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State preview - Victoria well-represented





Victoria High School seniors Clayton Roth and Connor Gagnon decided to shave their heads for last week's Class 1A regional track and field meet at Fort Hays State University. The Knights wanted to all have shaved heads for the 400-meter relay, but one of the boys didn't shave his head.

The relay entered on the bubble and likely needed to post a season-best time to qualify. Gagnon said if Victoria finished fourth, the four teammates planned to run from all four corners on the track, meet at the Tigers' 50-yard line, jump up and bump shoulders.

Victoria, with senior Tanner Hobbs, Gagnon, Roth and sophomore Lane Kisner, did finish in 45.38 seconds, its best mark of the spring, and qualified in fourth place by .26 seconds over Wallace County. The celebration didn't go exactly as planned either.

The four teammates ended up walking back to the center of the field, looked at each other, smiled and then ran about 10 yards to the 50-yard line, jumped up and bumped shoulders in celebration.

While the pre and post-race mannerisms weren't perfect, the end result was ideal. Victoria, which had run 46.75 last week at league and 46.22 two weeks ago at its home meet, qualified a relay for the first time in three years to this weekend's state meet at Wichita State University's Cessna Stadium.

"This is probably our best," Gagnon said. "We have been working on it quite a bit this week, and it paid off."

Two years ago, Victoria qualified just distance runner Jublain Wohler and pole vaulter Sarah Kuhn. Last spring, Gagnon and Jayden Newbold each qualified in the long jump. This year, Victoria returned to form. Gagnon, ranked No. 2 in Class 1A, won the long jump in a tightly contested field with a mark of 21 feet, 6.5 inches.

"It's really nice," Gagnon said. "I am glad that we are taking more people."

Newbold, ranked outside the girls' top five entering the long jump, finished second with a 16-3 leap, a season-best by seven inches.

"I was so excited," Newbold said. "I was really prepared to tell myself that I wasn't going to get to go to state this year, and then all of a sudden, I jumped this, and it's the best I have ever jumped (in 2014). I am flying."

Sophomore Eric McAlonan, after sitting in the 5-6 to 5-8 range most of the year, went 5-10 the last two weeks and qualified fourth in the high jump. The girls' 1,600-meter relay, with freshman Julia Nowak, senior Audra Nowak, Newbold and freshman Karly Oberle, took fourth in 4:27.79.

Roth also qualified fourth in the 300-meter hurdles at 43.23, his first trip to state, and jumped 41-0.75 in the triple jump, his best by more than a foot, but finished sixth.

"He ran a good time," coach Randy Stanley said. "He ran well, but he can run so much better. His form looked so bad in (the homestretch). If he can clean that up, he looks great in practice, and he gets so excited in a meet that he starts tucking that leg up underneath. He can run faster. I know he can. I think he can knock another second and a half to two seconds off."

Gagnon has went at least 21 feet three of the last four meets, including a 21-9.25 at league, a quarter inch of the school record.

Gagnon also scratched on a jump that his dad said would have cleared 22 feet. At regional, he won on his first attempt, 14.5 inches further than second place. Gagnon first thought the jump was around 20 feet, and was surprised with the official read 21-6.5.

"My dad always says, 'Scoot back a little bit on that first one and go for a big one on that first one, so you can get it over with,'" Gagnon said. "I did today, so that was good. I figured I would be standing good with that."

Newbold was not favored to finish in the top four, but uncorked a 15-10.5 on her first attempt, a mark that Stanley thought gave her a "good shot."

Hoxie junior Carly Heim, the defending state champion, scratched on three attempts. Newbold was sad for Heim, but on the inside, was happy, because that gave Newbold a better chance. Then, more jumpers couldn't match Newbold's mark.

On her final attempt, Newbold went 16-3, a jump that even surprised her. Last year, she jumped a career-best 16-3.25 at regionals to qualify for state.

"I almost wonder if it's the pressure," Newbold said. "This is regionals. I have to do good. I have to really give it my all. I wonder if that's what made me a lot better. This is the meet, this is the last meet that I could have."

Last year, Newbold was in awe at competing at the state track meet and jumped just 15-1.75 to finish 11th, but less than four inches from top eight and placing.

"I just completely lost focus on what I was supposed to be doing -- and I am not going to do that this year," Newbold said. "...I really want to stand on that podium."

After the high and long jump competitions, Victoria's first chance on the track came on the girls' 3,200-meter relay.

On seeding, the Knights had a strong chance at fourth place. But Cheylin posted a season-best by around 40 seconds and finished third. Ransom-Western Plains took fourth, Victoria fifth. The next chance came in the boys' 400 relay. This time, the Knights earned a trip to state -- and insured the Knights would bring plenty more competitors to state.

"They ran really well," Stanley said. "Their handoffs were really strong, except for the last one. They ran hard. That is as good as they have looked all year. That was a good race."