wasn’t far off that pace, but maybe his best showing was in the final leg of the 4x400m relay. With Jackson Heights in a close third, Holliday took the baton and recorded his best split of the season (nearly 51 seconds flat) to help the Cobras claim a regional title in the event.
“Those are the types of things that we’ve come to rely on Seth for. We just have confidence that when he gets the baton, he’s going to do something special,” Alley said.
All of the relay teams did something special at the regional meet, as all three boys relays clocked season best times to lock up their spots in the state meet. Alley highlighted the performance of two freshmen as well, Braden Dohl and Dalton Chartier, for stepping up and helping the 4x800m relay shave 17 seconds off its best time to solidify its qualifying mark.
The Lady Cobras were equally impressive in the distance races, as Kaitlynn Little qualified in both the 800m and 1600m run along with the 4x800m relay.
Competing with the top distance runners in Class 2A, Little did what she needed to in order to qualify individually and Alley noted she had a good race plan to put her in that position.
Racing against a strong trio of runners from Maranatha in the 1600m event, Alley noted Little stayed with the third runner as long as possible on the way to a fourth-place finish. Then, she helped the 4x800m relay by running the opening leg to build a lead.
Two freshmen, Lexi Proffitt and Erika White, helped the Cobras stay at the front of the pack before fellow senior Aidan Allen anchored the relay for the JHHS girls and saw all her hard work culminate in a trip to the state track meet.
“Aidan was one of those young ladies who just came out and just kept sawing wood and finally in her last year as a track athlete it paid off,” Alley said.
Abby Williams was the only other female athlete to qualify for Heights, setting a new personal record in the high jump and finishing as regional runner-up. Williams nearly made it in the long jump, too, highlighting the success of some young JHHS athletes this season.
While Alley noted there is no predicting how those young athletes will perform in their first state track meet, it is still a positive sign for the team no matter how the weekend goes.
“Either way, it’s just a great opportunity for the young people to experience that and take that experience into the next track season,” Alley said.
Now, this week leading up to the state meet in Wichita is about equal parts physical preparation and mental preparation, though Alley said he is mostly trying to keep the same routine for his athletes leading up to state competition.
If they stick to the habits that have worked all season, then Alley said he believes all his athletes have a shot at potentially medaling at the state meet, though he noted he will feel proud of these athletes no matter what happens.
“We’ve gotten there because we’ve worked hard,” Alley said. “When you take a look at what these young people have been able to accomplish due to what we have to train on compared to what other schools are training on, you have to tip your hat to these kids. They’ve done a great job.”
Jackson Heights will try to do a little more in Wichita this weekend, with the boys 4x100m relay team starting things off in preliminary competition at 10:05 a.m. on Friday.