State track preview -- Wickham, Phillipsburg boast depth
By AUSTIN COLBERT
By AUSTIN COLBERT
PHILLIPSBURG -- Last season, Phillipsburg High School's Grant Wickham was part of the Panthers' state-title winning 400-meter relay team. Their time of 42.54 seconds set a new state record in Class 3A, shattering the previous record of 43.11.
While two of the four runners graduated -- Seth Derr and Sean Newlan, who plays football at Kansas State University -- Wickham, now a senior, returned along with current junior Stuart Lennemann.
Replacing Derr and Newlan this season were seniors Hunter Kohler and Trey Ellis. The new foursome didn't look a whole lot worse than the old one, having entered Friday's Class 3A regional in Phillipsburg atop the performance list with a seed time of 43.00 seconds.
But after Wickham hurt his quadricep at the MCL meet the week before regionals, Phillipsburg track and field coach J.B. Covington decided to withhold Wickham from the running events so he could focus on healing and doing well in the jumps, his main events.
"We felt like he was the fourth fastest guy in the 100 meters, but we just couldn't take the chance and aggravate that injury," Covington said. "Starting off on triple jump and long jump, we were concerned. We didn't take any live jumps all week long with Grant. We worked him trying to rehab his injury. He came out and competed like we thought he would."
Wickham was healthy enough to take first in the triple jump with a distance of 44 feet, 10 inches, as well as second place in the long jump at 21-7. He had the long-term desire to get back into the running events at the state meet Friday and Saturday at Cessna Stadium in Wichita, but with the success of the group at regionals, this might be unlikely.
Replacing Wickham at regionals was senior Eric Townsdin, who along with Kohler, Ellis and Lennemann torched the field with a time of 42.62 seconds, nearly two seconds ahead of second place and within striking distance of their own state record. The time is the seventh best in the state, all classifications, according to historian Carol Swenson.
"I know they ran a really, really good time without me. It will be a pretty tough decision for the coaches. It's up to them," Wickham said about his status as a runner for state. "I'm feeling pretty well. I ended up tweaking my quad last week at league, but I was pretty impressed with what I did today. I didn't expect to do that well. Just as long as I placed in the top four I was going to be pretty proud. Other than that, I did pretty good today."
Even if Wickham doesn't run, he will be a serious contender for a state title in both the long jump and triple jump.
When healthy, Wickham is capable of much more than his regional marks indicate. His season best in the triple jump is 47-1.75, best in 3A and the second best in the entire state to the 49-0 hit by Maize High School's Ezekial Welch. The next best mark in 3A is 44-9.5 from Hesston's Justin Smith.
Wickham has reached 22-3.5 in the long jump this season, fourth best in 3A. Wichita Independent's Thomas Varenhorst has the classification's best mark at 23-0.5.
A star football player and basketball player, Wickham is no stranger to high-level competition. He took fifth at state in the long jump in 2013 with a mark of 21-2.25 and 11th in the triple jump at 39-6.25.
His older brothers, Garrett and Gabe, both were standouts in track and field at NAIA Hastings College in Nebraska, which as of now seems to be the direction Wickham will head as well after high school.
"I've been jumping since I was a seventh grader. My older brothers jumped and I decided that was what I wanted to do. Just growing up around it, my dad jumped in high school. That's what I wanted to do and that's why I do it now," Wickham said.
"I've gotten a lot faster it seems like and stronger in my legs. Working on technique is a big thing and working every day in practice on the phases. It's gone really well this year. I was hoping this year would be my year. So far it's been going my way."
The Phillipsburg boys, who took second at state last year to Salina-Sacred Heart, aren't bringing the depth to Wichita they had last season, but should still be in contention for their first state title.
Joining Wickham in the jumps and the 400-meter relay team as qualifiers are Kohler in both the 110 and 300 hurdles, Townsdin and Lennemann in both the 100 and 200 sprints, Ellis in the 400-meter dash, and the 1,600-meter relay team of Kohler, Ellis, Lennemann and sophomore Nate Prewitt.
Lennemann took first at regionals in the 100-meter dash in 10.94 seconds and second in the 200-meter dash in 22.31 seconds, the latter being a season-best mark. Last season at state, he finished sixth in the 100 (11.26 seconds) but failed to qualify for the finals in the 200.
"I feel a lot more powerful and I've trained a lot more this year than last year. But I still think it will be pretty good," Lennemann said. "We have Grant Wickham in the jumps of course, getting those early points. Then we have a lot of points going in with me, Trey and Hunter in the hurdles. We should be pretty good."
Dusin, Gower representing Phillipsburg girls
Senior Mattison Dusin is returning to state in the discus and shot put, where she finished 10th and 12th in 2013, respectively.
She took second in the shot put at regionals with a distance of 35-9.25, falling well short of 3A state favorite Jena Black's 38-11.25, of Halstead. Dusin's mark was a season-best, topping her previous distance of 35-6.5.
Dusin also beat her season best in the discus with a throw of 106-7 for first place. Entering regionals her best mark had been 102-7, which was sixth on the regional's performance list.
"I have been close all year. I threw 102 a couple of times and could never get over that. But this meet I finally got over that and it worked," Dusin said. "The first-place girl, she is obviously probably going to win state. But it's good to learn from her and watch what she does. But I PRd so that's all they can ask from me. Hopefully I can PR next week, too."
Joining Dusin for the Panther girls is junior Mindy Gower in the javelin. Gower, heading to state for the first time, took fourth at regionals with a mark of 111-3. Dusin took sixth in the javelin at regionals with a distance of 102-7.