Even though overall numbers are down slightly, thanks to smaller classes, Hillsboro track and field coach Dennis Boldt believes he has enough quality athletes to make an impact at the large meets this season—including state.
“I definitely think when you have kids who can bring home gold medals—like Shaq Thiessen, Tyler Proffitt, Josh Richert, Emily Sechrist and Karen Leihy—you put yourself in an opportunity to do well in the big meets,” said Boldt, now in his 23rd year at the helm.
“If you have a supporting cast that can get those (lower) places, all of a sudden those points start adding up.”
Forming the nucleus of this year’s team are seven returning state qualifiers.
Sechrist, a sophomore, won the gold medal in the 3,200 meters and a silver in the 1,600 at Wichita. She also holds the school record in both events.
“Emily’s had great success in cross country,” Boldt said, refering to her state title as a freshman and her second-place finish last fall. “She’s our lone returning state athlete for the girls. She has great expectations this spring, and obviously is a very good athlete.”
For the boys, Thiessen finished second at state by leaping a career-best 22 feet, 5.25 inches in the long jump.
Boldt said Thiessen, a senior, has the ability to break Hillsboro’s oldest track-and-field mark: Jerry Harder’s leap of 23-21⁄2 set in 1956.
“In fact, it should be his No. 1 priority to break that record,” Boldt said. “Of course, everything has to be just right, like the weather, but he could do it. Because of weather, he may get only three opportunities all season.”
Proffitt also waited for the state championships to deliver his career-best performance. He cleared 13-6 in pole vault to place fifth as a junior.
“I still marvel at Tyler’s accomplishments last year,” Boldt said. “I would have to say that in all my years, it was the best 3A pole vault competition. At 13-6 we literally had 10 vaulters still in it. That is unheard of.
“For Tyler to have his best day at the state championships, that success has given him confidence.”
Also returning with state experience are seniors Josh Richert and Jordan Bezdek, junior Avery Franz and sophomore Grant Knoll, who were members of Hillsboro’s qualifying 4×400 and 4×800 teams.
The 4×400 (Franz and Richert) didn’t advance beyond the preliminaries, but the 4×800 (Richert, Franz, Knoll) placed eighth overall. Bezdek was an alternate.
“Josh Richert brings an impact for our distance running,” Boldt said. “He’s been out for four years, is a three-year letter-winner and was real close (to qualifying for state) in the 1,600 last year.”
Richert will run the 800, 1,600 and occasionally the 3,200.
“He’s a kid who’s really focused on distance and loves it,” Boldt said. “He has a great work ethic.”
Boldt sees Franz making his biggest impact in triple jump this year.
“He’s the first boy who will get close to Craig Duerksen’s triple jump record (44-6, 1992),” Boldt said. “I seriously think he will be in the mid-40s—maybe 42, 43 feet—early. He definitely has the tools.”
Knoll will focus again on distance races.
“Grant has done a great job,” Boldt said. “He’ll be a 3,200 and 1,600 runner, while Josh will be more of an 800 and 1,600.”
Boldt said he isn’t sure he has the personnel for a state-competitive 4×400 or 4×800 this year.
“It does take away from individual events,” he said. “We saw that last year with the girls. We did have a 4×800, but at the level a couple of the girls were competing in individually, there’s only so much gas in the tank to do that.”
Boldt mentions Leihy among his impact athletes this spring because of the sophomore’s potential contributions both on the track and in field events.
“We look to Karen to be a middle-distance runner and continue in pole vaulting this year,” he said. “I think she is extremely strong. (Vaulting) is an event where she could excel.”
Additional contributors for the girls are senior Ashley Bartel and freshman Marah Franz in pole vault, sophomore Lakyn Johnson and freshman Kennedy Klein in the sprints, and seniors Erika Just, Heather Mayfield, Rhonda Rodgers and Kateland Litchfield in relays and individual events.
For the boys, Boldt is impressed by the potential he sees in sophomore Cody Craney.
“I think he has come in so much stronger this year,” Boldt said. “He can make an impact in throwing events and also the sprints. He’s a strong kid.”
Boldt’s annual goal is to qualify as many athletes as possible for state. He also values success in the large meets, particularly the home James Thomas Invitational and the Central Kansas League meet.
“As far as the league, I’d like to finish in the top half, both boys and girls,” he said. He mentioned Sterling, Smoky Valley, Pratt and Hesston as primary threats in the CKL.
“There is great competition in track and field,” Boldt said. “But the bigger the meet, the higher the points (for HHS). If you can score 20 or 30 points you put yourself into position (to finish high). I look forward to a team that can be competitive.”
Assisting Boldt this year in coaching the 32 high school and 46 middle school athletes are Mike Jilka in sprints and hurdles, Len Coryea in shot put and discus, Jeff Haslett in pole vault and javelin, Malinda Just in long jump and triple jump, and Don Ratzlaff in high jump and running events. Boldt will coach distance runners and relays.
The Trojans will open their competitive season April 2 by hosting the first of five Central Kansas Track League quints scheduled for April.
Hillsboro’s only other home meet, the James Thomas Invitational, is schedule for April 26. The league meet will be at Sterling.