Marion High School athletes scored personal bests and two school records Friday as the Warriors captured state meet berths in 14 events during regional track and field competition at Warrior Stadium.
Sophomore James Jones uncorked the best long jump in school history, erasing a mark that had stood for 41 years when he soared 22 feet, 3.75 inches to take second place in the event. The effort was almost two feet farther than Jones’ previous best.
“I knew I had to PR if I wanted to go to state,” Jones said. “It could be the adrenaline, just wanting to qualify for state.”
“He’s been in the neighborhood. He put it all together today,” Marion head coach Grant Thierolf said.
Jones’ jump is the 19th-best of the season across all Kansas high school classes, according to http://www.CatchItKansas.com.
Another school record fell in the girls’ pole vault, where sophomore Alicia Maloney earned a second consecutive trip to the state meet by vaulting 9-7 to win the event.
“There was one practice where I was getting some 9-6s, but 9 isn’t even really very consistent for me, so today was really, really good,” Maloney said.
While sophomores were setting school records, seniors Colten Johnson and Whitney Gordon stepped up with strong performances to qualify in multiple events.
Eight of fastest 16 hurdlers in Class 3A were in the girls’ 100-meter hurdles at the Marion regional, and Gordon was not among them. But Gordon put on a burst at the end of the final heat to finish in 16.02 seconds, good enough for fourth place and a trip to state.
“I had the best time I’ve ever had. I think having good hurdlers pushed me and made me run faster,” Gordon said.
Gordon captured first in the high jump with a season-best mark of 5-2. The familiar environment gave Gordon a boost.
“I feel comfortable here. I should’ve been getting 5-2 all year,” Gordon said.
Johnson expended almost as much effort running between events as he did in competition, qualifying for the state meet in pole vault, javelin, 300 hurdles, and as a member of the 4x400 relay team.
Johnson almost faltered in the pole vault, but steadied himself and came back to win the event with a season-best 13-6 vault.
“He’s a senior, he doesn’t get flustered. He got down to his third attempt at 12-6 and cleared it, then cleared 13 and 13-6,” Thierolf said. “Then he races over to the javelin, he hadn’t thrown the javelin in a month and a half, and gets off a great throw there to finish third.”
Johnson was off-stride for much of the 300 hurdles race, but still managed a fourth-place qualifying finish with a time of 42.46.
Throwing into a stiff wind, senior Dakin Ledford was the class of the javelin, capturing the event championship with a personal-best toss of 171-1.
“Throwing into the wind you’ve got to get the right angle — the PR went with that,” Ledford said.
Spencer Fugitt became Marion’s third state-qualifier in the event with a fourth-place 145-6 throw, just behind Johnson’s 158-11 effort.
“Dakin, Colten, and Spencer are all strong enough kids with enough whip in their arms to use the wind the way it should be used,” Thierolf said.
Fugitt nailed down a second spot in the state meet in the discus, where his 141-9 throw netted third place.
Field events have been a major strength for the Warriors this season, and sophomore Nick Meyer came through in the shot put. Meyer found an extra two feet of distance when he unleashed a throw of 45-2.25 to jump ahead of four other throwers into second place.
Junior Jordan Hett was a double-qualifier, placing second in the 1,600 with a time of 4:50, and third in the 3,200 with a time of 10:39. A standout performer this year with a state meet appearance in cross-country and a starting spot in basketball, Hett said the physical grind of a long year doesn’t matter heading into state track.
“You’ve just got to want it. Each day in practice you’ve got to work as hard as you can, and hope your training is going to get you there,” Hett said.
The best story among Marion qualifiers might be senior long-jumper Kadecha Gueary, who had never competed in sports until Thierolf convinced her to go out for track as a junior. She spent most of her first season learning technique, and wasn’t idle during the off-season.
“I went to after-school weights in the off-season, and I ran, because I didn’t want to be bad my senior year,” Gueary said.
Five of her regional foes had better jumps this season than Gueary, but she was sitting fifth as she lined up for her final jump Friday.
“One girl was ahead of me and preventing me from going to state,” Gueary said. “I just didn’t want to get beaten by a few centimeters.”
Gueary hit the board and sailed two inches beyond what she needed, jumping 15-9.75 to secure fourth place and a trip to state.
“It’s just been thrilling to watch her transform in the last two years, from someone who didn’t think she had a whole lot of athletic ability to state qualifier, and a girl that’s going to be jumping in college,” Grant Thierolf said, noting Gueary received a track scholarship from Hutchinson Community College.
Juniors Patrick McCarty and Brody Carroll earned trips to the state meet as members of the second-place 4x400 relay team, which included Jones and Johnson as well. This was the first time in several weeks the quartet has run together, and Thierolf said they can improve on their 3:32 regional time.
“We’ve got a couple more seconds in Colten, and James was a 53 today, where he’s been low 51s, Brody was a 55 and he did 53 last week. We can run faster and we hope we do. It’s going to take that,” Thierolf said.
Freshman Tyler Neufeld will travel with the team to fill in if needed for the relay race.
Junior Corey Shields earned a repeat trip to state in the girls’ shot put with a throw of 33-10.75.
“I’m hoping to make it in the top five at state this year, since I got tenth last year,” Shields said. “It just depends on who all is there. I’ll just go out and compete my hardest.”
Shields echoed the feelings of many of her teammates and coaches as she reflected on the day, the season, and the upcoming state meet.
“I’m proud of all my teammates today — we’ve all worked really hard. We’ve come far this year, we’ve done really well. We’ll just have to see where it goes at state, and hopefully we’ll have people up on the medals stand.”
The state track and field meet, which brings together all high school classes in one event, is Friday and Saturday at Cessna Stadium in Wichita.