ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
As dominant as the Hillsboro boys’ track team was all season, its chance to win a second Class 3A state title in three years came down to one huge challenge.
The Trojans needed season-best performances from almost every entry.
With a few notable exceptions, that didn’t happen-and the Trojans “settled” for third place in an extremely competitive field.
Hillsboro accumulated 39 points over the two-day extravaganza at Wichita State’s Cessna Stadium. A strong Beloit squad won the team title with 55 points while Riley County, led by an amazing four-gold performance from Jordy Nelson, finished second with 48 points.
The Trojans found out how challenging the competition would be on opening day.
Alan Yoder and Caleb Marsh, who finished 1-2 in regionals with an identical leap of 21 feet, 21/2 inches placed fifth and sixth, respectively, at state with comparable distances.
Yoder, in fact, turned in a season’s best 21-31/4, while Marsh turned in a respectable 21-2. His previous season’s best was 21-33/4.
Nelson of Riley County won his first gold medal of the weekend in that event, soaring 22-91/2.
A similar fate occurred in pole vault, where Marsh cleared 13-0 to finish fifth. Even if he had tied his season-high mark of 13-6, he might have finished fifth anyway, having tied the height cleared by the third- and fourth-place vaulters.
Daniel Yoder, who cleared 12-0, finished out of the money, although matching his season’s best of 13-0 might have gotten sixth or seventh place, depending on the number of misses.
The rest of Friday’s news was encouraging for the Trojans.
Daniel Yoder turned in the fastest qualifying time in the 400 meters at 50.76 seconds, Alan Yoder qualified comfortably in the 100 meters with a time of 11.15, and the Trojans’ two relay teams-the 4×100 and 4×400-also made it into the finals with solid times of 44.63 and 3:29.19, respectively.
For the Hillsboro girls, the results were mixed. Sophomore Charity Davis qualified in the 100 meters with a time of 12.82, but senior Alisa Jost missed the cut in the open 400 with a time of 1:04.13.
“With a fifth- and sixth-place finish in the long jump and a fifth-place finish in the pole vault, the boys’ team had eight points coming out of Friday’s preliminaries,” coach Dennis Boldt said. “We also qualified all of our events for Saturday’s finals.
“But it was a roller-coaster ride from there on as we watched the team standings.”
Saturday dawned much cooler -a drop of more than 20 degrees from the previous day-and windier.
But the Trojans got off to an unexpectedly great start in the opening event, the boys’ triple jump. Both Hillsboro qualifiers, juniors Sammy Espada and Derek Mayfield, came through with their best performances not only of the season but of their high school careers.
Espada’s 43-43/4 placed him second in the competition while Mayfield picked up a point for seventh place with a leap of 42-1/2.
“We knew going into Saturday’s finals that we needed a good day in order to have a chance of placing,” Boldt said. “Having both competitors scoring in the triple jump earned our team nine points, but more importantly, it gave our athletes hope.”
In Hillsboro’s next event, Alan Yoder didn’t got off to his typical explosive start in the 100 meters, and crossed the finish line below his expectations in sixth place with a time of 11.22.
But even had the senior speedster tied his school record of 10.8 seconds, he still would have finished second to Riley’s Nelson, who won in a smooth 10.63.
Aaron Yoder, Hillsboro’s school record holder in the 1,600 and 800 meters, took to the track shortly after for his first individual event, the 1,600.
The red-headed junior started strong, but eventually faded from the leaders in the final lap. Though he hung on for seventh place, finishing nearly 12 seconds behind the winner, Yoder’s time was still respectable-even by his high standards-at 4:39.23.
Even if he had tied his school record time of 4:34.0, Yoder would have only placed sixth in this year’s field.
Hillsboro 4×100 team of Alan Yoder, Tyler Peachey, Brodie Unrau and Marsh picked up four points for the team with a fourth-place time of 44.3, just 0.2 seconds slower than their season’s best.
Daniel Yoder took to the track next for the finals of the 400. Though he battled to the end, he placed fourth in the field in a solid 51.58. Had he been able to match his personal-best time in the prelims, who still would have finished second to Nelson-who else?-who cruised in with a time of 48.79.
That set the stage for the open 800, in which Aaron Yoder and Daniel Yoder had finished 1-3 at regionals. Both brothers had cracked the 2-minute barrier to qualify for state a week ago, with Aaron setting a new school standard at 1:58.7.
But this day belonged to Daniel, who broke his brother’s 8-day-old school record with a time of 1:58.64-but even that tremendous effort was only good enough to place him third in this talented field.
Brother Aaron, meanwhile, simply didn’t have the usual reservoir of energy on this day, finishing out of the money in a very respectable 2:01.64.
“At the end of the 800-meter run, we knew that Norton, Oakley, Southeast of Saline and Hillsboro were now competing for a) third-place) trophy, and three of those teams were in the finals of the 4×400 relay,” Boldt said.
“We were in the best position with 33 points, and we knew we need only to run our race.”
The Trojan team of Peachey, Aaron Yoder, Daniel Yoder and Marsh did just that, capping the day with a third-place finish in a time of 3:28.34, just 0.04 off their season’s best time.
“Watching Daniel and Caleb run their 400 splits in 50 seconds to finish the relay in third place was a testament to the guts this team has,” Boldt said.
“It was once again a team effort in which every point counted,” he added. “They should be excited by their accomplishment and look back on their season with pride.”
For the Trojan girls, Davis turned in a super Saturday, placing second in the long jump with a personal-best leap of 16-93/4, then finishing fifth in the 100 meters in a time of 12.86.
She accounted for all 11 of Hillsboro’s team points.
“Charity’s events came literally at the same time,” Boldt said. “Fortunately, she was able to get her three preliminary jumps in before running the 100-meter final. She had great focus despite having her events coincide.”