This year the dominoes fell toward excellence.

Last year, the Hillsboro boys’ track team dominated their regular season but then had an off day at state.

This year a similarly dominant boys’ team rocked at state, too, coming home with a Class 3A championship trophy after a weekend in which one great personal performance inspired another one after another one.

And this wasn’t a boys-only weekend, either. A remarkable six-member, all-freshman girls’ team came home runners-up to a deep Garden Plain squad.

The Trojans missed first place by a measly six points after losing to Garden Plain by 56 points a week earlier at regionals.

The phenomenal team results were possible only from similar performances by individuals on the state’s biggest stage for high school athletics, Wichita State’s Cessna Stadium.

Count the achievements: five individual gold medals, four school records and nine personal-best performances.

Adding to the challenge of an always-competitive field was a strong south wind on Saturday that buffeted all who dared to challenge it.

“We probably had the best day of my 14 years at state,” head coach Dennis Boldt said about the performances his athletes contributed. “I remember in the 2001 (boys’) championship, we qualified many more in individual events, but they did not place. That makes a difference.”

Hillsboro boys

The Trojan boys ended the first day of competition with only four points-a fourth-place finish in the triple jump by Sammy Espada. But the junior, who had finished second in that event a year earlier with a leap of 43-43/4, sailed nearly 4 inches farther this year.

“He really got us started,” Boldt said. “He scored his personal-best jump in his career in a much tougher field. We are very proud and he is very satisfied with what he did. Fourth place is very good in that field.”

Perhaps the fuel that set Espada’s spark into full flame was the gold-medal performance in the long jump by senior Caleb Marsh in the first event scheduled for Saturday.

Marsh’s leap of 23-0 not only was a career best, but it stirred some motivating memories for the other senior Trojans who were around for the 2001 state title.

That title run began when Alan Yoder won the long jump that year.

“After Caleb won, I walked back up (into the stands), and I had five seniors standing there saying, ‘You know what happened last time,'” Boldt said.

“It really started a domino effect for us,” he added. “All of a sudden these kids-they always thought they could do well, but now they knew they could because now they got these 10 points.”

Before the real fireworks began, though, a young Trojan 4×800 team of Jayce Penner, Josh Boese, Sean Leihy and Nate Holmes battled inexperience and the wind to finish 14th in a field of 16 teams.

Their time was 8 minutes 53.49 seconds.

“Wind really affected us,” Boldt said. “I know everybody had to run against it, but having four brand new kids (in state competition), I was hopeful we might finish in one of the top seven places, but they did not have their best day. Still, I was really proud of those young men.”

If Trojans thought they might be on to something good after Marsh’s gold in the long-jump, they knew the day would be special when Aaron Yoder realized his dreams in 1,600 meters.

The senior standout, who felt he had not performed at state to his capabilities the past two seasons after a strong freshman debut, exploded out of the pack with about 300 meters to go, built a 40-yard lead and then hung on to win in a school-record time of 4:32.64.

“Aaron Yoder got a monkey off his back today,” Boldt said after the race. “For the past couple of years, he’s felt like he has not performed at state up to his capabilities. Today he did.

“Aaron Yoder’s 1,600-meter victory is probably the greatest moment in my coaching career,” Boldt added. “I don’t want to take away from anything from what the kids have done in the past. But I train the kids in the distance events and it’s such an emotional thing with Aaron because of his past-there was so much more going on than just running four laps.”

The impact of that win on Yoder’s teammates was nothing short of incendiary, Boldt added.

“If you can say the heat got turned up when Caleb Marsh hit that jump and run, it was boiling when Aaron Yoder won that 1,600 meters.”

Inspired, the Trojan 4×100 team of Derek Mayfield, Caleb Marsh, Brodie Unrau and Tyler Peachey took to the track next and added six points with a third-place finish in a time of 44.53 in a race where less than a half-second separated the top four teams.

“It was just a matter of who could get their handoffs in that wind,” Boldt said. “(Ours) were not great, but they were very good handoffs and they got the job done. I can’t say anybody among the other teams got great handoffs in that race either.”

Daniel Yoder also came a hair’s width from gold when he placed third in the 400 meters with a season-best 50.44 seconds. He was 0.03 of a second off the winning time.

But the senior’s heroic effort in the 400 was surpassed only by his effort in the open 800 about an hour later.

This time, the Trojan standout overcame being cut off by another runner near the end of the first lap, breaking stride. Undaunted, he broke out from deep in the pack and put on an amazing charge that carried him all the way to third place with a time of 2:02.63.

“We needed to score in the 800,” Boldt said. “There was no stopping Danny. He did an excellent job coming down the backstretch. You have to give him all the credit in the world for going back-to-back like he did.”

Brother Aaron was also in the 800, but did not have the reserve left after his 1,600 performance to make a charge for points. With the 4×400 still ahead, he coasted home in 14th place with a time of 2:15:03.

Little did anyone know, but the Trojans had run their last race of the meet and the state championship trophy was in the bag.

Threatening weather that made meet officials nervous in the late afternoon hours finally hit literally minutes before the Trojan 4×400 team was to run around 8:30 p.m.

Because of lightning, officials called the meet and evacuated the field. Before it was over, tornado sirens sounded and the meet officially ended in nearby Koch Arena with the awarding of the final event medals and team plaques.

The Trojan team of Aaron Yoder, Peachey, Marsh and Daniel Yoder were awarded third place in the 4×400 by virtue of their qualifying time on Friday of 3:28.70.

“When I told the four boys who were ready to run in that race, they were disappointed,” Boldt said about the decision to end competition. “They were not jumping around because they knew we won the state track meet. Everybody was disappointed, because these kids wanted to prove themselves on the track.

“There’s no doubt in my mind they would have set their persona-best record in the 4×400. I don’t know if it is possible in the wind to run a record-setting pace, but the wind had died down after that storm. So, we’ll never know.”

Boldt said the team championship was the accomplishment of a season-long goal.

“When we started the year-and I was a little nervous-but we made the statement that we wanted to get back to state and we wanted to place,” he said.

“I said it would take three things. It would take quality athletes, and we had that. It’d take a little bit of luck, and I think we got that. And it would take an injury-free season, and we virtually had an injury-free season.”

Despite their impressive roll during the season, Boldt said he thought his team was being overlooked as a legitimate title contender as the season wound down.

“Teams like Minneapolis, Beloit and Garden Plain-they were all showing so strong,” he said. “They kind of forgot about us-and our boys like to be in that position. They really wanted to prove themselves.”

Hillsboro girls

Packing the biggest one-two punch in recent memory of Trojan girls’ track, Hillsboro challenged for a state title on the legs and determination of freshmen standouts JuliAnne Chisholm and Hannah Marsh.

Chisholm won the high jump on Friday and the 300-meter hurdles on Saturday. Marsh won the long jump on Friday, then teamed with Kelsey Penner, Jessica Heidel and Chisholm to claim gold in the 4×400 Saturday evening.

“Let’s give credit to where credit is due,” Boldt said. “JuliAnne Chisholm and Hannah Marsh had better than ‘good days.’ They had days of what dreams are made of. They really did.”

Marsh struck gold first, winning the long jump in the meet’s opening event for Hillsboro by soaring 18-13/4 on her final jump of the day. That mark eclipsed the school record of 17-111/2 she had set earlier in the year.

A couple of hours later, Chisholm claimed gold in the high jump by clearing 5-7-not only exceeding her previous school record by an inch, but matching the best performance in the entire state.

Those two wins were enough to give the Trojans the team lead after Friday events with 20 points.

“Now, everybody started realizing that Hillsboro girls had come to compete,” Boldt said.

On Saturday morning, Heidel contributed a personal best in the triple jump of 32-11. The effort left her in 10th place and out of the money. But it did continue the tone that Chisholm and Marsh had set the previous day.

Chisholm added six points to the total by placing third in the 100-meter hurdles in 15.87-just a half-second off the winning time and one-tenth of a second ahead of the fourth-place finisher.

“Absolutely no disappointment to me, but she felt she could have done better-and that’s a tribute to her competitiveness,” Boldt said.

When Marsh added a third-place finish in the 100 meters (12.71 seconds) and Chisholm did the same in the 300-meter hurdles (46.41 seconds) for a total of 12 more points, suddenly the girls’ team was in contention for a title, not just a trophy.

“Once those two girls felt more comfortable after they scored, they started to get excited-and that domino effect was going through the the rest of the team,” Boldt said.

“The 4×400 girls were now aware that they had to do their jobs. We needed points in the 4×400.”

Kelsey Penner responded by dropping a full second off her fastest 400-meter split, and Heidel followed with a personal-best split as well.

“Those two kids did what they had to do-they ran the times they had to run,” Boldt said.

Nothing slowed Chisholm and Marsh, either. Chisholm contributed a 60.5 split and Marsh then blazed around the track in 59.0 to put the Trojans at the finish line in 4:10.22-just 0.05 seconds ahead of second-place Minneapolis.

“That was one of the fastest quarters I’ve seen run here since I’ve been coach,” he said of Marsh’s anchor performance. “It was a photo finish at the end. (The win) was probably a credit to Hannah for just wanting to go get it.”

Chisholm’s time in the 300-meter hurdles (46.41) was her second school record of the weekend. The previous best was 46.88 seconds, set by foreign-exchange student Barbora Machova in 1997.

“I refer to it as bringing the record back to American soil,” Boldt said with a chuckle.

He said the performance of his freshmen girls this season speaks well for the future of girls’ track at HHS.

“You have to appreciate what those girls have done this year-six freshmen qualifying (for state),” Boldt said. “We have the nucleus, especially when you add a state-caliber athlete like Tina Frick in the 100-meter and 300-meter hurdles and a state-caliber pole vaulter in Sydney Waner.

“This (performance at state) has simply started the fire for them,” he said of his talented freshman class. “They want many state championships in many sports. They took it upon themselves this year to do that in track.”

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