Ask any high school track and field athlete in the Dakotas what their favorite annual meet is, and most will tell you the same answer. It’s not a conference, region, or state meet that holds the top spot.
Instead, it’s the Howard Wood Dakota Relays. This Friday and Saturday, Howard Wood Field in Sioux Falls would’ve hosted the 95th edition of the meet that started back in 1947, but sadly – like everything else this spring – the coronavirus pandemic has ensured it won’t take place this time around. Now, as an outdoor event that relies on favorable conditions, this isn’t the first time that the Dakota Relays have been called off. In fact, it just happened a few years ago, when severe weather forced a total cancelation in 2012.
But that doesn’t make the loss of one of the most anticipated events on the region’s sporting calendar sting any less.
If you’ve had the privilege of attending in the past, you know Howard Wood is always a two-day cauldron of fierce competition, featuring top high school and collegiate runners, jumpers, and throwers from the upper Midwest and highlighted by the invitation-only special events in primetime on Friday night.
This year, the High School Girls 200m and the High School Boys 800m would’ve taken center stage, and while we don’t get a chance to cheer on the 18 young men and women vying for two of the more revered track titles in this region, we can still give those who would’ve been great candidates to run at the Wood a nod for their excellence during their prep careers.
Full disclosure: I’ve been a member of the HWDR Special Events Committee since 2015 and am proud to help select who takes part in the specials each year, but the meet was canceled long before we had finalized our 2020 participants, so don’t read too much into the names below, as many others merited consideration and might’ve ultimately been selected.
Also, while our committee almost always invites one or two competitors from outside the Dakotas for the special events, I wanted to keep this list to the athletes we cover within this two-state area. So again, if not for a global health crisis, here are the prep runners who we could’ve been watching under the lights this first weekend in May, starting with...
Girls 200m Special Event | Top Dakota Candidates
Erin Kinney, Harrisburg (12)
The Tigers senior was one of my honorable mentions picks for the 2020 Dakota Dozen, and for good reason; she’s a three-time South Dakota AA state champion in the sprints and is currently top-ten all-time in the SDHS ranks in the 100m (11.85) and 200m (24.56). The future USD Coyote finished third in the Special 200m in 2018 – and won the HWDR 100m a year ago – and she would’ve been a lock for a preferred lane this time around.
Jacy Pulse, McCook Central-Montrose (12)
Another Dakota Dozen selection and USD commit, Pulse would’ve been in this field as the reigning Class A state champ in South Dakota and as one of the top sprinters in the region. More known for her hurdle prowess – she swept the 100mH and 300mH at state last year – the MCM standout also finished second in the 100m to go along with her 200m crown and previously had won a state title in the 400m as a 7th grader. Pulse is no stranger to the HWDR stage, with five podium finishes in the 400m and 300mH in her career.
Caelyn Valandra-Prue, White River (11)
I promise I’m not just copying my Dakota Dozen article from last week…but here’s another Dakota Dozen selection cracking this list. CVP is already a three-time Howard Wood Dakota Relays champion after winning the 400m in 2016, 2018 and 2019, and with five state titles on her resume – including South Dakota Class B wins in the 100m, 200m and 800m last year – she would’ve been an easy pick for the Special 200m this time around. Like Kinney, she also ran in the 2018 Special 200m, finishing sixth.
Jasmine Williams, West Fargo (10)
Our first North Dakotan on the list, Williams is the reigning Class A 200m champion in the Peace Garden State and was runner-up last year in the 100m as well. Her top 200m clocking (25.7 seconds) is a little slower than what the top South Dakotans put up in 2019, but the Packer standout made big strides from her 8th-grade season to last year, and I would’ve expected another similar step forward this spring.
Lanie Awender, Oakes (11)
Yet another Dakota Dozen pick, Awender swept the sprints at state in North Dakota’s Class B in 2019, giving our committee the unique opportunity to field all five current 200m champions from the Dakota Territory in this year’s HWDR special event. Oakes doesn’t typically send athletes to the Dakota Relays, but it’s not because of location – the town is just 70 miles north of Aberdeen – and I’d imagine they’d have made an exception this year had their junior sprint star earned an invite.
Makenna Larson, Chester (12)
With the 2019 state champs accounted for, next on my shortlist would’ve been a former South Dakota title winner in Larson. After claiming Class B crowns in the 100m and 200m as a sophomore, the Northern State commit finished as second to Valandra-Prue at state in both events last year by a minuscule combined time of 0.04 seconds. Her pedigree and solid 200m times would’ve made her hard to overlook.
Kyah Watson, Rapid City Stevens (12)
The USD basketball commit has been a podium staple at Howard Wood and the South Dakota state track meet for years, and after a pair of top-four AA finishes in the 100m and 200m in 2019, Watson would’ve been in the conversation for a spot in this year’s Special 200m two years after placing seventh in the 2018 edition.
Hannah Dschaak, Bismarck Century (12)
Bismarck’s Century High is home to 2019’s HWDR Girls Special Event winner – sophomore Erin Palmer in the 800m – and the Pats would likely have had another contender this year in Dschaak. The senior was second in the Class A 200m last year and sixth in the 100m, and it would’ve been interesting to see if she or teammate Brooklyn Buchholz – the reigning 100m state champ and anchor of the Pats’ title-winning 4x200m relay team – would’ve emerged as the top candidate from ND’s capital city.
Meghan Walker, Sioux Falls Christian (10)
One of South Dakota’s breakout stars in 2019, the Charger sprinter embraced the sport of track and field entering her freshman season and exited with top-three finishes in Class A in the 100m, 200m and 400m. Walker would’ve been a threat for multiple state titles this spring and would’ve fit in nicely in this field.
Boys 800m Special Event | Top Dakota Candidates
Reggie Slaba, Hanson (12)
The lone returning 800m state champ in the Dakotas, Slaba moved up from a third-place finish in the Class B half as a sophomore to the top of the podium last year in 1:58.46. The SDSU commit was the only returner in the Rushmore State to crack two-minutes at the state championships last year and would’ve been a lock to make the Special 800m field.
Cole Hardie, O’Gorman (12)
With two-time reigning AA 800m champ Ethan Brenneman of Sturgis graduating, Hardie would’ve assumed the mantle as the mid-distance favorite in South Dakota’s biggest class in 2020. Like Slaba, Hardie’s a basketball standout who rounded into form last May to earn a third-place finish in the half at state, and I get the feeling he would’ve gone much lower this year than this current 2:00.47 PR.
Micade Shumway, Williston (12)
Yes, Shumway only finished fifth in North Dakota’s Class A 800m last year, but he ran 1:58.09 to do so, one of 14 (!!) in the field to crack two minutes at the Community Bowl last May. The University of Sioux Falls commit was also top-four in the mile and two-mile at state track last year and placed fifth at the state cross country meet this past fall.
Andrew Lauer, Sioux Falls Lincoln (12)
It’s fun to dream, right? The North Carolina commit is more of a distance specialist – he won South Dakota’s AA mile and two-mile and earned an individual state XC title in 2019 – but Lauer also anchored the Pats’ 4x8 to state glory last year, and if he wanted to put his speed work to the test, there’s isn’t a better challenge out there than the HWDR Special 800m.
Jarek Glenn, St. Thomas More (12)
The top half-mile returner in South Dakota’s Class A, Glenn took 800m runner-up honors at state in 2019 and finished third in the 1600m to go along with a fourth-place finish at State XC. The Cavalier standout is a preferred walk-on for cross country and track at USD next fall.
Parker Nelson, West Fargo (10)
As a freshman, Nelson took sixth in the Class A 800m at 1:58.10, one one-hundredth of a second behind Shumway. (FYI: That’s an outstanding time for someone in their first year of high school.) One silver lining for the Packer underclassmen; if he continues to progress, he’ll still be in school the next time the HWDR Boys Special 800m comes around again in 2022.
Tommy Nikkel, Vermillion (11)
More known as a sprinter than a distance runner, Nikkel anchored the Tanagers to a Class A title in the 4x8 last year and placed top-four at state in the 400m for the second year in a row. If he were to turn his focus to the half, that blend of speed and stamina would’ve made him an interesting contender for this year’s field.
Cole Herrman, Spearfish (12)
The Spartan runner earned a fifth-place finish in AA as a junior in 2:01.00, his first career podium at state. Herrman would’ve been another prime candidate to improve in what would’ve been his senior season.
Sean Korsmo, Bismarck (11) and Brady Yoder, Dickinson (11)
Much like Lauer, these two standouts would’ve more than likely skipped the 800m at the Dakota Relays to focus on Friday’s 3200m and Saturday’s 1600m, but few in North Dakota distance circles are more accomplished or more driven, and even fewer have Korsmo and Yoder’s talent. Again, it’s fun to dream.
Note: Next year’s Howard Wood Dakota Relays will take place at Howard Wood Field in Sioux Falls on April 30-May 1, 2021.