By AUSTIN COLBERT
Hays High School track and field coach Ryan Cornelsen doesn't let his team settle for second place. Even this season, with the boys' side having lost many key pieces from last year's Class 5A state title team -- a fourth in a row for Hays High -- he expected others to step up and continue the championship tradition.
And the boys did by winning a fifth-consecutive Western Athletic Conference title last week in Dodge City, momentum they hope to carry into this week's Class 5A regional meet.
"Winning WAC for the boys was big. The fact is we don't have a lot of depth and to win a meet with five teams, it's typically about depth. Where we were lacking that we really had to have kids step up and score high, and they did," Cornelsen said.
"Our goal has never been just to make it to state. Our goal is to be good enough that when we get there we can score high. Our kids understand that so they'll be ready."
Hays High's quest for an unprecedented fifth straight state title begins Friday in Salina at the Indians' regional meet. Field events begin at 2 p.m. at Salina Stadium, with prelims at 3:30 p.m. and finals starting around 5 p.m.
Competing with Hays High will be Great Bend, Newton, Valley Center, Maize South, Wichita Heights, Salina Central and Salina South.
The Indian boys won't be lacking regional title contenders, either. Hays High has been strong all season with its runners, especially the sprinters and middle-distance events.
All three relay teams should be frontrunners and Hays High could be favored in all of the jumps.
"I know our running events are always our strong point, so I have to make sure I can step up and continue the legacy that coach has made about keeping our running events strong," senior Landon Munsch said. "We've surprised a lot of people and I've even surprised myself by how much our team can step up. And WAC was really an awesome surprise. I think that shows we really aren't out of the running for another state title."
Munsch will be among the favorites to win the 800-meter run. His best time this season is 1 minute, 59.23 seconds, but Cornelsen believes "he's got a little left in him" and hopes he can shave another second or so off his time.
Junior Alex Delton will be a strong contender in the sprints. Senior Shawn Herrman, whose time is on par with Delton in the 200-meter dash, could also factor in.
One of the biggest surprises this season has been WaKeeney-Trego Community High School transfer Clayton Riedel, a Fort Hays State University football signee. The senior has been an important final piece to the Indians' relay teams and has been nearly unstoppable in the 400-meter dash with a season-best time of 49.86 seconds. Riedel isn't far behind state-qualifying time in the 200-meter dash, either.
The Indians' overall success likely will come from the field events, led by senior Jordan Windholz, a favorite in both the triple jump and long jump. Senior Aaron Voss, the WAC high jump champion, enters the regional as the top contender, and junior Hayden Kreutzer figures to earn a return trip to state in the pole vault, an event he finished fourth at last season in Wichita.
"My goal is to go WAC champ and regional champ and state champ. First all the way through," Kreutzer said. "It's not the big points, like the big-first place points that wins the meets, it's the little points behind them that always wins meets for you."
Also in the mix to possibly earn a trip to the state meet next week are Brandon Hardwick and Vincent Bailey in the shot put, and Payton Harris in the discus.
Indian girls finding success in the hurdles
Junior Kali Pitcock made state her freshman year when she was attending Russell High School. Then last season at Hays High a return trip to state looked likely until she fell at regionals in the 100-meter hurdles and was forced to pull out of the 300s.
So this season is very much a shot at redemption for Pitcock, who has fellow hurdlers Mattison Schlaefli and Ashlyn Parrish right beside her.
"I really want to come back stronger this year," Pitcock said. "I wish all three of us girls to make state in both hurdles. I think that would be really cool. I feel if a lot of us girls did make it to state then we could have some type of chance at placing."
Unlike the boys, the Hays High girls have more contenders than surefire locks to make it to the state meet. Schlaefli is the closest thing the Indians have to a guarantee on the girls' side. She has one of the best javelin throws in the state at 130 feet, 9 inches, and is the team's best hurdler.
But there is still plenty of possibility outside of Schlaefli. All three relay teams will be in state contention at regionals, especially in the 3,200-meter relay. Junior Lexi Summers in the triple jump is right on the bubble, as is sophomore Haley George in the high jump. Sophomore Audra Schmeidler will need a season-best distance in the shot put, but is hardly out of contention.
Another strong contender is senior Wendy Zimmerman, a FHSU track signee. She has missed most of the last month with a foot injury suffered playing soccer, but Cornelsen hopes to have her fully ready for regionals. Despite the injury, her high jump of 5-6 is among the best entering the regional and she could sneak into contention in the triple jump.
"We are just a bunch of young girls working hard. We don't have a lot of depth, but we believe in ourselves," said junior Summer Smith, a vital part of each of the Indians' relay teams. "With the boys winning all those titles, it makes us hungry for something good like that -- for people to notice us. Really, these girls, I believe in every one of them."