SJ-O takes sectional track title
CATLIN — Veterans and newcomers shared the spotlight Friday at Salt Fork’s Class 1A girls’ track and field sectional.
Seniors such as Kandie Bloch-Jones, from Argenta-Oreana, and Toria Plotner, from Salt Fork, were again dominant in their individual events as were Fisher relay runners Carli Clifton and Gina Masko.
Freshmen such as Jenny Kimbro and Abby Nicholson, from Salt Fork, Abby Gawthorp, from St. Joseph-Ogden, and Taylor Renfroe, from Unity, made a splash in their high school postseason debuts.
There was also a familiar name atop the team standings. For the 14th time during Jerry Hewerdine’s coaching tenure — and the fifth time in the past six years — St. Joseph-Ogden captured a sectional crown.
The Spartans had 97 points. Runner-up Salt Fork had 86. Fisher was third, St. Thomas More fourth and Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac fifth in the 17-school field.
Fisher swept the two sprint relay races, posting season-best times in the 400 (51.39 seconds) and 800 (1 minute, 49.61 seconds) events.
Junior Miranda Marry anchored both relays. She was joined by Clifton, Masko and junior Olivia Heffernan. The same group qualified a year ago in the 800 relay.
“We’re equally strong in both and have more experience than last year,” said Marry, who missed much of the outdoor season with shin splints. “I was worried I wouldn’t be in shape.”
Masko, Marry and Clifton also advanced to state in individual events. Masko is proud of what the Bunnies have accomplished “for a team of nine,” she said.
SJ-O’s Gawthorp won the 3,200 in a season-best 11:56.48. She won by more than 12 seconds. Though she has been a distance runner four years, her success this season carries special significance.
“My grandpa (Donald Gawthorp) passed away, and all of my races are dedicated to him,” Abby Gawthorp said.
Plotner, in her farewell home meet, won the 400 and advanced to state in the 200.
Bloch-Jones won the high jump (5 feet, 8 inches) and added a first in the triple jump (34-103/4). She and runner-up Liz Bristow, from St. Thomas More, had identical jumps, but Bloch-Jones’ first-place triumph was based on a better second jump by 10 inches (34-6).
St. Thomas More pieced together a 3,200 relay that was good enough to run a season-best time of 10:05.34.
The Sabers were without senior Gen Harrington — who was playing in a regional championship soccer match but arrived in time to help the 1,600 relay qualify for state — but it didn’t matter. The foursome of freshman Julia Welle, junior Randa Harshbarger, sophomore Bristow and junior Regan Kelley raced to a victory by nearly four seconds. Kelley and Harshbarger are heading to state in the race for the third time. Bristow and Harrington will be two-time state entrants.
“We felt like there was a target on our backs,” Kelley said.
The group wants more than to make an appearance at state, starting Thursday.
“We want to compete,” Bristow said.
Unity’s Renfroe led a 1-2 finish for the school in the 1,600. It was the only running event where teammates swept the top spots. Laura Seiler was the runner-up.
“I feel stronger in this race than any other,” Renfroe said. “I appreciate how well the coaches have trained me.”
Nicholson led a 1-2 finish for Salt Fork in the discus. Her winning toss was 115-3. Teammate Rachel Negangard was second by 8 inches. Nicholson did well in junior high but said it is tougher now.
“Everyone is very close,” she said. “There’s harder competition and more stress. I threw a lot in the summer, and it helped knowing I’d gotten the distances (in other meets) to go to state.”
She was a double winner, capturing the shot put as well. Teammate Kimbro was victorious in both hurdles races. She had the quickest qualifying time in the 100 hurdles by nearly a half-second and won in the finals by almost a full second.
“I had a lot of nerves, but I thought, ‘I’ve run this race hundreds of times. Just do what I do,’ ” Kimbro said. “My start’s a little shaky, but at the end it gets better.”
She led a field of four qualifiers in the 300 hurdles, finishing in 46.11.
Another two-event winner was Bismarck-Henning junior sprinter Mary Bass. She won the 100- and 200-meter dashes. The latter supplied the meet’s closest finish. Bass was timed in 26.93 seconds. Runner-up Marry, from Fisher, was at 26.95, and Plotner was at 26.97.
Bass is pleased to be reaching her peak.
“The season has been kind of bad,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of canceled meets. I’m not quite where I should be, but I’m pretty good. I’m happy with myself.”
Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac, which sent a 400 relay to state in 2012, advanced in the 800 relay with three of the same runners. Hailey Bennett, Cheyenne Sadlek and Summer Kitchens have the previous state experience and are joined by anchor Abby Stewart.
“They’re solid,” coach Lynn Anderson said. “They’re quicker and they’re smooth because they’ve done it before.”