La Crosse repeats in Class 1A
By CONOR NICHOLL
WICHITA -- The La Crosse High School boys' track team was the heavy favorite entering the Class 1A state track and field meet after it returned virtually all its top athletes from a classification record 84 points last spring.
Still, the Leopards continually improved throughout the season, had multiple big performances from athletes who had never been to state and again received strong weekends from seniors William Storie, Levi Morss and Kip Keeley.
"We are never one to back down from a challenge," Storie said. "We always talk about adversity and overcoming it, and that's what separates us from everyone else."
This weekend, La Crosse finished with 87 points and set another 1A boys' mark for its second consecutive Class 1A title. Centralia finished as runner-up for the second straight year with 46.75 points. The Leopards' back-to-back crowns are the second and third championships in any sport in school history.
"Team-wise, we accomplished our goal," said Morss, who won four golds.
On Friday, the Leopards went 2-4-5 in the shot put with Keeley and sophomores Sheldon Schmidt and Cole Kershner. None of the athletes had qualified in shot put before this year.
"I am really proud of our throwers," Storie said. "They came, and they competed."
Then La Crosse finished 1-2 in javelin with junior Lucas Moeder and Keeley; it was Moeder's first state trip.
"It's nice to see we have these prodigies coming in," Morss said.
On Saturday, Morss highlighted the day with championships in the 100- and 400-meter dashes in 10.97 and 50.09 seconds, respectively. Coupled with a Friday gold in the long jump, Morss finished with three individual golds. Then, he anchored the 1,600 relay in a gold-medal time of 3:29.68. Last year, he had only one gold in the long jump.
He had less competition when Otis-Bison junior Jordan Hoffman hurt his upper leg early in 100 and scratched out of the 400.
"I felt alone," Morss said. "It was bittersweet. I liked someone that can push me and without him there, I felt like I maybe didn't perform to the best I could."
Morss wanted four golds, but had false started in the 200 at the regional last week. On Saturday, he replaced sophomore Andrew Jay on the 1,600-meter relay.
Storie took second in the 300-meter hurdles after he was fourth last year. The senior ran in his familiar red socks.
"I wanted to leave my signature every time I raced," Storie said. "They saw me, and they knew who I was."
He had the initials "B.R.D." written on his shoes in black ink in honor of his friend Ben Derr from La Crosse. Derr passed away in an accident the week before regionals two years ago. Every time Storie settles in the blocks, he looks down at the initials.
"He is my inspiration," Storie said. "He has really driven me."
Storie ran 40.32 and finished behind Clifton-Clyde junior William Ohlde. Storie also ran the opening leg of the 400 relay that finished fifth in 45.03 and was the opening leg on the 1,600 relay.
"I have working really hard all year and focusing mainly on the 300 hurdles," Storie said. "It was kind of disappointing that I finished in the place that I did. It was still something to be proud of."
Morss and Hoffman, Rush County rivals, were supposed to match up in the 100 and 400 finals. Hoffman qualified first in the 400 and fourth in the 100. In the 100 finals, though, Hoffman hurt himself early in the race and took fifth in 11.38. Morss ran well and believed he could have won the race even if Hoffman had been in the competition.
Morss' 10 points for the title effectively earned the team crown.
"I had a good start," Morss said. "I had a good time. I had a good race."
Barrientes collects discus title
Sylvan-Lucas senior Paul Barrientes threw in the 130s and low 140s in the discus during the regular season. Last week, Barrientes threw 147-1 at the Valley Heights regional to qualify for the second straight year. Barrientes and his coach Ryan Batchman watched YouTube videos, and changed his spin speed.
"Was kind of coming off slow and that forced a lot of my throws out of bounds, so I moved speed up and getting down the middle more, focusing more on lower half of my body and my hips, getting a good throw out of it," Barrientes said.
On Friday, Barrientes had a frustrating showing in the Class 1A shot put when he didn't make finals. A morning later, Barrientes was ecstatic after he pulled off the 1A discus title with a throw of 154-9.
"I got a little angry, and then I settled down, and then I focused that anger on throwing the disc and it helped," Barrientes said.
It marked the first state crown for the Sylvan or Lucas-Luray - they consolidated three years ago - since Lucas-Luray's Dustin Feil won the 1A discus in 1999. The gold was also his first state medal.
"He is probably one of the greatest coaches I have ever had in my life," Barrientes said. "It really means a lot to get that championship for him. That was the main thing. That was the goal for today, to get that championship for him."
Barrientes, the No. 3 seed, went 150-4 in prelims to set another personal best and move into second place. After a foul on his fourth throw, Barrientes narrowly fouled on his fifth throw when stepped out of the front of the ring after a big toss.
"Saying around 160," Barrientes said.
Barrientes was a little frustrated, but Batchman told him, "Let it be smooth" for his final throw. Barrientes calmed down, said a little prayer and threw his winning toss on his last attempt, five inches better than Langdon-Fairfield senior Brennyn Pankratz.
Pankratz was the last thrower in the competition. Barrientes went and stood behind one of his coaches. After Pankratz's throw was short, Barrientes hugged his coaches, family and his mom, who said "I told you so!"
"I was really happy," Barrientes said.
Weskan earns relay title
Weskan was nearly nine seconds behind Stafford when Coyote senior Sam McKinney took the baton on the anchor leg of the Class 1A 3,200-meter relay.
"If somebody would have told me that we would have ended up catching them, I probably wouldn't have believed them," McKinney said.
Instead, McKinney ran a 1:59 split and caught Stafford freshman Mikey Augilar in the final 50 meters. Weskan, which also had seniors Brendan Escamilla, junior Tyler Compton and senior Nick Smith, finished in a school record of 8:17.65, besting the previous mark of 8:25.
"Our guys have been working hard all season," McKinney said. "We have been running in the mornings."
McKinney was going to be happy with second. His main goal was the school record. With 200 meters left, McKinney looked up and saw he had a chance to get the mark, so he took off sprinting. Then, he turned into the last 100 and saw the gap between him and Augilar.
"I didn't realize that we were so close," McKinney said. "I tried my heart out to try and catch him."
McKinney also finished third in the 1,600 (4:33.85) and second in the 800 (2:01.31).
St. Francis wins boys' 400 relay, Atwood takes girls' relay
The St. Francis' 400 relay has juniors Logan Lampe and Derek Queen and seniors Thomas Douthit and Michael Leibbrant. All four Indians made their first trip to state this year. None of them qualified for the 100 prelims out of regionals.
"We are not fast enough to all be at the top of the 100, but we are just right there below," Douthit said.
Yet the Indians won the 400 relay in 44.39 seconds. At regionals, St. Francis ran 44.28 and held the top seed entering state.
"Through the year, we hadn't really had all four of us except for three or four times," Douthit said. "That was just running 45. We really didn't make our big step until regionals."
Atwood, seeded No. 1, won the 400 relay in 51.03 seconds and displayed impressive depth when senior Taylor Leitner and sophomores Lexy Leitner and Rohey Singhateh went 4-6-7 in the 100, respectively. Leitner finished fifth in the 200 (27.37), too. They were the first medals for Taylor Leitner, who has qualified in at least one event all four years. .
"It's nice to finally actually do as well as we should be doing at state," Taylor Leitner said. "I never do great at state. My junior year was bad. I guess just this year because it's my last chance. I knew we had a really good shot at everything. I guess motivation more than anything."
Heim wins long jump
Hoxie sophomore Carly Heim doesn't plan to hit a big jump on her first attempt of long jump and triple jump. However, at regionals and state, Heim often led from the start with a big jump. On Saturday afternoon, Heim went 17-1.5 on her first attempt in the 1A long jump. No one beat that mark.
"I think it's just coincidence," Heim said of the big early jumps. "I don't think I really do it on purpose."
On her second attempt, Heim delivered her gold-medal winning jump when she went 17-2.5. Heim also won the triple jump Friday morning - and then had more than 24 hours to wait.
"It's been a long day," Heim said. "I am just glad for it to be over."
At regionals, Heim benefited from a little bit of wind and went a career-best 17-11.75. On Saturday, Heim had a 1.8 mile per hour wind, just under the legal limit of 2.0, on her best jump.
"It helped a lot," Heim said. "Not as much as last weekend. I am just thankful to be here."