Fairmont girls tracksters aim at repeat Relays sweep

TEAMWORK — Fairmont’s Laura Thompson (front) takes the handoff from Tabitha Thatcher during the second leg of the 4x800-meter relay race during the Cardinals’ outdoor track & field opener on April 2 at Bob Bonk Track in Fairmont. Thompson, Thatcher and the Fairmont girls track & field team will look to defend its Class AA Sentinel Relays team crown Friday. (Photo by Greg Abel)

FAIRMONT — Can the Fairmont varsity girls track & field program accomplish a sixth Class AA crown in a row?

Can the St. Clair boys team capture a fourth consecutive team championship?

Can the Fairmont boys lineup trade places with Hutchinson atop the big-school division’s standings again?

Will Heron Lake-Okabena/Fulda sophomore long-distance phenom Morgan Gehl break the small-school division’s 3,200-meter run record?

Area prep track & field enthusiasts can find the answers to those questions and more during the 64th running of the Sentinel Relays track & field meet on Friday at Bob Bonk Track in Fairmont.

The oldest outstate regular-season track & field invitational in the state will feature an earlier-than-usual starting time — 3:30 p.m. — for pole vaulters in both classes and genders, and two schools making their Sentinel Relays’ debuts.

Minneapolis South mentor Ernest Sutton’s Tigers will replace Sutton’s previous program — Minneapolis Edison — in the big-school division, but are not alone in rounding out the eight-school field. St. James Area head coach Scott Allen’s Saints became a late but welcomed addition to the Relays’ Class AA competition just 48 hours prior to Friday’s 4 p.m. starting time.

Two new elements to the 32-team elite meet will be Fairmont competing a B-squad — in addition to its junior varsity lineup — in the small-school division, while a 4×100-meter exhibition relay race comprised of fifth- and sixth-graders will kick off the action on the tarred surface at 3:45 p.m. Friday.

Here’s an inside glance at the 2019 Sentinel Relays’ four competitive divisions.

Class AA Girls

Fairmont returns all three of the big-school division’s individual gold medalists from 2018 in search of winning its sixth consecutive team championship.

Grace Higgins garnered the 100-meter dash title, Joni Becker broke the tape in the open 400 and Savanah Baker struck gold in the triple jump to generate key points for the hometown Cardinals in 2018.

Becker enters Friday’s quarter-mile race with an honor-roll time under her spikes this spring, while Baker made the Raceberry Jam elite list in the high jump, where she will contend with another honor roller in Blue Earth Area’s Sophie Keister.

“Our varsity girls have nice depth and balance, and can score in all areas, but we’ll have to score or maybe even double in every event in order to compete for the team title again,” said Fairmont mentor Bob Bonk, whose lineup coasted to a 206-111 margin of victory over runner-up Hutchinson in the 2018 Sentinel Relays.

Bonk’s roster, however, does possess double-double scoring trouble for its Class AA opponents at Friday’s meet.

Ellie Hernes and Rayah Quiring earned spots on the triple jump honor roll for the Cardinals, while Hernes joins Brooklyn Meyer for identical accolades in the long jump.

Long-distance extraordinaire Laura Thompson represents Fairmont’s top threat in both the 1,600 and 3,200 after garnering honor-roll status in both events, while Natalie Tonne rounds out the Cardinals’ honor rollers in the shot. Tonne will contend with fellow shot put honoree Lakesha Carter of Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial/Nicollet in the throws.

“I really don’t know much about Hutch or South going into the Relays, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens,” said Bonk.

Sentinel Relays newcomer Minneapolis South brings speed to the sprints in freshman phenom Shanise Cox and junior Josie Ferguson. Cox bested her original honor-roll time of 26.43 by posting a sixth-place 26.12 in the open 200 at last Friday’s Hamline Elite Meet. Cox also turned in a 12.97 time in the open 100 preliminaries at Hamline, but did not advance to the finals.

While Ferguson did not receive an invite to Hamline, the Tigers’ speedster has generated a season-low time of 61.11 in the 400.

Fairmont’s Bethany Linse and Higgins also return after placing second in the high jump and open 200, respectively, in last spring’s Sentinel Relays, while the Cardinals’ Tabitha Thatcher outdueled Hutchinson’s Abi Reiter for the silver medal in the 3,200.

Lillian Maul pocketed second place in the big-school division’s long jump for Madelia/Truman/Granada-Huntley-East Chain/Martin Luther, while Jaguar teammate Abby Calkins returns to the tarred surface after finishing fourth in the high hurdles.

Class AA Boys

Hutchinson dethroned Fairmont, 182.0-173.5, during the 2018 Sentinel Relays, and returns two of the big-school division’s three gold medalists in senior long-distance standout Mitchell Grand.

Grand pocketed both the 1,600- and 3,200-meter crowns last spring, and will return to Bonk Track with Tiger teammates and 2018 runners-up Jacob Lipke and Jack Jaeger, respectively.

“With long-time coach Len Lasley retiring after last spring, I don’t know what to expect out of Hutch on Friday,” said Bonk. “They have a new coach (Scott Marshall), so we’ll have to see what he’s done in getting them prepared for the Relays.

“We also will have to keep an eye on Blue Earth Area. They have good vertical and horizontal jumpers and hurdlers, and Grant Strukel in the long distances.”

Blue Earth Area pole vaulter Thomas Lindsay, who’s made the honor roll by clearing 12-6, will join forces with teammate Ben Babcock in looking to score points for the Bucs. Babcock, who netted an honor roll spot by clearing 19-11 3/4, will vie for the big-school division long jump crown on Friday against fellow honor rollers Hayden Berhow and Josh Heinze from Fairmont and Jared Hohenstein from LCWM/ Nicollet. Hohenstein has cleared 19-10 this spring.

Berhow, who garnered a ninth-place state medal in the 2018 Minnesota State High School League’s Class A high jump, pocketed the other 2018 Sentinel Relays’ gold medal in the triple jump. Berhow will face honor roller Heinze in the quest for top accolades in this year’s triple jump.

“I think we will have a number of boys contending for first in a lot of areas, but we don’t have much room for injuries or mistakes due to our numbers being lower than a year ago,” said Bonk.

Junior Caden Baarts has emerged into a legitimate threat in the 100 and 200 for the hometown Cardinals, making the honor roll in each sprint.

Baarts also anchors Fairmont’s 4×200 relay with Dylan Kennedy, Hudson Artz and Andrew Moeller. Ironically, Kennedy and Artz also made the honor roll in the open 400 together, while Moeller etched his name on the Raceberry Jam website in the 800-meter run. Moeller, Artz and Kennedy also will follow leadoff leg Jordan Wolter on the Cardinals’ honor roll 4×400 relay.

Moeller and Kennedy also represent half of Fairmont’s MSHSL state runner-up 4×400 squad from 2018, and half of the Cardinals’ fifth-place state 4×800.

Brandon Williams will trade handoffs with Nick Thate, Wolter and Heinze on Fairmont’s honor roll 4×100 on Friday, while LCWM/Nicollet’s Justin Urban will represent the top threat in the high hurdles after posting a pre-Relays time of 16.61.

Blue Earth Area’s Cameron Anderson, who placed second in the long jump at last spring’s Relays, and Minneapolis South sprinter Daniel Attoh also could generate points for their respective schools. Anderson capture the silver medal in his field specialty, while Attoh qualified for this year’s Hamline Elite Meet with a 22.42 in the open 200, but did not reach the blocks in the sprint last Friday.

Class A Girls

HLO/Fulda sophomore Morgan Gehl enters Friday’s small-school divisional competition with impressive times in both the mile and 2-mile races this spring.

Gehl, who captured fourth place in the 1,600 during last spring’s MSHSL state meet, is coming off stellar performances at last Friday’s Hamline Elite Meet. Gehl crossed the finish line fourth in the mile with a time of 5:08.51, while capturing eighth in the 2-mile event in 11:06.15.

Gehl, who struck gold in both the 1,600 and 3,200 during the 2018 Sentinel Relays, could erase one of the Fairmont-based invitational’s older records in the mile. Fulda’s Julie Kramer holds the No. 1 spot in the small-school division’s 1,600 with a time of 5:11.0, set in 1988.

Gehl, however, represents just two of seven gold medalists returning from the Sentinel Relays’ Class A competition a year ago.

Martin County West represents three of the returning champions, and will look to parlay those performances into another Class A Relays team championship.

Sophomore Olivia Anderson pocketed the open 200 for the Mavericks last season, senior Jayda Rowen broke the tape in the 400, while sophomore Makena Larson struck gold in the discus.

Rowen also claimed second in the triple jump, while teammate Samantha Hecht produced silver-medal efforts in both the 300 hurdles and long jump for MCW.

St. Clair returns a pair of Relays champions in Madison Daly and Lynae Casto after the Cyclones finished six points behind the Fairmont junior varsity’s winning score of 160 in 2018.

Daly, a freshman, finished first in the pole vault, Casto topped the long jump field, while sophomore teammate Grace Busch placed second in both the 1,600 and 3,200 behind Gehl. Sophomore Kiersten Pietsch, who netted second to MCW’s Anderson in the 200, rounds out St. Clair’s medalist efforts from last spring.

Class A Boys

Sentinel Relays record-breaking thrower Mitchell Weber has traded his St. Clair jersey for a spot on the Mizzou Tigers’ track & field roster this spring, but the Cyclones still return plenty of scoring power from their 2018 small-school divisional-winning lineup.

Noah Schruin, Gage Baker and Soloman Pawlitschek represent three of the Relays’ Class A four returning gold medalists in hopes of engineering St. Clair’s fourth consecutive Relays team crown.

Schruin won the open 200 and added a silver medal in the 100 a year ago, Gage Baker captured top honors in the 400, while Pawlitschek sprayed the sand to a winning mark in the long jump.

Diego Reyes and Owen Goebel each delivered second-place showings in the 3,200-meter run and the shot put, respectively, for St. Clair, while teammate Chase Baker contributed a bronze medal in the 1,600-meter run.

Senior sprinter Derrek Russenberger and senior Kolton Larson will look to combine forces to help Martin County West challenge St. Clair for the small-school team crown after placing 51 points behind in the No. 2 spot in 2018.

Russenberger claimed bronze medals in both the open 400 and triple jump to complement placing fourth in the open 200 a year ago, while Larson generated a second-place time in the 1,600.

Sam Cheadle, Gabe Spittle and Zach Thier all will spearhead Heron Lake-Okabena/Fulda’s effort to contend with MCW and St. Clair for the coveted crown. Cheadle pocketed second in the high jump, Spittle cleared the second-best height in the pole vault, while Thier pocketed the silver medal in the discus.

Mountain Lake Area’s Sam Paulsen rounds out the returning Relays champions after outdueling Russenberger for gold in the triple jump.