By CONOR NICHOLL
Ryan Cornelsen has a big poster over his desk at Hays High School commemorating the Indian boys' track team success in his first four seasons. HHS has been first every meet under Cornelsen and won conference, regional and the Class 5A state meet each spring. Four massive state rings are in each quadrant of the poster, one for each year.
This spring, Cornelsen and Hays High could have a difficult time collecting a fifth straight championship. Multiple state titlists Adam Deterding and Cade Sharp have graduated and junior Hayden Kreutzer, fourth in the pole vault with a career-best 14-foot mark last spring, is the only returning point scorer in an individual event. Senior middle distance runners Landon Munsch and Shawn Herrman ran on relays. Cornelsen noticed in preseason voting that Hays High wasn't in the top 10 in Class 5A.
"There's no doubt that we have a long ways to go," Cornelsen said. "Our farthest, by far, since I have been here from square one to where we have to be come state meet day to have a chance."
HHS had 78 points in 2013, its lowest of the four state championships. However, the Indians have multiple athletes with state experience or results in the younger ranks, but have dealt with recent injury in past seasons.
That group includes junior sprinter Alex Delton, senior sprinter Clayton Riedel, senior jumper Jordan Windholz and junior thrower Peyton Harris. Senior Aaron Voss returns qualifying in the high jump the last two seasons, and is expected to score in the high jump and triple jump. Harris was 11th in the shot put in 2013.
"We lost a lot of people, and we don't have much returning from last year, but there is a lot of potential," Kreutzer said. "...There is a big target on your chest when you have won four straight obviously, so people are going to be looking at us every meet this year."
On the girls' side, senior Wendy Zimmerman, who also is participating in soccer, is the lone returning state placer with a fifth place showing in the triple jump and sixth in the high jump.
"She is extremely good in her events technique-wise, so I think it's something that we could probably pull off," Cornelsen said. "Because she is so much more advanced than most high school athletes."
Hays High opens this season at Saturday's Alex Francis meet at Fort Hays State University, a competition that Cornelsen plans to use more as a time trial. Cornelsen doesn't expect HHS to dominate events, but will have to "nickel and dime" opponents on points. Cornelsen said it's key for the coaches to find the right events for athletes.
"Anytime you win four, there is no doubt the goal is to win five," Cornelsen said. "More importantly than winning five, whatever our abilities are, be as good as we can possibly be. I think at Hays, we work at track extremely hard. I think it's important to our coaches, therefore it's important to our kids. It's not that way everywhere. Because of that, I think our kids compete harder, our kids improve more throughout the season, and it gives us a chance at the end."
Multiple athletes, including Delton in the long jump, will participate in new events. HHS has had many Indians step up and make big improvements en route to a championship. Cornelsen, who has already signed to be Hutchinson High School's football coach next fall, spoke with distance coach Jerold Harris after Wednesday's practice.
"We were talking about the number of kids that have contributed to those four titles," Cornelsen said. "It's very humbling to think about it, and think about all those different kids. Some were tracksters, some weren't, who were just out for other sports. It's been a very special run for all of Hays High, and all of our track coaches and runners."
Peyton Harris was one of the country's top middle school throwers, but was hurt about six months of high school sports because of a shoulder injury. Now, Harris has had a full year of lifting. He and his dad, HHS shot put coach Mitch Harris, went to several indoor winter meets.
Riedel qualified for state, but hurt his hamstring for Class 2A WaKeeney-Trego Community in 2013. Windholz missed all of track with a knee injury, and Delton missed some of track and most of football with injuries. Cornelsen said Delton, a Kansas State University quarterback commit, is "as good as I have seen him."
"I was telling somebody just the other day, 'How many Division I signee quarterbacks do you know who are out here running 200s in the middle of this tornado wind?' " Cornelsen said. "I think it shows something about his character and about his maturity level."