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Girls run away with regional title, set their sights on state

Lady Spartans build 75-point lead to win regional title

VAN HORNE- The falling darkness could not hide her wide smile, as Erin Kerkhoff approached the finish line. She anchored the 4x400 relay- the last event at Solon’s state qualifying track meet, May 10, in Van Horne. Having run two earlier 400s, and then the 4x100, 10 minutes prior, it was not her fastest 400. Still, she had enough to cross first, to help log another Solon entry in this week’s Class 3A state meet.
“I was smiling pretty big,” admitted Kerkhoff. “I just realized our team made it, not just the 4x4, but the whole team. We have all gone to state since I was a freshman. So it was a good feeling… but also kind of sad.”
Sad? She and her regional champion teammates had just piled up 189 team points for a wide, 75-point gap over runner-up Center Point-Urbana. Virtually the entire lineup is heading to state. There are only 19 events to contest at state. Solon lines up this week with 20 entries! Why sad? “Because I knew it was going to be over after this time,” the senior reflected softly.
But nothing ends before Solon’s girls make a serious run toward the top, in a talented 3A field, May 16-18 at Drake Stadium in Des Moines. Besides 14 automatic qualifiers; nine first-place finishes and five ‘seconds’, the Lady Spartans pushed through six more at-large entries- the ‘next eight best’ statewide runs, jumps or throws coming out of the eight regional meets.
“Our thinking all year long has been, ‘our depth allows us to do that.’ We can lose some people and still be strong in the relays, for instance,” noted Coach Brent Sands. “This week (before locking in lineups for state), it gives us a chance to see if we can make any adjustments.”
The state meet stretches over three days. Schools must qualify for it over just five hours on a single day. That meant pushing Kerkhoff, freshman 800 phenom Emma Bock and a few others, at Benton. “We executed the way we planned- with Bock, for instance running harder than the others (at Benton),” reviewed Sands. “What we hoped for- on paper- the girls really made it work out.”
The points started coming right away, with the 800-meter sprint medley team of Khaylor Fleck, MaKinley Levin, Taylor Ryan and Kerkhoff (in 1:49.90) outrunning Cedar Rapids Xavier for first. Following that, Aira Foster, Kaia Holtkamp, Calista Haasl and Bock’s 9:59.94 in the 4x800 and Kiersten Conway’s 10:54.20 in the 3,000 each were good for second place points.
Within an hour, Levin (16-3) and Fleck (15-5) would go one-two in the long jump. Levin is a freshman. For Fleck, a junior, it is her third trip to state. “Super exciting,” she admitted. I didn’t know if I was going (as an ‘automatic’). The next girl and I were within a quarter-inch of each other. And it’s exciting to go with MaKinley, in the same event. We will work on getting more height this week. That should help improve our jumps a lot.”
Ellie Wolff won the 100 (13.27). Abby Smith, Rachael Nelson, Gabbi Bullard and Bock claimed the 1,600-meter distance medley win (4:25.69). Kerkhoff (in 59.89) took the open 400. Following, in the 4x200 relay, Taylor Ryan, Smith, Levin and Fleck ran to a nearly three-second win over Center Point-Urbana. Ryan was second in the open 200 (26.51). Running her third 800 of the day, Bock crossed in a winning 2:24.06 in the open 800. Bullard was second (1:08.43) in the 400 hurdles, punching her ticket to state.
Wrapping up the march of firsts to Des Moines, Solon’s 4x100 relay (Wolff, Fleck, Annis and Kerkhoff, in 50.13) and the 4x400 unit (Ryan, Levin, Smith and Kerkhoff- with just 10 minutes rest- crossed first, too (in 4:14.63).
Four third-place finishes also made the cut. Peyton Sands, Rachael Nelson, Jada Buffington and Bullard ran a season-best 1:07.98 in the shuttle hurdle relay. Abby Smith’s 5-1 high jump made the field. So did a Holtkamp 1:01.98 in the 400. Elli Becicka’s 117-4 discus flip makes the grade, as does Ava Conrad’s 114-5. For Becicka, a senior, it is a return trip. “I felt so happy. I hadn’t thrown well in a while. It was just awesome,” she admitted. “Last year, I was super tentative. This year, I really want to compete!”
And in a ‘hurdler heavy’ regional, Sands’ 16.42 100 hurdle time might have been sixth at Benton, but still was fast enough to make the state meet field.
Walking into Drake Thursday, the Lady Spartans should be ready to roll. “We planned one more hard work-out- nothing crazy- but something a little intense, on Monday.
We back off from there, maybe handoffs to get them right,” reviewed Coach Sands. “It is going to be a long weekend for some of them. We’re pressing them for a longer period.”
“We really turned it on in practice this week. We’re focused,” assessed Kerkhoff. “We have a really good chance to place high, as a team, if we respond and do what we are meant to do.”

Team Standings/Benton Regional
Solon 189.5
Center Point-Urbana 114
Vinton-Shellsburg 87.5
Benton 87
Grinnell 84
Xavier 69
South Tama 67
Clear Creek-Amana 51