HHS relay among the elite
By KLINT SPILLER
The Hays High School boys' 3,200-meter relay team is on the verge of Kansas prep history.
If the Indians win the Class 5A state championship this season, it will be the program's fourth consecutive title in the relay. Only four other schools have won four straight boys' relay titles. If Hays High gets to state and wins on May 25, it will become the fifth.
"It gives me chills," said senior Josh Brungardt. "It's hard to wrap my head around it. It's such a big thing to be a part of. I never thought I'd be a part of something like that."
Right now, Hays High is one of 25 schools to win three state titles in a row in a boys' relay. No school has ever won five in a row, but that's something Hays High won't be able to do until 2013.
Besides, Brungardt said the team isn't focused on the past or the future.
"We don't try to live too much in the past, because it's kind of stressful and there's a lot of pressure," Brungardt said.
"We just try to focus on this year's current relay and what we can do with it."
Hays High has won the title with seven different runners taking part in the race at state.
This year's team includes two faces who ran on the relay at state last year and three who didn't.
Brungardt and senior Ethan Fort have run on the relay at state since 2011, and the other two core members, senior Derek Drees and junior Landon Munsch, have run on the relay at times as replacement runners. Freshman Keith Dryden also will run on the relay this season, filling in when the team needs to move runners around to score more points.
"When you have more people there, it allows you some freedom," said Hays High distance coach Jerold Harris.
But that doesn't mean any of them aren't quality. All of them have run under 2:10, and most are near two minutes flat.
Harris said a tradition has been created that the new runners don't want to break.
"What helps our guys so much is they feed off each other," he said. "I tell you Landon, Keith and Derek, they don't want to be the members that don't win it at state, so they come into the workouts and work hard. When they get the baton, they'll go all out."
Creating that success has required some luck, but it's also a result of head coach Ryan Cornelsen's strategy. He believes building a strong mid-distance program is critical to have successful teams.
"There's a strong emphasis on that area, because if you get a good group of half milers, you can move them up and down, and they can score a lot of points," Cornelsen said.
If state trophies are an indicator, Cornelsen is right. The Hays High boys haven't lost a meet as a team since Cornelsen started there in 2010, including three straight 5A team titles.
The field events have been huge contributers to that, but on the track, the team's success starts with the mid-distance crew.
"I take a lot of pride in that race, and I think the kids take a lot of pride in it," Cornelsen said. "It shows in our workouts. It's always our hardest working group: our half milers."
Practices can be grueling.
Brungardt said they typically run 32 200-meter dashes during spring break, and their worst workout is a "Six Run," which includes six consecutive 400s at race pace with little rest in between.
"Those are usually pretty terrible," he said.
To them, the destination has been worth the journey, and no one wants to break the tradition that's been created.
Munsch's brother Josh Munsch, now an all-Big 12 runner at the University of Kansas, started the tradition as a senior. He was on the first relay championship team in 2010.
Landon Munsch said he remembers watching them when he was in eighth grade, and he remembered his brother talking about how important the relay was to him and the program.
Landon Munsch wanted to continue that.
"Being the new guy is kind of nerve racking," Munsch said. "I'm trying to fill Eric Stumon and Tanner Staab's shoes, and those are two great athletes that are good friends of mine as well. It's kind of nerve racking, but it's also an honor."
The relay ran its best time of the year Saturday at the K.T. Woodman/Shocker Pre-State Challenge, cranking out an 8:13.16 -- the best time in the state so far in any classification according to track and field historian Carol Swenson.
However, the Indians have plenty of competition.
St. James Academy, the state runner-up in 4A last season, moved up to 5A and has run an 8:16, and Bishop Carroll, Liberal and Great Bend have run 8:20.83, 8:21.91 and 8:22.43, respectively.
To likely feel comfortable, Cornelsen said his relay will have to crack 8 minutes like the previous three championship teams did.
Fort said his squad is capable of that.
"We can definitely cut some time off," Fort said. "Landon didn't run his best time at the last meet, so he can cut eight seconds just like that. So can Drees. He can cut four seconds. Then me and Josh can both get under two minutes by state."