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State track preview -- La Crosse eyes chance at repeat





11Senior Sheldon Schmidt suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 4 of last football season and was cleared just before the first track meet. Senior Marshall Jay had a spike stick on the track in practice, straddled a hurdle and hyperextended his knee. In addition, Jay had a groin injury. The injuries forced him to miss several weeks.

Senior Taylor Yohe, also a member on the Leopards' state qualifying sand greens golf team, suffered a groin injury, and junior Andrew Jay had shin splints. At the Class 1A Fort Hays regional last Friday, coach Jon Webster believed his team was the healthiest since the second or third meet of the year.

Even with the injuries, Moeder, Schmidt, Yohe and the Jays all qualified in at least two events for this weekend's state track meet at Wichita State University's Cessna Stadium. La Crosse has set the 1A boys' points record the last two years with 84 and 87, and, now healthy, is contention for another crown this spring in an expected close race. While several boys' squads have won two straight, no Class 1A boys' team has ever won three straight track championships.

"It shows our kids that even with some bad breaks, we can still be successful," Webster said Monday morning. "It goes back to that mental toughness, and that's something that I think our kids really have a lot of, and maybe an edge on a lot of other teams is just being mentally tough, and knowing that adversity is going to happen."

"If you freak out, it's going to snowball, but if you just say 'All right, it's happened, now just deal with it,' and move on and everybody step up," he added. "I think that is why we have had the success that we have had in dealing with injuries."

Webster believes 45-46 points will win the state championship, or at worst, guarantee a top-three showing and podium berth. Centralia, Wallace County, Hoxie and Blue Rapids-Valley Heights with standout junior Elijah Smith could factor into the race. Otis-Bison senior Jordan Hoffman is the Cougars' lone boy qualifier, but could win the 100, 200 and 400 dashes against many of La Crosse's top competitors, and help the Leopards.

"That would be pretty great to say that we won three straight as a class for the seniors, and some of us have been on the team every year," Marshall Jay said.

La Crosse graduated elite athletes Levi Morss and Kip Keeley and, based on seedings, is expected to score all their points in the throws and relays. Moeder is the defending state champion in the javelin, while Schmidt and junior Cole Kershner finished 4-5 respectively in the shot put. Schmidt, with a personal best of 50-6 last Friday, is seeded first, Kershner third in the shot put.

"We don't have any sprinters," Schmidt said. "It's important for us to score high."

Moeder threw 194-8 to surprisingly win state last season; his personal best entering state was 169 feet. A longtime Kansas State University fan, Moeder was going to go to K-State just for academics, but the Wildcats offered Moeder a javelin scholarship last fall. Moeder has a season-best throw of 182-8, and has consistently been in the high 170s, lower 180s.

"I haven't had one throw where I have put everything together perfect yet, so hopefully there is something more there," Moeder said.

Moeder, who went 178-6 at regional, is seeded second behind Southern Coffey County's Aaron True. True threw 201-10 on May 6 after he finished seventh at state last spring.

Moeder and Schmidt have seen big increases in their discus. Moeder never went above 138 last spring, but he threw 161-1 on a good wind day at Plainville earlier this spring and has consistently been around 140 this year.

At the regional, he went 148-8, the fourth seed entering state.

"For javelin, it hasn't been where I have wanted it to be, but it has been consistent," Moeder said. "Discus, I finally got what I was looking for, some consistency. Every meet, I will have my good throws, and then I will have some that are just real bad and this meet, I just stayed consistent and didn't really have one bad throw. Just repetition, doing the right thing every single time, finally coming together."

Despite the knee injury, Schmidt has added 10 to 15 feet onto his discus after he qualified in the high jump last season. The knee has kept him from the high jump, an event he didn't particularly enjoy, and allowed him to focus on the throws and sprints. He threw 145-6 at regional and is ranked seventh.

"He rehabbed so well," Webster said. "...He just took a lot of pride in coming back as close to 100 percent as he could, and he has continued to get better."

Marshall Jay, an Ottawa University for football and track, dropped five seconds in the 300 hurdles and two seconds in the 110 hurdles last Friday to qualify in both events. Jay is seeded last in the 110s and 12th in the 300s, but is 1.25 seconds away from placing in the 110s and less than a second in the 300s.

"It would be important for us as a team if I steal some points in the 300s and the 110s," Jay said.

Andrew Jay's shin splints kept him from triple jumping at regionals, but he qualified in the long jump and is ranked seventh. Plus, Jay is La Crosse's best curve runner and has led off the 400 relay all year. The Leopards won the regional and stand fifth in the relay rankings. Webster labeled Jay a "tough kid" with "mental toughness," qualities that could yield another championship this weekend.