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Record 4x400 lifts girls to eighth

Lady Spartans leapfrog from 13th place late at state meet
Moments after their runner-up finish and school record-setting 4x400 relay, Abby Smith, Caylee Annis, Taylor Ryan and Erin Kerkhoff (left to right) get their breath back at the finish line, as teammate Khaylor Fleck congratulates Ryan. Fleck ran in the 4x400 semifinals two days prior. Ryan, healing from a leg injury, replaced Fleck in the finals. (photo by Joe Wilkinson)

DES MOINES– A top-eight finish; a couple more school records and Solon’s girls’ track team returned from the 2018 state track meet knowing they had pushed themselves to the limit.
Qualifying in 14 events, the Lady Spartans had the numbers. A down-to-the-wire second-place finish in the 4x400 meter relay and school record in the fourth-place shuttle hurdle relay were final day highlights; but it took an all-in effort from everybody to rack up the 28 team points.
Pella, with 70 points, moved away from the field on Day Three for the Class 3A team title. Dubuque Wahlert and Crestwood tied for second place with 64 points. Benton Community (57), Decorah (50), Sioux City Heelan (37), Davenport Assumption (33) and Solon (27) followed; with North Polk, Iowa Falls, Keokuk and Mount Vernon tied for ninth place, with 25. There were 43 3A schools scoring. Solon utilized strong relay performances to build their points, but the team effort was stamped more solidly than ‘just’ four girls running an event.
“We knew going in, the 3A field was really strong. It was dominant at the Drake Relays, so we knew it would be a battle to get into the top 10,” reviewed Solon coach Brent Sands. “Overall, the running went pretty well. The relays which we felt had a good chance of placing all moved up on their seeds with some really great times.”
All entries for state actually are locked in before the state qualifying meet, a week prior. Each relay card declares the four anticipated runners, but allows two alternates. No one else may substitute. In most years, it’s routine. Once every few years, though, tough decisions must be made.
A late-season leg injury had kept Taylor Ryan out of action. She has been a regular for the last couple years on key relay quartets, including Solon’s 2017 4x400 runner-up. With Ryan healing, Khaylor Fleck took her spot in the Friday semifinals. She and teammates Caylee Annis, Abby Smith and Erin Kerkhoff, clicked at 4:01.94; the fourth-best time, to advance to Saturday’s finals.
By then, Ryan tested her leg in the finals of the sprint medley, and was ready to go in the meet-ending 4x400. With the adjusted lineup, the Spartans ripped off a school record 3:58.37–within a second of Decorah’s winning time– and, with eight points, climbing from 13th to eighth place in the team standings.
“I was most pleased with the team’s unselfishness,” emphasized Coach Brent Sands. “With Taylor’s injury, we ended up making several changes. The biggest sacrifice was Khaylor’s. She had an incredible opening leg, to get us to the finals. She was capable of being on that team. Yet, we then asked her to step aside, she took it in stride and accepted it.”
And her teammates don’t forget who helped them get to the medal round. “Having Khaylor fill in was a huge help. It got us to the finals,” Kerkhoff pointed out. “She ran an amazing leg; one of her best. I’m so happy she’s on the team.”
In the shuffle, Molly Duckett was bumped from the 4x200 relay. She responded with a great split in the sprint medley and– by far– her best leg of the year in the shuttle hurdle relay. Abby Smith stepped aside for Ryan to test her leg in that sprint medley.
Sometimes, that old saying seems true. The sum of the parts is greater than the whole.
Elsewhere through the meet, points came in the shuttle hurdle relay, with Gabbi Bullard, Rachael Nelson, Peyton Sands and Duckett taking in a school record 1:06.88. “Didn’t think we could get to 1:06 by any means,” admitted Duckett, after her anchor leg. “I just saw the girl in front of me and thought, ‘I gotta go after her.’ Something in my mind just changes at state, I guess!”
Earlier in the three day track fest, Fleck ran a 13.58 in the 100, short of the finals. Kerkhoff finished fifth in the 400, with a 58.74. In the 4x200 relay, Fleck, Annis, Kerkhoff and Smith scored with a 1:45.38, good for fourth place.
In the 1,600 medley relay, 4:28.58 was short of the medals for Monet Barnhouse, Nelson, Sophie Nicol and Bullard. Bullard finished ninth in the 400 hurdles, one notch out of the scoring, with a 1:07.04. Nicol finished in 1:13.47. Nicol, Annis, Sands and Duckett turned in a 52.18 in the 4x100.
Solon had the four field events covered, but came away with no points this year. Shot putter Emily Troyer was just two inches from placing with a toss of 36-10. Long jumper Fleck, high jumper Smith and discus thrower Elli Becicka did not make the finals in their events, but built confidence for next year.
“We set two school records and missed the sprint medley record by 0.23. I was really pleased with how they performed,” assessed Sands. “(However), if we want to be top five, we will use that experience (in individual events) and be more relaxed when the opportunity comes next year. We have a couple holes to fill; but most of the team is coming back and many of these girls will have a chance to do it all over again!”