This Friday and Saturday, the eyes of North Dakota will be on the Bismarck Community Bowl for the 111th running of the North Dakota High School State Track and Field Meet. The boys event started way back in 1903, while the first girls state meet was in 1966, and there have been no shortage of great performances and exciting finishes over the years. 2014 should prove to be no different, so to get you ready for this weekend's meet, let's take a look at some of the top individuals competing over both classes as well as the teams that are poised to capture a championship.
North Dakota Class A Girls
Century's Myranda Merkel, Grand Forks Red River's Ashley Rone and Bismarck's Cara Haussler are set for a great showdown in the sprinting events. Merkel won the 100m and 200m at the West Region Meet and has the top 100 time in Class A at 12.4, while Rone swept all three sprints in the East Region and boasts the best quarter time at 57.35. Haussler, who's just a freshman for the Demons, has the best time in the open 200m with a 25.34 clocking. Also, while her times haven't been what they were last year after having ACL surgery this Fall, don't count out Amanda Levin of West Fargo in any of these races. The NDSU recruit swept the sprints at the state meet last year, and it wouldn't shock anyone if she pulled off something special in her last high school meet.
McKayla Orr of Jamestown has been dominant this spring in both hurdle disciplines, especially in the 300m distance. She went under the 44 second mark at the West Region Meet this past Saturday, though she'll need to be at her best to defeat defending champ Chelsea Peterson of Mandan.
Bismarck's Brittany Brownotter is the one to watch in the distance events. She has the best seed time in the 800m and 1600m and is ranked 2nd in the 3200m; she'll look to add to her mile and 2 mile titles of a year ago. In the throws, watch for West Fargo's Keely Walker. She's just a sophomore, but she's recorded the best throw in Class A in both the Shot and the Discus this season.
Girls Class A: Team Race
If Bismarck beats Century in the 4x100m - only two hundreths separate their best times this year - they'd be in position to sweep every relay, an impressive feat. The Patriots will finish close behind them though, negating some of the points boost in the team standings. Century has the Demons beat for top talent and depth in all the individual races from the 100 to the 800 and are as strong in the distance events. Bismarck will have more placers in the jumps, especially Long and Triple, but the Patriots are loaded in the Throws - they'll take four of the top six places in the Shot Put - and should go 1-2 in the Pole Vault. In the end, the Demons will put up a fight, but just as they did at the West Region, it'll be the Patriots lifting the team title for the 4th consecutive year.
North Dakota Class A Boys
Let's start with the obvious: Landon Jochim of Century is all-time good in the sprints, especially the 400m, where he's the state record holder. Jon Tharaldsen of Bismarck is an all-timer in the throws, especially the Shot Put, where he's thrown over 61' and set a new stadium record at the Bismarck Community Bowl. Needless to say, it would be a massive surprise if these two don't have great state meets.
Elsewhere, Bismarck's long distance contingent should be dominant again this year, especially Dakota Relays Special 800m runner-up Dylan Werner and top ranked miler and 2-miler Matt Gotta. Daniel Asa of West Fargo has a shot to win both hurdle events, but he'll be pushed in both, as he's only just ahead of a tight pack of runners led by Fargo North's Brady Huffman. Asa's much more of a lock in the Long Jump, where he's jumped a foot and a half longer than his closest competition. Also in the field, watch for two other great individuals in Bismarck's Stanley Jones in the Discus and Kellen Feeney in the Jav; both have thrown 13' better than the next-best in their respective events.
Boys Class A Team Race
As much as I'd like to make a case for Century or anyone else, the Class A Boys trophy is staying at Bismarck High for the 11th straight year. They won't have much in terms of success in the sprints, but they have a ton of talent and depth from the 800m up, plus they'll place one or two athletes in the jumps and dominate the throws, with four or five Demons ending up on the podium in the Shot and Discus. They might not end up with as big of a margin as they did a year ago, when they won by 82 points, but it should still be a comfortable victory for the Demons on their home track.
North Dakota Class B Girls
Central Cass' Gabby Gromesh has the best clocking in the state - regardless of class - in the 100m this year with a 12.24. She's also the favorite in the 200m, but she'll be pushed in both by Parshall's Alexis Woods, who's seeded 2nd in the 100m and is the overwhelming favorite to retain her 400m title, where she's run in the sub-57 second range.
After doing a long-distance double a year ago as a freshman, Asha Smith of Watford City has a chance to one-up herself this year, as she's favored in the 800m as well as the mile and two mile. (By the way, how great of a school name is Watford City, right? It's one of my favorite high schools in North Dakota solely because it shares the name with a second division English soccer club. Try saying "Watford City" in a British accent, and you'll understand.) The 800m race could be special, as Smith and junior Annika Rotvold of Hillsboro/Central Valley have both run 2:19 this spring. Kayla Hochholter of Carrington won the Discus a year ago, but while she's seeded second in that event this weekend, she's a favorite in the Shot Put and especially the Javelin, having thrown over 20' further than her closest competitors.
Girls Class B Team Race
Carrington has won back-to-back titles, but despite the great throwing 1-2 punch of Hochholter and Bailey Retzlaff, a good hurdle team and a few solid relays, they'll come well-short of the heights of their 113 point effort from a year ago. This is a tough race to call, as a team that puts up over 60 points has a great chance to win this year. Watford City will get close to 30 points from Asha Smith alone, and she'll get a strong push in the field from top jumper Ricki Lindley, but it might not be enough.
Then there's Hillsboro/Central Valley. They have a great sprinter in Rachel Dryburgh, who could place in the top four in all three sprint events as well as the 300m Hurdles, and coupled with Rotvold in the distance events plus their top-seeded 4x4 and 4x8 teams, they could be in the mix. Don't forget about 2013 runner-up Hazen, either. They have a great hurdler in Dakota Wood, who could win both events in that discipline. Brittany Beckler will be on the podium in the 100m and 200m, plus they have the top relay times in the 4x1 and 4x2. In all honesty, I can't give you a favorite at this point, though if pressed, Carrington's ability to earn nearly 50 points in the throws alone might give them a slight advantage over the rest of the field...but watch out for Hillsboro/Central Valley.
North Dakota Class B Boys
Lewis Dobitz of Killdeer has a top five time in the 100m, the 200m and the top seed time in the open 400m. He'll lead a talented group of Killdeer sprinters that will contend in the relays as well. Dobitz's biggest competition in the 400m is set to be Eric Bachmeier of Kindred, a top sprinter in his own right; Bachmeier has the 2nd best 400m time and the top 300m hurdle time coming in by nearly two seconds. He'll be leaned upon for the Viking relays as well.
Ryan Wheeler might only be a freshman, but he's a massive favorite in the 3200m and also has the best seed time in the mile and the second-best in the 800m as well. Wheeler, defending 1600m and 3200m champ Elliot Stone of Shiloh Christian and top 800m runner Josh Thompson of Grafton are poised for a series of close battles with each other throughout the weekend.
Kellemon Hinton has gone 46' 5.5" this spring, a mark good enough to break the meet record if he can duplicate it this weekend. Hinton's also one of the favorites in the Long Jump as well.
Boys Class B Team Race
Lisbon in the two-time defending champ, but in all liklihood, they're going to be dethroned by either Kindred or Killdeer this weekend. Both of these schools are built on sprinting prowess, with each boasting several athletes with top times in nearly every individual sprinting event, as well as every relay. On paper, the edge looks to go to Kindred, as even if they lose to Killdeer in some of the sprint relays, they've got more depth and have more athletes in other disciplines where there's no Killdeer presence, such as the hurdles and the 800m.
There's a slight chance that New Town could sneak into the mix, as they have an outside shot to win five individual events on the strength of Wheeler in the distance events and thrower Elijah Grady, as well as the 4x800m Relay, but I'm sticking with the Vikings as my choice as Class B champions.
For full highlights of the North Dakota state meet along with a South Dakota High School State Track Meet preview, be sure to check out Varsity Sports Now on Wednesday, May 28th, at 7:30pm.
Alex Heinert is a producer at Midco Sports Network and covers the Summit League, the NSIC and North and South Dakota high school sports. He lives in Sioux Falls, SD.