Let's be honest: not every sports fan extends their support and excitement to track and field. It’s one of those sports that tends to divide opinions. You either love it...or you want nothing to do with it. (As I've enthusiastically volunteered to cover track for MidcoSN this spring, I think you can venture a guess as to what camp I'm in.)
If you're not down with T&F yet, here's my four-point elevator speech to try to get you on board...
1) Longevity: Unless you count hunting wooly mammoth, you can't name me another sport that's been around longer. There's a reason why people have been using track and field as a means to determine who's the fastest, the strongest, and the most agile since (and likely before) the time of Leonidas and Themistocles...who were probably both gold medalists in the javelin in their day. The sport just works, mainly because of its...
2) Simplicity: Run. Jump. Throw...That's it. Anyone can follow and enjoy track, simply because the only rules are: A) don't start too early or throw/jump too late, B) stay inside your lane/designated area, and C) run fast/throw hard/jump far and/or high. There's no confusion over a whistle, no offsides rule to explain, nothing. Just pure athleticism. The simple nature of the sport lends itself to...
3) Excellence on Display: Even if you're new to T&F, pure speed and power in the track and field arena is easy to spot and breathtaking to watch, rendering your past experience with the sport moot. When Usain Bolt hits top gear in the 100 meters or Mo Farah accelerates past the field in the 5,000, even non-sports fans can sense something special is happening. On a more local level, anyone who saw Sioux Falls Washington's Nate Gerry on the track in 2013 or Fargo South's Laura Roesler in 2010 could tell instantly they were watching greatness. And what's even better about this is how you can gauge that greatness from year to year and generation to generation, thanks to track and field's...
4) Connection to History: ...And we're back to point #1. Granted, our athletes today aren't competing in the exact same events as the Ancient Greeks (and even if they were, a sun dial is a poor excuse for a hand-held timer), but the disciplines have been essentially unchanged for the better part of the last century, making it possible to stack up the accomplishments today with those of the past. It's fascinating to watch records being chased and broken, especially when they've been in place for so long - like Aberdeen Central's George Amundson's discus mark of 211'4", set back in 1969 - or if they have particular meaning - like Huron's Rod DeHaven's 1600m record and the pursuit of it by his son Addison this spring.
In sports like football and basketball, it's impossible to have finality on who really is the best, whether from year to year, class to class, state to state, etc. But in track and field? The playing surface is equal, the results are objective, and the only opposition is your own personal limits as an athlete.
It's sport in its purest form, and it's worth your attention.
(...It was a long elevator ride. Like Empire State Building-long.)
With all that said, it certainly helps that on both the high school and collegiate level here in North and South Dakota, there’s a lot to grab that attention and keep it, as the high school track and field talent pool is always deep, with this year being no exception. So, to get you ready for the track season, let’s profile some of the outstanding athletes and teams to watch for...
At the top of the watch list is Addison DeHaven of Brookings. As mentioned above, his father, Rod, is a former US Olympian and the current head men’s track and cross country at SDSU. Addison, however, has more than made his own legacy in his time as a Bobcat. The University of Wisconsin-bound senior has won back to back Class AA Cross Country titles and picked up four gold medals at the state track and field meet a year ago in the 1600m, 3200m and the distance relays.
Also on our list is University of Washington recruit Jack Lembcke of Roosevelt, who set the AA state meet record in the shot put a year ago, and Cam Holmes of Brandon Valley, a great sprinting talent that set a AA state meet record of his own in the 400 meters. Look for Lembcke to repeat in the shot and disc this year, while Holmes has a great chance to pull a double of his own in the 200m and the 400m.
On the Class A side in South Dakota, Brennan Witt of Custer heads the list after helping lead his Wildcats to a state title a year ago with victories in the 800m, the 1600m and the medley relay. The NDSU recruit will be favored to repeat in each of those events, as will his team in Class A.
Hudson Priebe of Chamberlain is a senior hurdler and jumper who has won his share of state titles since his freshman season for the Cubs. The Drake recruit also won the 60m hurdles at the Dan Lennon Indoor Meet this spring. Ephram Albrecht of Redfield/Doland was the best triple jumper in the state a year ago regardless of class, earning a gold medal in the event as sophomore in 2013.
In Class B, Jase Kraft of Wessington Springs will be favored in the 800m, the 1600m and the 3200m after winning or finishing second in each of those events at state a year ago. SDSU football recruit Dakota Thorstensen of Herried/Selby Area was a state champion in both the high jump and the triple jump in 2013 and will look to repeat in both events this May. Thorstensen's Wolverine teammate Austin Iverson returns as well after playing a big part in H/A's Class B title win a year ago; he'll look to pull off the 110m/300m hurdle double this spring after taking 1st and 3rd in those events last year as a junior.
For the AA girls, Cortney Dowling is a name you need to remember. The Pierre Governor returns to defend the state titles in the 100, 200 and 4x100 that she picked up last year as just a freshman. Dowling was the state’s Gatorade Track and Field Athlete of the Year last year and could sweep the sprints again this year if she can get past Sturgis’ Brooke Ireland, the only runner to beat Dowling at the state meet in 2013. Ireland won the 400m ahead of Dowling and finished just behind her in the 100 and the 200, and though the USD recruit was injured during basketball season, she’s already been competing this spring and has posted good times for this early in the season. Watertown sophomore Macy Denzer and O'Gorman freshman Callie DeWitt both return as well after placing in the top five in multiple sprint events in last year's state meet, making this collection of AA sprinting talent the deepest and most closely contested that it's been in years.
In the field, the battle between Alexis Gannon of Brookings and Collette Christensen of RC Central has been one of the best in South Dakota for the past two springs, with each trading wins in the triple jump since their sophomore year. Both will want to finish their careers with a win in their final state meet. Gannon is also the reigning triple jump champ, while Christensen is the two-time defending AA high jump champion. Another returning champ is Michaela Mayer of Sioux Falls Washington; the Minnesota-bound senior has won the AA girls title in the shot put for two years running and will be favored to make it three in a row this spring.
Class A is headlined by 2013 double champion Tori Glazier of Custer, who took home wins in the mile and two-mile as a 7th grader a year ago, while senior Stephanie Gemar of Mobridge-Pollack returns after posting the best discus throw of any class at the State Meet in 2013.
Sophomore Kassi Jones of Britton-Hecla is one to watch for as well after placing in the top three at state in both the 100m and 200m last spring, as is junior Dabrisha Stevens of Elkton-Lake Benton, who placed in both the 200m and 400m. They'll both have to contend with a talented group of senior Sioux Falls Christian sprinters, especially Stacy Smidt in the 100m and 200m and Miranda Velgersdyk in the 200m and 400m.
Despite being in the smallest class, the most recognizable returner in South Dakota track and field is Ipswich’s Macy Heinz… and she’s just finishing her first year of high school. The Tiger freshman has been named Class B’s Most Outstanding Track Athlete in each of the last two years and won the 400m, 800m, 1600m and anchored her 4x800m relay team to a victory in 2013.
Heinz will be pushed in the long distance events by a pair of Gayville-Volin runners in sophomore Genevieve Clark and freshman Laura Nelson. Clark finished 2nd to Macy in both the mile and two-mile at state a year ago, while she and Nelson finished ahead of Heinz at the Class B State Cross Country meet this fall, with Nelson taking the victory and Clark finishing second. In the sprints, senior Sierra Stotz of Eureka/Bowdle is back to defend her sprint double in the 100m and 200m from a year ago.
Across the border in North Dakota, there aren’t many returning individual boys state champions in Class A, but there certainly is an abundance of talent. Minot’s Karter Gorney is one of the few with a crown to defend, and the junior will look to add to his 100m title from 2013, as will reigning shot put camp John Tharaldson of Bismarck.
Landon Jochim of Century finished second in the 400m a year ago but will be favored to move a step up the podium and possibly into the North Dakota record book in that race. James Johannessen of Fargo South is one to watch for as well, as the outstanding football and hockey player will challenge in the 100m and 200m.
In Class B, no one has dominated the distance events like Shiloh Christian’s Elliot Stone, as the junior is the defending champion in the mile and two-mile and added an individual XC title to his resume this fall. He’ll be favored to repeat this spring, as will Bottineau pole vault sensation Harrison Aide; the 2013 champ won last year’s title by well over a foot and set the Class B State Meet record in the process with a clearance of 15’, just one inch shy of the best mark at any state meet in North or South Dakota in 2013, regardless of class. (Watertown, South Dakota’s Colton Jordan has that distinction with his gold-medal winning 15’1” clearance in Class AA.) Senior Nigel Hageness of Rugby was a runner-up in the 100m a year ago and will be a strong challenger to move up the podium in both sprints.
For the girls, Amanda Levin of West Fargo was the toast of Class A a year ago, as the then-junior sprinter won the 100, 200 and 400 meters at the state meet en route to being named North Dakota’s Gatorade Track and Field Athlete of the Year. The NDSU recruit suffered a torn ACL and MCL playing volleyball this September, but after rehabbing during the winter sports season, she could very well be on top of the podium again come May in what would be a great comeback story.
Bismarck’s Brittany Brownotter is another returning Class A standout, as the senior distance runner will look to defend her titles in the mile and 2-mile this spring, while junior Chelsea Peterson of Mandan will be favored in the hurdles after winning the 300s and finishing 2nd in the 100s in 2013.
There are lots of returning title winners in Class B, including 2013 double hurdle champ Dakota Wood of Hazen, mile, two-mile and XC champ Asha Smith of Watford City, and long and triple jump champion Megan Johnson of Maple Valley/Enderlin. Last but not least, senior Kayla Hochhalter of Carrington will look for double wins in the throws after winning the discus and coming a close second in the shot put last May.
In the coming days, we'll profile the best teams to watch for in North and South Dakota track and field. Until then...