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Suburban East Conference Thriller

By Chris Babcock, 07/22/17, 9:45PM CDT

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Boys' and Girls' race for titles in relays at conference championships.

Track and field, like life is about steps. Last night, the Raiders’ Track and Field team stepped onto the track at East Ridge High School for the Finals of the Suburban East Conference (SEC) meet. A meet that would test them every centimeter of the way.

Track and field, like life is about steps. Last night, the Raiders’ Track and Field team stepped onto the track at East Ridge High School for the Finals of the Suburban East Conference (SEC) meet. A meet that would test them every centimeter of the way.

In the finals of the 3200m Senior Dillon Dieckmann was seeded into the slower of the two heats. But knowing that you are in a heat that is slower than where you know you should be can be freeing and motivating. He had nothing to loose and everything to prove. To that end from his first step after the gun he set his course to be the first one to the finish in as fast a time as he could muster. Dieckmann was not seeded the highest in this heat either, but he proved that he would be the one to beat as he pushed the pace through the first mile in 4:51, a pace that would give him a 15 second life time personal best and 35 second season best. After that first mile his drive and focus did not wain. There were no mis-steps as he pulled away from the rest of the runners in his heat. In the end he would not set a new personal record but at 9:56.21 his finish was only 1 second off his best mark. This time would set the bar for the runners in the fast heat and stand as the 8th fastest time in the meet. An impressive feat.

For the first time in a long time CDH saw a thrower make it to the finals of the shot put. Junior Sean Brodie Jr. put his mark on the field with his longest throw of the meet of 44’ 11”. This placed him 10th over all. Later in the meet Brodie would throw the discus 116’ 2”, a 26’ personal record. In his first year throwing the disk he has made great strides in recent meets.

Everything we do can be broken down into steps. And when you live and die by the speed of those steps as you run on a razor’s edge around a corner it is difficult to not make a mis-step from time to time. Jaylen Newton has great potential. He has run the 400m only a handful of times and each time he improves. Yesterday he was the first Raider boy to make the finals in the event in 5 seasons or more. Newton was ready for the race. He knew his competition and he knows the effort that he has to give to make it around the track once. He had to run hard the whole way, no more laying in wait for the moment the pounce. And that is what he did. He ran hard from the start. In the end he would cross the line in third place in a time just over 49 seconds. When it came time to confer the awards however, he would not be on the podium. It would seem that some of those earliest steps had crossed the inside line. He had fallen off the razor. But he would get back up and race again in the finals of the 200m.

This season held lots of potential for both the boys’ and girls’ teams. There was a large contingent returning who had competed at the State meet the previous season, and they were entering the season with a sharp focus on what they needed to do to return to the highest level of competition and shine. They were on target the do just that having qualified for the prestigious Hamline Elite meet. The girls won their 4 x 400m race at this meet proving that at the mid point of the season they were the best around the track. But as seasons go focus can wain and bodies can break down in unexpected ways.

Going into the SEC meet the boys would be without their lead off runner and solid member of their team, James Williams, who has been out rehabbing his hamstring. In the mean time Denzel Fondungalla and Dylan Pohl have been filling in and carrying his banner with honor and pride.

Last night it would be Dylan Pohl who would lead off the the 4 x 100m. It is hard enough to get yourself to the finish first - or at all. But to do it with three other people and a baton is especially difficult. So many things can go wrong and then you have to pass the baton while running as

fast as you can between two points on the track. You really have to know the persons to whom and from whom you are passing the stick.

Pohl heard the crack of the starting pistol and burst from his blocks racing to meet Charlie Dennis just around the corner. And in just over 11 seconds he was there and Dennis would take the baton. Their exchange was clean and the baton did not slow more than a step in the exchange. Down the back stretch Dennis sped, arms and legs pumping along a laser line to Rajiv Redd who was anxiously awaiting his turn. At this point the race was close. The stagger of the start was starting to fade, but it would only be revealed in this next hand off who really was in the lead. Seeing Dennis hit his mark just behind him, Redd took off in an attempt to accelerate fast enough that Dennis would not run into him and that their speed would match by the time they were both inside the exchange zone. When Redd heard Dennis’ command to put his hand back it was there in a blink and the baton was now transferred and heading around the second curve to Fondungalla.

At the second exchange the race was very close. The East Ridge team had brought their best today and wanted to prove it as well. Fondungalla who had placed fourth in the 100m dash earlier now had the opportunity to carry his team across the finish line in first. Fondungalla had never run track until this, his senior year. He was out to improve his speed and quickness. He has done that. Now he would once again prove it. Between Redd and Fondungalla the exchange would take place as the track transitions from curve to straight, and it needed to be spot on. Redd had also been in the finals of the 100m earlier so he would be coming in with some speed even coming off the corner. The baton entered and left the zone as smooth as if it had stayed in a single runner’s hand. There was no time lost and Fondungalla was moving out in pursuit of the top of the podium. To get there he would have to get past a worthy opponent from East Ridge.

As they raced past the stadium bleachers it was hard to tell who was in the lead. The 11 seconds or so seemed to stretch on in a blur of motion and anticipation as the two of them pushed for the finish Fondungalla thrust his chest forward in a classic track and field finish that would put his team on the top of the podium. Steps that at the beginning of the season none of them knew for certain they would be climbing. Steps that would leave a mark in the CDH record book as the second fastest time in team history for the 4 x 100m. Only the 2008 state champion team has gone faster.

The girls took on the 4 x 200m relay and the 4 x 400m relay. Their teams were almost identical with the exception of Chan’el Anderson-Manning (11) running in the 4 x 200m and Lucia Frias- Wackman (11) running in the 4 x 400m.

Going into the meet their 4 x 200m team was ranked third behind some very solid competition. But Sydney Jackson (9), Kate Lokowich-Kohler (12), Thea Gutzmann (12), and Anderson- Manning are all very solid competitors as well. Lokowich-Kohler and Jackson would go on to finish 1st and 2nd in the 400m later in the day. Gutzmann would be 3rd in the 300m hurdles. Jackson and Gutzmann would run personal records to achieve those places. Anderson-Manning also competed in the open 100 and 200, but did not make it out of the preliminary rounds. For all of them this would be their first test of the day.

The youngest of them, Jackson comes to the team with her own experience running club track and field in the summers and has been a top 400m and 800m runner. She would lead them off.

Again, the stagger is long and it is difficult to see who is truly in the lead until you get to the handoffs. At the first exchange the race was pretty tight with the Raider runners in the thick of things. Jackson had put Anderson-Manning in a good position. With the baton she ran around the first corner in pursuit of the Stillwater and East Ridge runners. She did not give up any ground as she passed the baton to Lokowich-Kohler, who seized the baton and sent it on a trajectory around the corner and into the next straight as she moved closer to her opponents. Lokowich-Kohler runs with the experience and confidence of a senior runner. She has come to understand what it is to truly push herself in the four years she has run track and field. There was no exception made this time.

Gutzmann was waiting and anticipating their exchange. If you blinked you missed it. The only evidence of its success, Gutzmann’s speedy departure from the zone, baton in hand as she pushed her way around the corner to the straight. Stillwater was not fading and East Ridge was seemingly out of reach as their runner pulled away down the home stretch. Her sites were now on the finish and getting there ahead of anyone in her way. As she moved closer she caught the Stillwater runner. The two of them would cross the line 0.76 seconds apart. The Raider team just ahead beating the pre-meet expectations laid down in paper and ink. Proving once again, this is why we run the races. It was a good start for all of them.

By the end of the night the girls 4 x 400m team had raced 8 races between them and been on the podium 8 times. Frias-Wackman had started her day out with a 5th place finish in the 100m and followed it up with a 6th place finish in the 400m. It had already been a big day for the expected champions, at least that is what it said on paper.

The order that has worked for them has been: Jackson to Frias-Wackman to Gutzmann to Lokowich-Kohler and that is what they would do again.

From the start Jackson was working to make up the stagger and get around both curves to hand off the baton. It was evident that her efforts were paying off as the runners to the inside of the track had started to fade behind her. But it was also evident that this was not going to be a formality to be completed without contest. Teams from Roseville and White Bear Lake had come to see if they could unseat the reigning queens of the 4 x 400m.

Into the first exchange with Jackson and Frias-Wackman went their hopes, dreams, fears, and anxieties and those of their teammates corked in the 9” cylinder they would exchange. In her leg Frias-Wackman knew she had to make up ground on the leaders and give nothing to those behind her. This she would do with great effort. It all paid off because Gutzmann received the baton in a good position to advance the team further. There was nothing to do but do the best she could. Her best was enough to put them one leg closer to the win. She had passed the runners from Stillwater and White Bear Lake. Her tenacious drive and gutsy spirit carried her to this point with a sense of purpose; a sense that whatever sacrifices she would have to make for their team would be worthy of it.

Their team now in the lead, Lokowich-Kohler came into the baton primed for another victory and knowing that she would have to work to get it. The race had been a pursuit from the beginning; but now they were in the lead. White Bear Lake was doing all they could to catch up and pass both teams. Going into the last turn the three of them were racing closely. Excitement was building to the a fevered pitch as the Roseville runner fell out of contention and it was just Lokowich-Kohler and White Bear Lake’s number 4, Erika Townley who had won the 300m

hurdles and placed 2nd in the 100m hurdles earlier that day. It was coming down to two champions in their final race of the day. They did not disappoint. It was a battle to the end. Coming off the corner it did not look like Townley would be able to catch Lokowich-Kohler. She had spent too much of her strength just to get close enough to try. But past the mark for the first hurdle she threw all in and made another push for the lead. A push that would last for the next 80m. Lokowich-Kohler battled back and kept Townley at bay through the first 50m. Townley persisted. So did Lokowich-Kohler. As they approached the line it was going to be close. When the dust settled the difference was 0.26 seconds. The Raider team had defended their crown, and remain the queens of the 4 x 400m.