PHILLIPSBURG — If it wasn’t for stopping his middle school track coach in the hallway during the spring of his seventh grade year, La Crosse junior Clayton Herdman might not be heading to Kansas State Track and Field Championships at Cessna Stadium in Wichita this weekend in a pair of events.
Heading into a late meet in Ness City, Herdman got the idea he could run the 400-meter dash after seeing his good friend Kaleb Sherman running the distance, and further.
His shot came the next day during the medley relay. He ended up finishing in 58 seconds and thought it could become a passion of his.
At the final meet of the season, Herdman ran the 400 in 56 seconds. At that point, he knew something special was happening.
“Something about that one day, stopping in the hall, made me into who I am today,” Herdman said. “One day can change everything.”
Herdman, a junior, suffered a severe ankle injury during his sophomore season that is keeping him away from the basketball court. Despite his condition and strength not being fully built up, he qualified for state in the 400, 4x1 and 4x4, which he ran with Sherman. He has twice finished one spot from the finals in the 400.
Now, finally back to full health, Herdman was able to dedicate the winter to working toward his favorite race. The results paid off with a second-place finish at 1A regionals in Phillipsburg and the fourth overall seed in Wichita.
“I was able to work a lot more on my legs since I haven’t been able to do that for a really long time,” said Herdman, who is also a quarterback on the Leopard football team. “I feel like that got my muscles stronger since I’ve gained a lot of weight since freshman and sophomore year. That kinda helped a lot with being able to run faster because I have that strength to carry my body around.
“Last year, I really struggled with getting in there. I was running like a 53, 52, and that was a lot slower than I ran as a freshman. With the injury during basketball, I was really able to focus more on conditioning and lifting and getting stronger. This year, I’ve been doing the best I’ve ever done.”
Herdman ran most in the 52-second range with a 51.77 sprinkled in his freshman year. After a season of running above 53 seconds, he has consistently stayed below 53, even setting a personal record of 51.58 to qualify for state for the third time.
“He’s a hard worker and he’s really put himself in this position between the weight room and offseason workouts and that kinda stuff to have good spring,” said Jon Webster, head track and football coach at La Crosse. “He’s doing a good job of improving each week. He’s peaking at the right time. We always tell our kids we want them to peak at the end of May, and he’s a prime example of that.”
Then, given his success in the 400, Herdman wanted to expand his horizons. Before the start of the season, a conversation came with Webster. Yet another conversation changed his track career for good.
Although the techniques are vividly different, Webster allowed Herdman to pick up the javelin to add to his repertoire, despite his protectiveness of his quarterbacks.
“The reason is the mechanics are so much different. He can thank (former La Crosse quarterback) Jack Garcia because Jack convinced me to do it last year,” Webster said. “It’s just a little bit different. You could see him reverting back to the quarterback throwing when he has a bad throw. We want to try to keep them different so it doesn’t screw them up. He’s got a strong arm and he wanted to and he harassed me and harassed me, so I finally let him. It’s been good for him and the team.”
Herdman admits his coach is correct about clashing the two forms at times.
“Javelin’s really difficult,” Herdman said. “ … The first week, we sat there and worked on one steps, then we worked to three steps. Finally, when we got to fulls, I was doing it and I remember this because it was hilarious. I started to do my full. When I turned my hips to throw, I brought my other hand up like I was trying to throw a football just because it was so natural to bring that other hand up. It turned out extremely bad. … It’s a lot more technical that you would say it is.”
But the results started showing instantly. He claimed first in La Crosse (141 feet, 3 inches) and Ness City (153-9) before placing third at the Pre-State Challenge in Wichita, where he will again throw the javelin next week. The Central Prairie League champion, who threw a PR of 167-6 at the league meet, claimed the regional crown with a throw of 165-2. He enters state as the fifth seed and has the fifth-best throw.
The versatility of being able to run a mid-distance race, as well as throw, says a lot about Herdman’s work ethic, according to Webster.
“It says more about how hard he works. There’s a lot of great athletes and kids that are naturally talented,” Webster said, ‘but how much he spends getting better at all of his events says a lot about him as a person.”
Likewise, sophomore Kacee Klozenbucher has put in the work advance to state in the 4x100, high jump and triple jump.
Standing at just 5-4, Klozenbucher is among the smallest competitors to compete in the high jump. Few can compete like her, though.
One season ago, the sophomore tied her season best with a 5-0 jump at state, giving her the eighth and final spot on the podium. She continued working to get the bar higher, finally paying off with a height-matching leap of 5-4 on May 5 in Victoria.
“I just practice, practice, practice. That’s how I get there,” Klozenbucher said. “Just getting over that bar. It’s 5-4 — that’s my goal that I’ve gotten — and I’m 5-4, so it’s just great getting over what my height is. It’s a great feeling.”
She added trips in the triple jump and 4x1 to her resume this season, including a PR jump of 34-1 at regionals. She was named the CPL champion one week earlier.
To stand atop the podium in the high jump, a likely tie of her current PR or new one will be needed as she is one of five competitors to jump 5-4 this year. Seeded sixth in the triple jump, a similar performance will be needed in a crowd of two 36-foot jumpers and four 34-foot jumpers.
“Get on that podium,” Klozenbucher said of her goals for state. “First (place) – that’s my goal.”
If Herdman’s goals come to fruition, he has as good of a chance as any to leave with two gold medals. And without a conversation in the middle school hallway, there would be no chance.
“A satisfying trip to Wichita would be at least a 175 jav since I’ve been PRing a lot,” Herdman said. “Then I would like to get somewhere in the low 50s.
“If I can run a low 50, I can easily take 1 or 2.”