With the finish of this race the meet was almost over. And for us it was. The race we had come for, the one with so much anticipation built into it; especially after the previous week when the queens of the 4 x 400m had defended their title. We were all smiles. Then it came, like the booming thunder after a flash of lightening...
With the finish of this race the meet was almost over. And for us it was. The race we had come for, the one with so much anticipation built into it; especially after the previous week when the queens of the 4 x 400m had defended their title. We were all smiles. Then it came, like the booming thunder after a flash of lightening... “Would the girls’ coach from Cretin-Derham Hall please report to the press box.”
It is never good when they call you up to talk. It’s like when the parent who never calls just to talk is suddenly on the other end of the line; you know the dog went to visit the farm or something is not right with the world.
From where I was watching I had to walk around turn two down part of the home stretch, cross through the fence and climb 35 steps to the door to the press box. Enough time for all the bad things that “could be” to go through my head and swirl around in there as they mix with all the good things that happened in the hours leading up to this moment.
Things like: Lucia Frias-Wackman (11) and Denzel Fondungallah (12) competing in the finals of the 100m; placing 8th and 6th respectively in their first appearance in the finals of this event; Rajiv Redd (10) placing 5th in the 200m and doing it in a time of 22.97; Jaylen Newton pushing through the second turn and down the home stretch to place 3rd in a personal record time of 50.55 in the 400m; the three personal bests in the boys’ 1600m set by Dillon Diekmann (12) in 4:33.60, Eli Brotman (9) 4:49.60, and Mikey Hannon (10) who broke the 5:00 mile for the first time finishing in 4:56.47 an 8 second improvement. Or the success we saw in the field events: Jackson Sweeney (12) jumping a personal best of 15’ 9”, Olivia Kaus qualifying for the finals of the triple jump and finishing 8th with a jump of 33’ 5”.
All of these good things happened. But there was this unknown hanging out there.
Reaching the top of the stadium I see some of our parents wondering what’s going on and all I can do is shrug my shoulders now heavy again as I can offer nothing much by way of comfort or insight.
Then I feel on my clipboard the envelope that every coach wants to have by the time the meet is done - and the earlier the better. Our ticket has already been punched. We are going to the State meet with three of the four girls on the 4 x 400m. I breath a little easier with that thought.
Kate Lokowich-Kohler (12) came into the day having run the fastest time in the open 400m on the prelim day. Sydney Jackson (9) was not far behind her as the second fastest, but neither were girls from St. Paul Washington, Roseville, and Hill-Murray. They would have a race and a legacy maintain. In 2012, then 10th grader Megan Linder started what has been a 5 season run of Raiders on top of the podium to receive gold for the 400m. Would they be able to continue the streak and make it 6 years.
And a battle it was. From the beginning girls who had run very tough races in the prelims came back two days later to poor all they could on to the track in hopes that they would be able to be at the top. Coming out of the second turn it was a very close race but as the stagger had fell away Lokowich-Kohler and Jackson were running strong for the finish. In a race that saw the
first 7 finishers run personal bests theirs would put them first and second respectively just 0.21 apart. The third place runner was just under a second behind them.
Also riding on that ticket is Althea Gutzmann (12) who ran the third fastest time in prelims winning her heat that day giving her the opportunity to go up against the best hurdlers the section has to offer. Now all she had to do was always stay sprinting and keep low to the hurdle as she navigates over ten hurdles, down two straights, and around one curve. Through the middle of the turn she was just about a quarter step behind the second place runner and a full step or more out of first. But she persisted and insisted that she would get there. Thea is one of those athletes that sets her goals and accepts what the price is to attain them. She was digging deep now. Four hurdles stood between her and the finish. Racing over each cleanly would be the key to achieving this next step. With each of those hurdles she picked up more momentum. Somewhere between the eighth and ninth hurdles she gained a half step on the second runner and never gave it back. She found it within herself to run better than the State Meet qualifying standard (44.85) and place second. This effort was the first time she ran better than 45 seconds in the 300m hurdles finishing in 44.78. The top three girls from the finals earned a place at starting line at the State Meet.
But still in the back of my mind as I open the door to the staircase leading to the press box is the finish of the boys 4 x 100m. A team of guys that at the beginning of the season we as coaches did not see running together were the conference champions of the event the week prior. This week was a bit different story. Each leg, Dylan Pohl (11), Charlie Dennis (11), Redd, and Fondungallah ran hard and the handoffs were clean. But their season would end in a fourth place finish.
As I round the corner to meet the officials in the press box. I see Coach Jerry Macken talking to the official at his computer. I am not sure what he is talking about. Then I hear some names. Names of our girls and a couple of others on the team. I breath easy. It was that thought I had riding in the side car of my brain that was trying to scream over the tornado - “They only want to make sure they pronounce their names correctly.” Or “You should have practiced your penmanship more in third grade so people could read what you write.” Both logical conclusions, but not exactly what was happening.
The girls had run such an awesome race. There were four teams vying for two guaranteed spots at the State Meet. Jackson had lead us off in a great time of about 58 seconds for her 400m leg. Frias-Wackman took charge and pushed as she went around the runners ahead of her starting down the home stretch in the lead. Giving the baton to Gutzmann who continued her streak around the track, this time a full 400m with no barriers except the runners and their will to compete. Now three teams, as the fourth team had a bad exchange and fell out of contention, were trading the lead. It would be a battle for Lokowich-Kohler. A battle against a competitor she has faced before, Erika Townley from White Bear Lake who won the 300m hurdles just ahead of Gutzmann. It was going to be exciting and it was going to come down to the wire. This time Townley would take the day in a close finish just 0.3 seconds separated the two teams. The third place team from Hill-Murray finished 0.97 seconds behind Lokowich- Kohler. The State qualifying standard for this event is 3:57.77. All three teams qualified on standard. The Raider team also set a new school record: 3:56.20.
By the time Coach Macken and I had gotten down to the finish line to talk to the girls they were ready for about anything, but still hopeful that everything was fine. With a straight face I let them know how proud I was of the way they all competed this season and that nothing would take that way from them. The call was to get the name of an alternate runner for the State Meet. Everything was perfect. They would all get to race again as a team next Friday at Hamline University.