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Track preview 2013 ... Natoma sends six to state finale

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Natoma High School sophomore Kourtney Grafel and junior Jackson Meiers were the Tigers' lone state qualifiers last season when they finished sixth in the high jump and seventh in the long jump in Class 1A, respectively.

Last Friday, Meiers took the anchor baton in the 3,200-meter relay at the Class 1A Hays regional. The Tigers posted times of 2 minutes, 11 seconds, 2:16 and 2:18 on the first three legs. At that point, Natoma wasn't securely in the top four. However, Meiers ran a 2:08 final leg to give the Tigers a third place finish and send the relay to state.

"I wanted it, I wanted it really bad," Meiers said. "I wanted to get to state. I have been there. I know what it takes. I wanted to get my friends there."

Helped by some move-ins, freshman Regan Casey and another solid year from Meiers and Grafel, Natoma will send four individuals and the relay to the Class 1A state meet this weekend at Wichita State University's Cessna Stadium.

"That was our goal all year to get some more kids through," coach Kurt Grafel said.

Meiers, despite a knee injury that kept him from practicing jumping often, broke 20 feet for the first time this year when he went 20-8 at regionals and is ranked fifth entering state.

Grafel has dealt with injuries since basketball, including a foot injury that has kept her from high jumping most of the spring. Coach Grafel, her father, didn't think she would jump all year.

At the first meet of the season, Grafel jumped and felt plenty of pain.

She didn't jump again until the last week of the regular season when she went 5-2 to win the Northern Plains League championship. Coach Grafel estimated her daughter at 70 to 80 percent, but she managed to clear 5-0 at regionals and qualify. This week, she was expected to stretch and do agility work, and won't jump until Saturday.

"Hopefully enough time to give her a chance," coach Grafel said.

Casey qualified in two events when she won the regional in the shot put (34-1.5) and finished fourth in the 100-meter hurdles (17.31), a rare combination.

"Just some natural ability," coach Grafel said.

The 3,200-meter relay has been in the works for two years. Grafel put together the relay last year because it's an event that few 1A teams do, and it would be a good opportunity to qualify for state.

Last spring, Meiers and Seth Johnson, a strong runner, ran on the relay with two teammates who weren't as strong, but the Tigers fell short of qualifying.

"Had some sickness," Meiers said.

This year, Natoma has dropped 28 seconds from the season-opening meet, ran an 8:47.30 and broke a school record that has stood for 34 years. Grafel believes the team can run around 8:40.

"It starts with the coaches," Meiers said. "They get the best out of you. When you are hungry for that kind of stuff, you've just got to do it. Everybody wants it. They are going to give it their all everyday."

Meiers runs on the relay with sophomore Jacob Chambray and freshmen Maddux Winter and Joey Raat. Winter, who also qualified in the 110 hurdles, moved in last year with his family from Valley Center. His father, Fred, is the head football and assistant track coach. Raat came from Plainville.

All season, Grafel has asked for a 2:14 split from Chambray. The first two meets, Chambray ran in the 2:20 range. Now, he is down to 2:11 to 2:12.

"Jacob Chambray has done more than I have even asked of him," Grafel said.

Meiers, a starter in football and basketball since his freshman year and a NCAA Division I kicking prospect, has closed the relay. On Friday, he distanced himself from fifth-place La Crosse, moved ahead of fourth place Stockton and finished just over six seconds from leaders Weskan and Hoxie. Meiers called the run "a challenge" but was pleased to accomplish his goal.

"Last year, we had pretty weak numbers, but the more people we send, we send a message to other schools that we are not only good in track and field, but we can do just as good in basketball or football," Meiers said.