FHS boys return to True Team state

HEADED TO STATE — ­­Members of the Fairmont Cardinal track & field team competing in Saturday’s Class AA True Team state meet at Stillwater High School include, front row (l-r): Andrew Moeller, Dylan Kennedy, Hayden Berhow, Tony Nuss, Riley Chaffee, Darrian Kueker and Justin Olson. 2nd row: Hudson Artz, Jordan Wolter, Dawson Gatewood, Tony Ortega, Cesar Flores and Shawn Oberbeck. 3rd row: Brandon Williams, Josh Heinze, Nick Thate, Caden Baarts, Abram Sanchez, Kainen Craig and Connor Artner. Back row: Matthew Anderson, Caleb Johnson, Kaiden Miller, Noah Rahm, William Saari, Martin Mittelstadt and Kaleb Petschke. Not pictured: Jacob Rahn. (Photo by Greg Abel)

FAIRMONT — After a 12-year break, the Fairmont boys track & field team is headed to Stillwater for a second consecutive year.

The Cardinal boys placed third in the True Team Section 2AA Meet on May 7, but advanced when they earned a wild-card spot to Saturday’s 3:45 p.m. meet, marking Fairmont’s eighth boys’ True Team state bid.

The Fairmont boys finished fourth in last year’s competition behind now two-time returning champion Wilmar, as well as Section 2AA winner and last year’s second-place finisher, Jordan. Other section winners Pine Island (1), St. Croix Lutheran (3), Academy of Holy Angels (4), Big Lake (5), Grand Rapids (7) and Detroit Lakes (8), as well as wild cards Mankato East, Mankato West and Dilworth/Glyndon-Felton, will vie for the boys’ championship.

A strong crop of seniors led the Cardinals to last year’s fourth-place finish, but many competitors have stepped up to take their place this spring.

Fairmont head coach Bob Bonk said some of this year’s seniors came in with high expectations, while others have made big improvements this season.

“The seniors, there’s no doubt they set the tone for the season,” Bonk said. “Some of the seniors we knew were going to be the main guys, because they have been for multiple years, guys like Dylan (Kennedy), Andrew (Moeller) and Hayden (Berhow). I think of guys like Nick Thate and Tony Nuss, Riley Chaffee, that have really come on this year and improved so much and become much bigger parts of the team. … We’ve definitely had guys step up as seniors and fill the gaps we had because we lost a really good class last year.”

Andrew Moeller will look to improve on his seventh-place finish in last year’s 800-meter run and his fourth-place finish in the 1,600. Moeller and Dylan Kennedy also will look to defend last year’s first-place 4×400 relay. Fairmont’s 2018 combo of Dayton Pasch, Kennedy, Moeller and Wyatt Quiring won the event with a time of 3:31.36, while this year’s team of Jordan Wolter, Hudson Artz, Moeller and Kennedy ran a time of 3:27.2 at the section meet for first place.

Bonk said the 4×400 is Fairmont’s strongest event.

“Those have been such a pleasant surprise,” Bonk said in reference to Wolter and Artz replacing Pasch and Quiring. “The 4×4 is kind of our baby for the boys. Some programs kind of focus on the shorter sprints or on the distance, I’d say if we have a focus it’s on that 400-800 range and that hard anaerobic training. I guess I’ve always felt that very few guys could be state-class sprinters, but if you train and work hard enough you can be a state-class 400 guy. That’s been kind of our bread and butter.”

Kennedy also will vie for the gold medal in the open 400 after placing first in the section meet with a time of 51.31, which was 26 hundredths of a second faster than Quiring’s first-place time at the 2018 True Team state meet.

Berhow placed second in last year’s high jump and will look to take the crown this year, while also trying to improve upon his 11th-place finishes in the long jump and triple jump.

Along with the success of the Fairmont class of 2019, many younger competitors have taken big roles in the Cardinals’ point scoring this season.

Artz, a freshman, and juniors Caden Baarts and Josh Heinze have come on with strong performances throughout the season.

“Another guy, I had no idea how good he would be, is Hudson Artz,” Bonk said. “He’s just a phenomenal freshman. I knew he’d be fitting in somewhere, but to the extent he is and the top places he’s getting was not really expected. And Josh Heinze, too, has had just a heck of a year as a junior.”

Artz has been helping the 4×400, and placing high in the open 400, Baarts has become Fairmont’s fastest sprinter, often winning the 100-meter dash and finishing near the top in the 200, while Heinze has improved in the distance jumps and 4×100 relay.

Much of Fairmont’s success this season has come in the field events. Whether it’s Berhow and Heinze in the distance jumps, Berhow and Moeller in the high jump, Thate and Matthew Anderson in the pole vault or Chaffee and Rahn in the throws.

Bonk said the success in the field events has been key to the Cardinals’ wins this year.

“A high percentage of people, unless they have a child in the field events, come and watch the ‘track’ meet and not the ‘track & field’ meet,” Bonk said. “Meet in and meet out, we’re maybe staying even with people on the track and then some field events come in and all of a sudden, we have a lead.

“I can’t discount the value of those field events. We have really great coaching in the field events from coach (Brad) Johnson in the throws, coach (Chris) Voss in the high jump, coach (Crystal) Hansen in the pole vault or coaches (Matt) Mahoney and (Cheryl) Hamp in the horizontal jumps. Often they’re the difference makers in the field events, so I want to give a tip of the hat to them.”

The 2AA meet begins at 3:45 p.m., but the forecast for Saturday has thunderstorms and rain throughout the day. Bonk said the conditions may make for the toughest part of the meet.

“I think maybe the biggest mental challenge, if the forecast holds true, will be to compete and enjoy it despite what are predicted to be miserable conditions,” Bonk said.

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