As Russell senior Noah Gfeller muscles his way down the homestretch of his 800-meter run, his biggest supporter is inches to his left, cheering him on to his second of many first-place finishes to come in the event.
Seconds after Noah crosses the line, he rests his hands on his knees to catch his breath while the rest of his competitors cross the line. Walking off the track, still exhausted from a 2-minute, 1-second race in which he wiped away the field by 10 seconds, he still has time for his signature celebration, a ‘dab’, with his cheerleader by his side.
Junior Alaina Gfeller and her older brother are two of the top competitors in the state in their respective events. And when they are not dominating the competition on the track, they are the first to congratulate each other and loudest to cheer from the infield.
“It’s awesome having my sister in my school with me, first of all,” Noah said. “Having us both be good track athletes, and just helping each other each day in practice — just keeping each other motivated — is awesome.”
Noah placed fourth in 4A in the 400 in 2014 before coming up 3 seconds shy of gold in last year’s 800-meter race in Class 3A. Alaina is a five-time placer at state, earning seventh in the long jump as a freshman and placing in the top five in four events last season.
Alaina anchors Russell’s first-place 4x400 relay, a team with high hopes after returning all four runners this season. She also placed third in the 400, fourth in the long jump and fifth in the 4x100.
In the offseason, Alaina put in work with Fort Hays State University jumping coach Ty Haas to add the triple jump to her repertoire. Two meets into the season and she is already the school’s record-holder and a two-time winner in the event.
“He had me try it once and I guess he thought I was pretty good at it,” Alaina said. “I started trying it the last track meet, tried it this track meet, and I guess I’m gonna stick to it.”
Her jump of 36 feet, 0.75 inches was more than a 3-foot improvement from her jump at the season-opening Buff Invite in Republic County and would have placed her fourth at last year’s state meet.
Even though she placed in every event at state last year, her goals for the 2016 season are ambitious.
“Do better at state than I did last year,” Alaina said. “I want to place higher and just see where it takes me.”
Noah has an idea how far he thinks his younger sister can go.
“She’s awesome. She’s gonna do great things in the next year and the rest of this year,” Noah said. “I think she’ll probably go D-I. It’s her first year in triple jump and she broke the school record already, our second meet. She’s definitely gonna leave a mark on the school.”
Noah has already done much of the same. Noah anchors the school’s 4x400 just like his sister and is a favorite to bring home gold in the 800 this season. Regardless of the season he puts together, he will trade in his uniform for a different shade of red as a Pittsburg State Gorilla, with his signing becoming official Wednesday.
Before he heads to southeast Kansas in the fall, he wants to do more than just win gold at state. A year-round competitor on the AAU and USATF indoor track circuit, Noah ran a 1:58.85, 1 second behind Oklahoma State commit Dustan Davidson in January at the Big River Running Series in Columbia, Mo. Noah saw Davidson runs the 800 in 1:52 outdoors, pushing him to set a mark of 1:53 by the time he gets to state in May.
“As of right now, (the goal is) mostly just focusing on running a smarter race,” Noah said. “Last year I would always come out 54 the first lap and then go into lactic shock after 600, struggle that last 200. This year, just definitely focusing on running a smarter race, more consistent paces on the 200s. I wanna get 1:53 by state. … I just wanna leave it all out there, leave a mark on my school.
As for when he gets to Pittsburg State, he wants to show he is more than a high-school wonder at one of the top track and field programs in Division II.
“I wanna be seen as somebody that will transfer from high school to college and make a really good impact my freshman year at the college level,” Noah said. “Hopefully I’ll have some success down at Pitt State, try and make it to Nationals my freshman year. That would be awesome.”
Alaina is not ready to think of Noah leaving for college yet, though.
“It’s so much fun. I like having him out here,” Alaina said. “It’s gonna be weird without him next year.”
Kim Gadwood, the first-year head coach of Russell’s track and field team, notes the Gfeller pair has an impact beyond meet days. And because of them, Russell will likely be a name littered all over the results at state this year and beyond.
“They have great characteristics that other people are just able to take. … You can tell them to work out and you know they’re gonna do it. They have fun doing it. They make it fun,” Gadwood said. “The leadership of Noah and Alaina has just excelled our team to a whole ‘nother level.”