FAIRMONT - This year's Minnesota State High School League's Class A state track and field meet will be a return engagement for eight of the area's 19 entries on Friday.
The Class A state meet is set to start at 3:30 p.m. at Klas Stadium at Hamline University in St. Paul.
The Madelia/Truman/ Granada-Huntley-East Chain/Martin Luther Jayhawk boys' 4x800-meter relay team will look to defend its state title, in addition to improving upon its 4x400 efforts.
SPRINTING TO STATE — Members of the Fairmont Cardinal track and field program competing in the Class A state individual meet on Friday and Saturday at Hamline University in St. Paul include, front row (left to right): Evan Ward and Payton Schlomann. Back row: Mark Fruechte, Justin Barnes, Sierra Schultz, MaKenzie Bliesmer, Thomas Willett and Joey Peterson. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
While Krista Hassing is hoping to lead the Blue Earth Area girls qualifiers to another top team finish, Martin County West's Haley Jensen and Fairmont's Sierra Schultz hope to improve upon their individual finishes from a year ago.
Blue Earth Area's Nick Beattie also is hoping to improve upon his performance from last year's meet - with a shot at two medals, while Fairmont's boys 4x400 relay made the state meet for the ninth time in the last 10 years.
The exciting state atmosphere also will feature eight different entries that have qualified for the first time.
Fairmont's MaKenzie Bliesmer will make her state meet debut, along with the Jayhawks' Josh Johanson - both competing in the high jump.
Steven Plocker will throw the shot put in the state competition for the Bucs, and Morgan Larson will race for the Mavericks in the 800.
Blue Earth Area and Martin County West will each have a relay competing in the girls 4x100 relay race, while the Bucs advanced their boys 4x200 relay.
Blue Earth Area's Taylor Grandgenett will race in the 300-meter hurdles in making her individual state debut, along with Fairmont's Mark Fruechte, who will run the open 400.
Cade Ekstrom and Adam Cooling will compete for the second year in a row for the Jayhawks, running legs on both the 4x800 and 4x400 relays. This year, the duo is joined by Jacob Wolter and Jon Whitney in the 4x800, while DaMarko Thomas and Whitney make up the other two legs of the 4x400.
"We have two of the guys back from last year's winning relays and that is exciting, but we aren't coming in with the fastest time like we did last year in the 4x800," said MTGHECML head coach Pete Goeringer. "We want to go in there and have a good prelims race and try to take some seconds off our time. Having a couple guys who have been at state before though is really helpful for the guys who haven't been there before."
Hassing will again race a difficult double, competing in the open 800 followed by anchoring the Bucs' 4x400 relay squad of Taylor Grandgenett, Anne Franta and Karli Olsen in hopes of grabbing a state championship.
The Blue Earth Area quartet raced to a second-place finish last year with a time of 3 minutes, 59.6 seconds, and this year, returns with the fastest qualifying time in the state at 4:00.32.
Grandgenett also will be competing in the 300 hurdles for the first time, coming in with the highest qualfying time of 45.13.
Blue Earth Area's Franta also will team with Paige Darrington, Miranda Johnson and Skylee Bell in the 4x100, hoping to improve upon their qualifying time of 51.26.
"As a coach, it is certainly exciting to have your kids have success. The state meet is such a good meet, and there is never a guarantee that you can get someone in there. To have so many kids is great," said Blue Earth Area head coach Tom Plocker.
The Mavericks' Jensen also is making a return for her second state meet, competing in both the open 100 and 4x100 relay.
Jensen finished fifth last year in the 100, with a time of 12.75, and comes in with a identical qualifying time this year. She then will pass the baton to Hailey Holtz, Taryn Tumbleson and Libbie Lange in the Mavericks' 4x100.
"The two seniors - Hailey Holtz and Libbie Lange - went to state as freshmen in the 4x100 relay. So, we start with them and then with Haley's (Jensen) strength in the 100 and Taryn's (Tumbleson) kind of athletic ability, it's going to be exciting to see how they do," said Martin County West head coach Curtis Smith.
The Cardinals' Schultz, who finished ninth in the triple jump at last year's Class A state meet with a jump of 34-4 looks to better her finish with a qualifying jump of 34-11 1/2 this year.
Schultz also will widen her range of competition to the track, racing in the 100 hurdles for the first time.
"I'm probably more nervous for the hurdles than I am for the triple jump," said Schultz. "I jumped at state last year, so I know what to expect, but I haven't run against a lot of these girls before, so I'm more nervous to run the hurdles."
For the Bucs on the boys' side, Beattie will make a return effort to win the 100-meter title after finishing 10th last year.
Beattie will extend his efforts to the 200, with the chance to win a pair of state medals.
The Cardinal boys 4x400 relay squad has reached state nine years in the last decade, and will continue that trend with three-year anchor Fruechte in the lineup.
Payton Schlomann, Evan Ward, Justin Barnes and Fruechte come in with a qualifying time of 3:29.73, trying to duplicate a third-place finish of 3:26.07 from last year.
"I'm not really nervous about Friday's meet or running at state, more excited," said Schlomann. "I really love running the relay and getting out of the blocks, so I just want the meet to get here and to run it."
Fruechte will be competing in his fourth state meet in four years, but for the first time will also race as an individual in the 400, with a qualifying time of 50.8.
"I think that the exciting thing when you look at the kids going to state this year, is that even if they aren't top seeded, they aren't long shots at winning the championship either," said Fairmont head coach Bob Bonk.
The Mavericks' Larson will compete in her second state meet of the 2012-13 year, running in the 800 after racing in last fall's state cross country meet.
"For Morgan to reach the state, she broke the school record and that was a big moment for her," said Smith. "She wanted to stick with Krista (Hassing) through the race and if she could do that, she thought she could make it to state. Now she'll get to compete again at a state meet, which is so great."
The Bucs also earned a boys relay spot in the meet, with Taylor Olson, Alberto Ocampo, Camden Bowers and Bailey Olson racing the 4x200 relay in Friday's prelims.
Fairmont's Bliesmer in the girls high jump and Blue Earth Area's Plocker in the boys shot put will open Friday's field events.
The Jayhawks' Josh Johanson will compete in the boys high jump on Saturday, along with Fairmont's Schultz in the triple jump.