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A look back at the Sentinel Relays track & field meet

SENTINEL RELAYS’ CHAMPS — Members of the Fairmont Cardinals track & field team winning the 2019 Sentinel Relays’ Class AA girls championship May 3 at Bob Bonk Track in Fairmont include, front row (l-r): Rayah Quiring, Joni Becker, Sarah Krumholz, Jenna Gustafson, Bethany Linse, Abby Tonder and Grace Higgins. 2nd row: Sara Sundblad, Briana Joseph, Lauren Davis, Ellie Hernes, Claire Nemmers, Carissa Saxton, Hannah Linse, Savanah Baker, Ellie Schultze and Rachel O’Connor. 3rd row: Kady Pedroza, Brooklyn Meyer, Hannah Neusch, Laura Thompson, Angelica Kerekes, Vanessa Bliesmer, Cadence Becker, Kaylean Thingstad, Hadley Artz, Brooklyn Pfeffer, Karalyn Closs and Hailey Obernolte. Back row: Tabitha Thatcher, Sophie Johnson, Kobi Malo, Corene Moeller, Cassidy Schultz, Emily Frank, Trinity Allen, Emily Kerekes, Eleanor Hamlet, McKayla Chambers and Elizabeth Nielsen. (Photo by Greg Abel/Sentinel Archives)

FAIRMONT — Sentinel sports editor Lyle Domek probably never envisioned the climatic challenges that lie ahead in the 21st century when he created the Relays’ track & field invitational in 1955.

Torrential rains, tornadoes and even snow on the first Friday in May have forced the cancellation of the longest-running outstate high school track & field competition in Minnesota in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013.

Domek, like the entire world, never imagined adding the term “COVID-19 pandemic” to the list of reasons for calling off the 65th annual Sentinel Relays at Bob Bonk Track in Fairmont on Friday.

“I’ve had a lot of time on my hands since we haven’t been allowed to coach since the middle of March, so I’ve kept busy sorting through my files this spring,” said Bonk, Fairmont’s track & field and cross country coaching legend.

Similar to every season during almost the last half of a century, Bonk maintained a positive outlook for both the Cardinals’ girls and boys track & field programs in 2020.

“While we did graduate a number of standouts — like Andrew Moeller, Jordan Wolter and Dylan Kennedy — on the boys’ side,” Bonk said in reference to three-quarters of his 2019 Class A state champion 4×400-meter relay team that included current sophomore standout Hudson Artz, “I thought we really had a solid nucleus of seniors returning this spring.”

The then-junior trio of sprinter Caden Baarts, jumper Josh Heinze and thrower Jacob Rahn, combined with the fleet-footed Artz, to help Fairmont dethrone Hutchinson — 190 1/2-127 1/3 — for last year’s Sentinel Relays’ Class AA boys team crown on May 3 in Fairmont.

Baarts swept the 100- and 200-meter dashes and anchored one of Fairmont’s four relay gold-medal performances with Nick Thate, Kennedy and Brandon Williams in the 4×200.

Heinze literally outdistanced both the long jump and triple jump fields at the 2019 Sentinel Relays, while Rahn pocketed a pair of silver medals in the shot put and discus to pack scoring punch for the hometown Cardinals.

Artz displayed his speed, hand-eye coordination and quick-twitch reflexes by running legs on Fairmont’s first-place 4×200, 4×400, 4×800 and medley relay teams as a freshman, but can only hope for the return of track & field in the spring of his junior campaign in 2021.

Unfortunately, current Blue Earth Area senior Thomas Lindsey’s legitimate opportunity to eclipse the Sentinel Relays’ 18-year-old Class AA pole vault record — 14 feet, 6 inches held by former Madelia/Truman standout Josh Sorenson — falls into the “what if” category for future generations to contemplate. Lindsey won the pole vault with a height of 13 feet even at last spring’s Sentinel Relays en route to a bronze-medal performance of 14-3 at the Minnesota State High School League’s Class A state meet last June.

Ironically, current Blue Earth Area senior Heidi Herrmann also was denied the chance of competing for gold in the Relays’ Class AA girls pole vault event after netting silver to Fairmont’s Ellie Schultze in the field competition last spring.

Schultze matched four Cardinal teammates in striking individual gold to help power the hometown roster to a sixth consecutive Class AA Relays team championship in 2019.

Current Fairmont senior Joni Becker captured first place in the open 400 and contributed a pair of runner-up finishes in the 100 and 200 to help generate a 192-107 margin of victory over Hutchinson in last year’s Relays’ big-school girls division.

“We were a very young team last spring, and with the girls being a year older, stronger and faster now, I was thinking this could be a big year for us,” said Bonk. “However, we still have a number of underclassmen returning, so all we can do now is wait until 2021.”

Ellie Hernes — one of the Cardinals’ skilled underclassmen — outdueled teammate Rayah Quiring for top honors in last year’s Relays’ triple jump. The multi-tasking Hernes also produced a runner-up showing in the 300 hurdles and a bronze medal in the long jump to generate key team points.

Bethany Linse, a 2019 FHS graduate, won the high jump, current senior McKayla Chambers netted third place in the high hurdles for the hometown lineup, while senior teammate Natalie Tonne chipped in a bronze-medal effort in the discus.

Sophomore thrower Cadence Becker delivered clutch performances for Fairmont last spring by striking gold in the discus to complement a bronze in the shot put, while long-distance extraordinaire Laura Thompson amassed team points both individually and from a relays perspective in the 2019 Relays.

Thompson placed second in both the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs, while joining forces with Karalyn Closs, Quiring and Carissa Saxton to strike gold in the 4×400. Cadence Becker, Chambers, Brooklyn Meyer and Grace Higgins added a first-place performance in the 4×100 for the Cardinals.

While Thompson proved a force in the mile and 2-mile runs in the Class AA competition during the 64th running of the Relays, Heron Lake/Fulda’s Morgan Gehl etched her name into the long-running invitational’s Class A record books last spring.

Gehl, a current junior, established new Relays marks in the 1,600 (5:09.0) and 3,200 (11:04.7) last May 3 in Fairmont. Gehl would improve upon those times to capture bronze medals in the MSHSL Class A state meet’s mile (5:02.64) and 2-mile (10:58.15) runs in June at Hamline University.

Gehl’s record-setting ways powered HLO/Fulda to runner-up team honors to the Relays Class A champion Martin County West Mavericks (145 1/2-126 1/2).

The sliver of a silver lining for MCW is the fact that four of the Mavericks’ individual Relays champions from 2019 will return next spring for their senior track & field campaigns.

Makena Larson swept the throws for the Mavericks by earning gold in both the shot put and discus, sprinter Katie Lange broke the tape first in both the 100 and 400, while Olivia Anderson garnered top honors in the 200.

Samantha Hecht, a current junior, captured gold in the 300 hurdles with an incredible late kick, placed second in the triple jump, netted third in the long jump, and traded handoffs with Jayda Rowen, Kari Matejka and Lange to win the 4×400.

Current North Union sophomore Sam Nielsen and current senior Hope Steinberger battled to a respective 1-2 showing in the Relays’ Class A high jump on May 3 in Fairmont.

Similar in the Class A boys competition at Bonk Track last May, MCW and North Union led the area competitors in chasing St. Clair, which pocketed its fourth consecutive team crown by a 184-106 margin over the Mavericks.

Current junior Jake Lewis struck gold in the 3,200, and 2019 MCW graduate Kolton Larson won the mile to top the blue-and-black attack’s effort, while Ryan Lang and Brendan Anderson each placed second in the open 100 and 200, respectively, for North Union.

Now, area track & field athletes, coaches and fans can only hope the coronavirus pandemic is in our proverbial rearview window and they will return to the Fairmont High School campus on May 7, 2021, to compete in the invitational that Lyle Domek created back in 1955.

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