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State track preview -- Tustin leads Wheatland-Grinnell

5/29/2014

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Wheatland-Grinnell High School junior Taylor Tustin didn't break six minutes in the 1,600-meter run in the season's first three meets. Tustin, a two-time Class 1A state cross country runner-up, was sick early on in the spring and also upset that she couldn't run faster. Before the Oakley meet April 25, Thunderhawk coach Ed Mense told Tustin "it's time," and had Tustin pegged to run around 5:40 at the meet.

Tustin was ahead of her splits early and felt "unbelievable." She kept going and ran a 5:36.89, just two seconds off the school record.

"I was really just frustrated in myself, and it just kind of came out in me, I guess," Tustin said. "My anger just kind of pushed me."

Tustin's inner fire has helped her maintain those low times in the last month. Since Oakley, Tustin has run 5:37, 5:39, 5:36, 5:47 and 5:36 last Friday to win the Class 1A regional at Fort Hays State University. In addition, Tustin was over 13 minutes in the 3,200 run in the three meets before Oakley. Since then, Tustin has ran under 12:49 four times with a season-best 12:28, also two seconds off the school record.

Tustin, who also won the 3,200, was a member of the winning 3,200 relay and second-place 1,600 relay, led Wheatland-Grinnell to a regional crown.

"She runs angry," Mense said. "She goes out there, and she competes hurt, or not feeling the best. You have those days as a runner where it's just not there. She competes.

"That's why she is the competitor that she is," he added. "and that's why she is placing where she is, and probably the reason why she'll continue to do what she is going to do next year and hopefully on into college, because she has got that internal drive that we as coaches can't coach."

This week at the Class 1A state championships at Wichita's Cessna Stadium, Wheatland-Grinnell is in line for a top-three finish after it took third in state cross country last fall. Tustin has three state medals in track, but none in individual events.

"We have pretty high expectations for the girls this year," Mense said.

St. Paul's Jenny O'Bryan is the heavy favorite in the 1,600 and 3,200, but Tustin could take second in both events. The 3,200 relay is ranked No. 1 after a season-best 10:29.49 at regional, and the 1,600 relay is ninth, but less than five seconds out of third. Junior Lacey Ostmeyer is seeded second in the 800 to Quinter freshman Sarah Bird, who narrowly defeated her at regionals.

All of Wheatland-Grinnell's qualifiers, save for sophomore Hannah Waldman in the high jump, came on the track.

"I am going to proud of them regardless," Mense said. "I just want them to go out and do their absolute best. That's all I have asked of them since I have had them. They have done that for me."

Tustin has long been one of the top small-school runners in Kansas. Mense has coached her since sixth grade and has noticed her competitiveness since Day 1. He said Tustin never lost a race until eighth grade.

Tustin is one of the rare girl distance runners who has actually gotten faster throughout her career. She normally runs virtually all summer and has competed with the Kansas Flyers. Last summer, at the USATF Missouri Valley Association Junior Olympics, Tustin finished third in the 3,000-meter run and ran on the 3,200-meter relay.

"A lot of it is in the anger," Tustin said. "I don't want to be one of those girls that gains a bunch of weight and really slows down, and don't want to be going from a phenomenal runner to nothing in my four years of high school -- I really don't want to do that, so that pushes me, too. I really focus on pushing myself in practice."

At state cross country, Tustin has taken 11th, second and second. She never broke 5:40 in the 1,600 or 12:59 in the 3,200 until this year.

As a freshman, Tustin finished fifth on the 3,200 relay, eighth in the 1,600 relay and ninth in the 800 at state. That year, the 3,200 relay formed with Tustin, Ostmeyer, current junior Kylie Wood and current senior Hannah Gillespie.

In 2012, Tustin and Gillespie wanted to run on the relay. Wood filled one leg, and Ostmeyer, a former sprinter, filled the fourth. The quartet has run together most of the last two years, though Gillespie is out with a season-ending knee injury. Now, the relay is one of Tustin's favorite races.

Last year, the 3,200 relay took second, and the 1,600 relay sixth, but Tustin finished 10th in the 1,600 and 13th in the 800. Tustin named off several factors for the lower individual finishes, including the Wichita heat, not being in good enough shape, not setting personal records at state, and simply better competition.

To maximize points this year, Tustin has moved over to the 3,200 and Ostmeyer has stayed with the 800. This weekend, Mense believes Tustin can drop in the 5:28-5:30 range for the 1,600. Tustin wants both school records -- and some high finishes.

"It kind of comes easy in some of the regular season meets to place high and run good times, but when you get to state, there is a lot of people that are running the same times as you," she said. "...That's another reason why I have been really pushing myself this year is I don't want to feel absolutely horrible at state. I want to be able to perform well at state this year."