PHILLIPSBURG — As the Class 1A Regional track meet in Phillipsburg concluded Friday, Victoria sprinters Collin Kisner and Kali Weber were in different states of mind.
Weber was running around the infield with her teammates rejoicing on an afternoon that sent her to the Kansas State Track and FIeld Championships in three different events just as a freshman.
Kisner, a sophomore for the Knights, crossed the line in the 200-meter dash in third for his third qualification, though he rescinded trackside to take a seat, rest his elbows against his knees and regain his breath after a testy day.
He ranks first in 1A in the 100 and 200, rarely finishing outside of first against any competition outside of his class. But the past month has put him against the test of battling a hamstring injury and illnesses that have seen his times fall back from personal records set at the Osborne Invitational on April 22.
In the days leading up to this weekend’s state meet, ridding his mind of the unsatisfying performances is a necessity as a hopeful champion.
“I’m really gonna have to do it now from these past few weeks,” Kisner said. “That’s definitely on my mind right now.”
Kisner, a standout for the Knights’ football team, one dominated on the field by 10 seniors, was forced to sit out his freshman track season after a back injury suffered during the fall.
He made his high school track debut with a gold in the 100 and silvers in the 200 and 400 at the La Crosse Invitational on March 31.
Three weeks later, Kisner ran a 10.81 in the 100 and 22.56 in the 200, both ranking as the top times in 1A heading into state. Along with fighting back from injury, he has had no problem finding dedication to the track.
“It’s been pretty strong knowing I have to live up to my sister (Taylor) and her reputation,” Kisner said. “I’ve had a lot of people on the team help like Bryant Karlin and those guys pushing me. Just gotta avenge not being able to run last season.”
With the résumé built up until regionals, it was cut clear that Kisner would cross the line in the 100, 200 and 4x100 within the top four, advancing on to state. But he said the nerves were still in full throttle, though the blasting of Bon Jovi and other anthems through the speakers helped Kisner come back down to earth.
“There was tons of nerves until prelims,” Kisner said. “Prelims really soothed me out. That and this music they’ve got going here really calmed me down a lot.”
Kisner’s final race, the 200-meter dash, served as his fourth of the day. Head coach Randy Stanley decided to test his star sophomore in the 400, a race he has ran very little of. After a slow start to the 200, which he ultimately finished third in after a strong homestretch, Stanley was nervous his preconception was a mistake.
“I was afraid that I messed up because I put him in the 400. I thought he could run a really good 400 today and it knocked him out for that 200,” Stanley said following the 1A Regional. “I was just hoping like crazy he was gonna make it in the top four in that 200. I didn’t know because he didn’t look good in the beginning and he fell back.
“Then he just kept fighting and got back in there. I was just so happy he made it. We won’t do that with him anymore. He just ran a great race. Just to make it, that’s what it is right now because he’ll be fine at state.”
While his days on the basketball court and football field were spent leaning on a successful senior class, his counterpart in Weber is serving as the perfect partner this spring.
“She’s a hard worker,” Kisner said. “There’s really not any quit in her. She pushes everybody else on the team and really helps us out.”
Weber added: “We’ve gotten a lot closer this past year. Middle school we weren’t as close because we just had separate events, but this year we are in a lot of the same events and are doing a lot of the same stuff together like blocks and working on handoffs. We’ve gotten a lot closer and we’re pretty good friends.”
Weber’s freshman season continued with state qualifications in the 100, 200 and 4x100. Her season-best 12.63 in the 100 ranks fourth in 1A, while her 26.40 in the 200 ranks her fifth. She is seeded fifth and sixth in the events, respectively, after battling it out with some of the state’s best at regionals.
“I got really nervous. I get nervous a lot with the littlest things. I was pretty nervous for that. Once I got in the blocks, it was a good feeling of, ‘I’ve got this, I’ve just got to calm down.’ I ran and did what I do best.”
The feelings are identical with a trip to Cessna Stadium in Wichita on tap for Friday and Saturday.
“I’m nervous. Definitely nervous,” Weber said. “But I feel like if I work hard in this last week of practice, I can do pretty good, get up on that podium.”
Weber’s biggest competition in regionals came against Lakeside’s Rachel Miller, a sophomore seeded first in both events after earning two golds. Stanley isn’t put off by Weber being unable to surpass her in the final meet before state.
“Oh yeah, we hadn’t seen that girl. … She’s legitimate,” Stanley said. “She (Weber) can beat her. She can run with her, but she’s just gonna have to do it.”
After a year of putting upperclassmen in the dust, Weber has confidence she can do so to climb the podium at state.
“It feels pretty good knowing I can beat some seniors in events as a freshman. It’s a pretty good feeling inside,” she said. “Coach has helped me a lot and put confidence in me. That helps me, too.”
The relay team of Jayden Newbold, Karly Oberle, Ally Dinkel and Weber pulled out a first-place finish at regionals, running a 51.96 and earning the second seed at state despite injury setbacks throughout the season.
Freshman Ashlyn Windholz had spent a majority of the season as the relay’s second leg before injuring herself at the Goldsmith Relays. Oberle, a junior, came in as the replacement and there have been no hitches since.
“Once we got it together, we started strong and then we had (Windholz) get injured. We had to sub someone in and we’re doing just as good with her,” Weber said. “We had some bad handoffs and people falling, but today we did pretty good with our handoffs.”
The pair were among a number of Knights in attendance at Wichita’s Pre-State Challenge in April, giving them the opportunity to experience Cessna Stadium in person before making it to the real show.
Advancing back to the crown jewel of state track meets has Weber’s sights set high.
“Now that I’m going to state, it’s gonna be even better.”
Joining the sprinting duo is the girls’ 4x400-meter relay. The group of Newbold, Windholz, Oberle and Dinkel entered regionals as the seventh seed before rallying for a third-place finish in Phillipsburg, an event Stanley called “the icing on the cake.”
Newbold earned a third trip to state, as well, in the pole vault.
Sophomore distance runner Justin Giesbrecht dominated the field in Phillipsburg to with the 3,200-meter run. His time of 10 minutes, 50.47 seconds seeds him sixth.
Giesbrecht got out to an overly-aggressive start at regionals in his coach’s eyes, though he kept with his pace and ultimately impressed Stanley.
“I was worried about him because he ran a poor mile and he fell apart. … I didn’t know what he’d do in the 2(-mile),” Stanley said. “He took off way too fast of a place. I told him to slow down because he came around in his 400 in 70 (seconds), and that’s way too fast for him. He came through his half at about 2:22, and that’s way too fast for him. I yelled at him to slow down. I think he slowed a little bit, but not much. He ran a really good 2-mile. He ran strong all the way.”
With the potential for the Knights to surprise some in the team standings and earned points, a satisfying regular season and regional meet are enough for Stanley with a youthful group.
“Whatever happens, happens because they just impressed the heck out of me today,” Stanley said. “They really competed hard and did a nice job. I’ve got big hopes. If they compete well and do well, we can score some points on the guys’ side and the girls’ side. We’ll have to wait and see. It’s a whole different story. We’ll just see what happens.”