Individual talent showcased at regional
The week before Friday's regional, Tonganoxie track coach Bill Shaw said, "If anyone wants to see high-quality 4-A teams and athletes, they need to be here next week. There will be some good ones."
Shaw was right. The day was so exciting the clouds that threatened to burst with rain the entire afternoon seemed to hold their piece in deference to the day's events and the 16 attending schools.
At the end of the still-dry day, the Chieftain girls had finished in sixth place and the boys had finished in eighth place. But because of the individual nature of a regional track meet, the true measure of success lies not in how the team did, but in how many team members qualified for state.
"I'm proud of all our kids that qualified," Shaw said.
Individual competition was fierce. Athletes who had dominated all season faced each other Friday. The results were happy for some and heartbreaking for far more only the top three places in each event earned a berth in the Class 4A State Track meet this weekend in Wichita.
And Tonganoxie felt its share of both happiness and heartbreak.
For the girls, this was felt no more poignantly than by three dominant seniors who were looking to qualify for state at home in their last seasons as Chieftain track stars.
"Wendy, Bryce and Arrika have all had great seasons for us this year," Shaw said the week before regionals. "We're hoping to see all of them qualify for state."
Bryce Downey and Arrika Reeder both qualified for state as part of the 4x100 team that took second with a time of 53.30 seconds.
But the relay medal was just icing on the cake for the two girls, both of whom qualified in two other events.
"It couldn't have been better for Bryce and Arrika," Shaw said. "They had outstanding individual performances."
Downey finished third in the high jump, clearing four feet, 10 inches. She also took third in the triple jump, going 31 feet, five inches.
Reeder took third in the 100-meter dash with a time of 13 second flat, only one one-hundredth of a second out of first. She also took the bronze in the 200-meter dash with a time of 27.50 seconds.
"They weren't my best times, but I'm going to state," said an elated Reeder.
But Reeder was a special case. Most athletes in the regional track meet can't afford to do worse than their bests and still survive.
And that was the case with senior Wendy Altman, who had an off day at the regional.
The crowd was stunned after Altman, the top-ranked girl in the javelin, fell just short Friday finishing in fifth place with a throw of 97 feet, nine inches well short of her season and career best of 114 feet.
"We're all disappointed for Wendy," Shaw said. "She had a great year for us; she had a great four years for us."
Laura Korb was another strong finisher for the girls. She took fifth place in both the 1,600-meter run and the 3,200-meter run. She ran five minutes and 58 seconds in the 1,600 and 13:6.80 in the 3,200.
Rounding out the girls' top finishers were Kristina Ladas, who placed sixth in the high jump, clearing four feet, six inches and pole vaulter Erin O'Brien, who took sixth in her event, clearing six feet, six inches.
The girls 3,200-meter relay team finished fifth with a time of 11 minute, 32 seconds.
The competition was just as tough for the boys, who also had their taste of victory and heartbreak.
Pole vaulter Tyler Wise was the only Chieftain to win gold, when he cleared 13 feet. A crowd formed around the pit as he tried three times to beat that mark and break the meet record. He didn't quite make it.
After he missed on his last attempt, he ran over to his next event, the high jump.
But since the high jump started while he was still pole vaulting, the height was already up to five feet ten inches and Wise, who regularly clears at least six feet, couldn't get in the flow and didn't clear it. Neither did fellow jumper Scott Breuer, who had cleared six feet in the league meet.
Breuer finished in fourth place with a jump of five feet eight inches.
The boys also qualified two other events for state: the long jump and the 3,200-meter relay.
Joey Holek jumped 20 feet, six inches to take second in the long jump.
Holek said he was going to spend the week trying to get focused for the tougher competition he will face at state.
"It'll be pretty close," he said. "I'm going to work out as much as I can."
He said he expected there to be many jumps of 21 feet or better at the state. Holek also finished in sixth place in the triple jump, with a leap of 39 feet, five inches.
Tonganoxie's 3,200-meter relay team placed well once again, finishing in second place, behind Baldwin, with a time of eight minutes, 30 seconds.
The team had turned in a time of 8:14:1 at Shawnee Mission early this month, but hasn't been able to find that sort of speed since then.
"They were still quite a few seconds off their top time," Coach Phil Williams said. "But then again it's hard to run your top time if the competition isn't there."
Also turning in top performances for the boys were Jordan Smith, who took fifth in the 800-meter run with a time of two minutes, four seconds, and freshman Tony Miller, who took seventh in the javelin, setting a personal best with a throw of 150 feet, 11 inches.
"In the off season I'll be in the weight room and working on my form with a friend from Nebraska," Miller said. Miller's best throw coming into the regional meet was 146 feet.