Stone, Rockets begin title quest
ST. JOSEPH — Unity High School has a group of girls who are quickly becoming recognized as some of the state’s top runners.
The process started in the fall when senior Laura Seiler, sophomore Taylor Renfroe and freshman Nicole Bagwell were among the top four runners on the Rockets’ fifth-place Class 1A state cross-country team.
They were just getting started.
When indoor track rolled around, Seiler, Renfroe and Bagwell — in that order — joined forces with junior Hannah Stone to form a 3,200-meter relay that captured the state championship.
They haven’t slowed down in the last two months.
“We’ve broken the school record (outdoors) three times,” Stone said.
The Rockets ran unchallenged in Friday’s Class 1A sectional meet hosted by St. Joseph-Ogden. The foursome won the event with a school-record time of 9 minutes, 51.90 seconds and secured its berth at the state meet, which starts Thursday in Charleston.
Seiler and Stone were two of the Unity runners on the relay that earned state medals in 2013 with a ninth-place finish. That performance set the stage for what would follow.
“We knew we could compete,” Stone said, “and we added a new girl this year (Bagwell) who has been a great addition.”
What the group didn’t know is how it would fare at the state level.
“When we won (indoors), we were pleasantly surprised,” said Stone, who won the open 800 in 2:21.41.
St. Thomas More held off Uni High for the runner-up spot in the 3,200 relay and the other automatic state-qualifying berth. It’s the fourth year in a row the Sabers have advanced their distance relay. The top two finishers in all events advance to state as do any others who meet a predetermined standard.
Reifsteck and Bagwell will have more to do at state than run. They swept the top two positions in the pole vault, each clearing 10 feet, 3 inches. They share the school record in the event at 10-6. Bagwell also won a sectional title in the 400.
Another event in which teammates went 1-2 was the discus. Salt Fork’s Abby Nicholson was the winner (117-10), followed by Katie Witte (108-0).
Nicholson emerged from a slump to record her best marks of the season in the discus and shot put (37-11), which she also won.
“Lately, I haven’t been throwing well,” said Nicholson, who was also a two-event state qualifier in 2013. “When I hit that 117, I had the biggest smile on my face. I had the height on it, and it felt awesome.”
Witte hadn’t reached the automatic state standard (108-0) in any meet this season and was throwing in the 90s Friday on her three qualifying attempts.
“My throws coach (Herb Wilkins) told me what I needed to do and to get my chin up,” Witte said, “and I went out and did it. I thought I had it in me.”
The freshman is a state qualifier for the third consecutive year.
SJ-O teammates Abby Gawthorp and Keely Smith pulled away from the pack in the first 400 meters and secured the top two spots in the 3,200-meter run. They were more than a minute ahead of all other pursuers.
St. Thomas More teammates Liz Bristow and Randa Harshbarger — two of the 3,200 relay runners along with Regan Kelley and Julia Welle — gave themselves a break early in the meet.
After they bettered the automatic qualifying marks in their jumping events, they passed on the remainder of their attempts.
“Saving my legs for later,” said Harshbarger, who returned to the track to advance in the 400 meters.
She rebroke the school long-jump record she first set as a freshman and raised higher as a junior, becoming the first Saber to reach 17 feet in the event.
“My steps were messed up on my first two (tries),” said Harshbarger, who was under 15 feet. “The last one was a ‘Thank God’ moment.”
She sailed 17 feet, 03/4 inch.
Bristow’s second — and final — triple-jump effort (35-41/4) was her season’s best.
“As soon as I took off, I could feel it was a good jump,” Bristow said. “This will carry over the rest of the meet.”
From the triple jump, she went to the high jump, where she became a sectional champion, clearing 4-8.
“The triple jump is my favorite,” Bristow said, “because not every step has to be perfect like in the high jump or the hurdles.”
Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac senior Hailey Bennett qualified for state in the maximum number of events, four. She was the leadoff runner for the Comets’ sectional championship 400 and 800 relays and finished second to Salt Fork’s Jenny Kimbro in both hurdles races.
Despite being a state placer last year as a freshman, Kimbro is looking to better her times.
“Overall, I’m running some of the best times I’ve put in,” said Kimbro, who is also a long-jump qualifier, “but I can always cut another second.”
O/A-P advanced each of its sprint relays. Bennett, Summer Kitchens and anchor Kelby Deck were on the 400 and 800 foursomes. Cheyenne Sadlek ran on the 400 unit, and Erica Sprague joined in for the 800.
Bismarck-Henning’s Mary Bass, the 100- and 200-meter titlist, completed a 4-for-4 run. She was a state qualifier in the two sprint races each year as a high school runner. As a senior, she hasn’t lost a race in the 100 meters.
“She loves the 100, but the 200 is the race where she has untapped potential,” B-H coach Susan Kentner said. “She is so consistent.”
Bass ran a career-best 26.01 in the finals at SJ-O.
Before she competes at state for the final time, the future University of Illinois pre-med student has another important date. On Sunday, she will give the valedictorian address at the Bismarck-Henning commencement ceremony.
SJ-O edged Unity by three points, 85-82, for team supremacy. Salt Fork (75) was third, followed by Urbana Uni High (671/2), which had the 1,600 winner in freshman Annemarie Michael.
The Spartans’ team title is the 15th under coach Jerry Hewerdine’s direction and the third in a row.