CLASS 2A TRACK AND FIELD PREVIEW: Yates Center boys chase history again; Valley Heights girls still loaded

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Nothing's ever certain at the start of the season, but here's something that seems to be a pretty good bet entering 2018 in Kansas class 2A track and field.

Yates Center's distance crew is going to put up a number - a BIG number - and see if anybody can catch them in the boys' chase for the state title.


Valley Heights' girls...well, you know them. They've won three of the last four state team titles, and they're likely to be as loaded as ever.


Let's start with Yates Center.


Before last Fall, the Wildcats had never won a state title in boys or girls cross country or track and field. The drama in the 2017 cross country season was whether Yates Center could ride the wave of three outstanding front runners to the school's first-ever gold trophy.


They did. And junior standout Hadley Splechter won the individual crown, adding to the 1600 and 3200 titles he won on the track last year.


Fast forward to the 2018 track and field season where Yates Center enters the year with the inside track to win the class 2A boys state championship. And if they do, it will look awfully familiar to their breakthrough win in cross country.


Splechter is back, and looks better than ever. He is the number-one ranked runner in the class 2A 800, 1600 and 3200 - and in fact, he could be the best male distance runner in Kansas right now regardless of classification. It's not a stretch to say he could put up three wins - and 30 points - at this year's class 2A state meet.


Senior teammates Jordan Smith and Colin Bedell were key to the cross country win, and they'll also be key to the Wildcats' hopes for a state track and field title. Smith is ranked in the top four in the 1600 and 3200, and Bedell is a top-five hopeful in the 3200.


The trio teamed up last year on Yates Center's winning 4 X 800 meter relay team. If they do so again, you might be seeing 50-55 points from Yates Center's distance runners at the state meet. And that's probably enough to win.


By contrast, the Wildcats' biggest threat may be Stanton County, which is powerful in the field events with junior Creed Puyear (triple jump and long jump), and junior Trey Summers (pole vault).


Meade has, perhaps, the state's second-fastest distance runner in junior Ethan Thompson - he could be the main challenger to a sweep by Splechter. Hurdler Devon Waters, a senior, is a top three contender in the 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles.


Other schools entering the 2018 season with high hopes for a state title include Smith Center, Marion and Sacred Heart. Smith Center's and Marion's strength is in the field events, while Sacred Heart senior Jacob Faerber is the defending champion in the 400, and a state title contender in the 100 and 200.


In class 2A girls, Valley Heights seniors Kayla Smith and Skyler Saunders are hoping to lead their school to its third consecutive state championship in track and field. The Mustangs have won three of the past four state titles, which includes a class 1A title in 2014.


It feels as though Smith has been around forever, but that's because she was an instant star as a Valley Heights freshman in 2015. During her four-year career, she has won 12 individual state medals and four state titles - including three straight in the triple jump, where she'll try to make it 4-for-4 this spring.


Smith also won the class 2A long jump last year, and has medalled in the 100 and 200 meters each of the past three seasons.


Saunders is a two-time defending state champion in the high jump, where she cleared 5-8.5 at last year's state meet. She has seven individual state medals to her credit, having also earned state bling in the pole vault and triple jump.


Valley Heights sophomore Samantha Vermetten burst onto the state scene in a big way last year, placing second in the 800, 1600 and 3200 meter runs as a freshman. Her return alongside Smith and Saunders makes the Mustangs the prohibitive favorites in class 2A girls entering the season.


Kiowa County appears to be a formidable challenge, however. They'll likely do their work in the field events, led by senior Tierra West, who is the top-ranked discuss thrower in class 2A right now. Sophomore Sabrina Thomas is a top-three contender in both the discus and shot put, and the Mavericks also have a trio of triple jumpers in junior Brecken Vandenhoek and seniors Alisyn Davis and Ashlin Oberle who are state medal contenders.


Bennington is an interesting case. Like Yates Center's boys, they should score big in the distance races in class 2A, led by senior Halle Johnson - who currently holds the 2A state titles in cross country as well as the 800, 1600 and 3200 in track.


Johnson, a Wichita State signee, led her team to a second-place finish last year by sweeping the three events in convincing fashion. She is a nine-time state medalist in track and field, including three state titles and five runner-up finishes.


Halle's sister, Kya Johnson, was the class 2A state champion in the 3200 meters in 2016. She has spent much of the past year battling injuries, but is still one of the state's best in the distances and will likely add to Bennington's point total come time for the state meet.


Ellis' girls will contend for a spot on the podium, led by seniors Kaylyn Foster (discus and javelin) and Abby Burton (triple jump and pole vault).



Class 2A Girls returning state champions


300 hurdles - Rylee Gleason, Kinsley

400 - Aubry Donley, Lincoln

800 - Halle Johnson, Bennington

1600 - H. Johnson, Bennington

3200 - H. Johnson, Bennington

High jump - Skyler Saunders, Valley Heights

Long jump - Kayla Smith, Valley Heights

Triple jump - Smith, Valley Heights


Class 2A Boys returning state champions


400 - Jacob Faerber, Sacred Heart

1600 - Hadley Splechter, Yates Center

3200 - Splechter, Yates Center

Discus - Zachary Pierson, Plainville