Kansas track and field fans were rewarded for their patience, as they got a double dose this week of the much anticipated season debut of two athletes likely to make a lot of noise this spring.
Two athletes, that is, who couldn't be any more different.
Yates Center senior Hadley Splechter is a distance star, having won eight state titles heading into his final high school season. He'll take his talents to Kansas State University next fall. Splechter opened the 2019 campaign with a win in the 1600 at Monday's Emporia State University Relays, then followed up by winning the 3200 at Thursday's Eureka Invitational in 9:34.26, which was the state's leading time in that event for about 24 hours this week.
Blake introduced herself to high school track and field at the postponed Leavenworth Invitational on Monday. Last week's rains moved Blake's debut back a few days, but it was no biggie to the freshman. She proceeded to notch Kansas' best 400 meter time, winning that event in 58.70.
She then ran a leg on Leavenworth's winning 4 X 100 (49.66) and 4 X 400 (4:06.7) relays. Both of those times also went straight to the top of the Kansas rankings.
She was just getting started.
On Friday at the Lansing Invitational, Blake then went straight to the top of the Kansas lists in the 100 (12.29) and 200 (25.64), and again ran a leg on her team's winning 4 X 100 (49.49 - improving on their state leading mark) and 4 X 200 (1:43.83) relays.
Blake's win in the 100 on Friday eclipsed the 12.39 run by Newton senior Kalli Anderson at her home meet on Monday. But in what is likely to be a thrilling game of chase between these two over the course of the season, Anderson reclaimed the top spot Friday night when she won at Valley Center in 12.12.
Too bad Leavenworth has moved to class 6A this season. It means these two are not headed for a class 5A state meet showdown in the sprints. But it will be fun to watch them play volleyball with the No. 1 spot over the next six weeks.
Let's look at some of the other highlights in a very busy week in Kansas...
Warmer weather...Faster Times
The throw-down is on in Kansas, as warmer temps and mild winds have given the state's track and field athletes their best shot yet at doing some damage to the state leader lists. This week, the carnage was extreme.
Check this out: in the six Kansas classes, 162 new No. 1 marks were reached Monday through Friday this week. That's exactly 75 percent of the state's No. 1 marks in a week when the sun was shining, temps were in the 60s and 70s, and the wind was barely a whimper.
Perhaps no group of athletes got a bigger boost from the good weather than the distance runners. A pair of state cross country champions - Asher Molina of Shawnee Mission North (class 6A) and Ethan Marshall of St. Thomas Aquinas (5A), put on an epic battle in the 3200 at the Blue Valley Relays, with Molina leaning for the win in 9:23.40. Marshall was the runner-up in 9:23.44. Those are the two fastest 3200 meter times in the state this year, about 11 seconds ahead of Splechter's previous No. 1.
It was the second No. 1 mark for Molina in four days. On Monday, he clocked 2:00.52 to take over the state's top spot in the 800.
At the same meet, Lansing's T.J. Robinson notched a four second personal best, grabbing the top spot in Kansas for 1600 meters with a winning time of 4:24.48. Britt Magnuson of Maize South was pretty good this week, too; he ran 4:24.88 to win the 1600 at his team's home meet.
Also highlighting the distance events this week, St. James Academy's girls put on a pair of sterling relay performances, first winning the 4 X 800 at the Leavenworth Invitational on Monday in a state-leading 10:12.63; then clocking 12:26.33 in the distance medley relay at Friday's Blue Valley Relays. The DMR time sits at No. 21 in the United States right now.
In the sprints, Leavenworth's Guy Ramos is the first Kansas boy under 50 seconds in the 400. He won the Lansing Invitational in a time of 49.23. He also ran a leg on the Pioneers' winning 4 X 400 relay team, which clocked a state-best 3:27.09 Friday. Leavenworth also won the 4 x 100 and 4 X 200 relays.
At Valley Center, while Newton's Anderson was re-claiming her spot atop the state's 100 meter list, teammate Maggie Remsberg was having another good day. Remsberg, the class 5A 300 meter hurdle champ, won a showdown against class 6A 300 meter hurdle champ Taylor Savolt of Garden City. Remsberg, who also won the 100 hurdles (15.11) and long jump (17-9.75, the state's best mark), was timed in 46.69 to Savolt's 47.76.
At the Maize Invitational, Junction City's two-time class 6A 100 meter hurdles champ Kiena Newman swept the two hurdle events in times of 15.54 and 48.45. Wichita South's Deron Dudley, last year's class 6A state champ in the 100 meters, topped the field in the 200 with a time of 22.43 - best in Kansas so far this season.
At the St. John's of Beloit Invitational, Osborne's Afftin Conway put up three marks that lead class 1A. Conway won the 100 (12.49), 100 hurdles (15.37) and 300 hurdles (48.41) in workmanlike fashion. In the boys 100, Javon Allen of Bennington posted the state's fastest time, winning in 10.62 - the first time he has ever gone under 11 seconds in the event. He also won the 200 in 22.62.
Hitting the National Rankings
As good as the action was on the track, it was perhaps much better in the field events this week.
Maddie Righter of Olathe Northwest moved to No. 3 in the U.S. rankings when she leaped 5-10 to win the high jump at the Emporia State University Relays on Monday. Righter also jumped 19-5 to win the long jump; both of her wins put her in the top spot in Kansas.
In the boys' high jump, Labette County's Caleb Hentzen took over the top spot in Kansas, and moved to No. 6 nationally when he cleared 6-10 at his team's home meet. Hentzen also jumped 6-10 indoors this past winter.
Gardner-Edgerton's Dayton Williams had the top spot in Kansas when he cleared 6-9
to win the Shawnee Mission South Relays on Monday. He's No. 2 in Kansas now, and No. 15 in the U.S. rankings. On Thursday, Brady Palen of
Beloit-St. John and Tyus Wilson of Sterling cleared 6-7 at their home meets to
move to No. 3 in Kansas and No. 74 in the United States.
Winfield's Matthew Everett jumped into the national rankings at No. 17 when he won the discus with a throw of 182-9 at the Joe Vann Invitational in Winfield on Monday. Then, he climbed a few more rungs to No. 14 when he threw 185-4 to win the Maize South Invitational on Friday.
Centralia's Madison Lueger sat at No. 18 in the national javelin rankings after Monday's win at Valley Heights (136-5), but rose to No. 5 after throwing 149-8 at the Frankfort Arctic Invitational on Thursday. She is just two inches off the state-leading throw of 149-10 by Andale's Katelyn Fairchild, who is at No. 4 in the United States.
Fairchild was dominant in winning the javelin, discus (133-3.75) and shot put (36-3) at the Valley Center Invitational.
Manhattan's Sam Hankins increased his U.S.-leading throw in the javelin to 210-0 in winning the Lansing invitational on Friday. No one else in the United States has topped 200 feet yet this year.
Piper's Cooper Beebe found himself a spot in the national rankings when he won the discus at the Bobcat Invitational at Basehor-Linwood. His throw of 55-5 is No. 1 in Kansas and No. 82 in the U.S. currently.
Bishop Carroll's Ethan Hull cleared 15-0 in the pole vault for the second straight week, again beating a very good field that included seven vaulters over 13-6. Hull currently sits at No. 87 in the U.S. rankings.
Bonner Springs' Nasjon Porter soared 23-0.5 to win the long jump at the Baldwin Invitational, putting him at No. 1 in Kansas and No. 61 nationally. On Friday, Porter and Gardner-Edgerton's Teven McKelvey put up marks of 45-9 to win their respective meets and share the No. 1 spot in Kansas.
For Abbee Rhodes of Augusta, it was another business-like week. She won the shot put (41-11) and discus (128-0.5) on Monday at the Emporia State University Relays, then followed that up with wins at the Mulvane Invitational on Thursday (41-10 and 133-10). She holds the top mark in class 4A for both of those events, and is No. 1 in Kansas in the shot put.
Rhodes held the No. 1 shot put mark in Kansas until Friday, when Goddard's Kade Hackerott won the Maize South Invitational with a throw of 43-0.75. Ames Burton of Riley County also bumped Rhodes back a spot when she won the Freezin' Falcon Relays shot put with a toss of 42-3.5.
Class 6A Manhattan boys made another big statement on its intentions for this season - Defend the crown. The Indians won the class 6A title a year ago, and appear to be worthy of its preseason status to repeat as champs. Manhattan went to Lansing on Friday and beat a strong Leavenworth team handily, 148-113.
Manhattan was without distance star Daniel Harkin, but had plenty in the field events with individual titlists Tysen Plummer (pole vault, 13-0), Darius O'Connell (shot put, 51-9), James Higgs (discus, 148-7) and Hankins (javelin, 210-0). All of those marks can score points at the class 6A state meet. Manhattan also has a strong sprinter in newcomer Gabriel Effiong.
Bishop Carroll's boys are likely still the best in Kansas, however. They've shown no slowing down from a dominating 2018 season in which they won the class 5A title by more than 30 points. They could have the top four pole vaulters in the state, led by nationally-ranked Ethan Hull.
Andale is clearly the best girls team in Kansas, with an army of sprinters and field event stars. The squad competes in 4A, which is probably to the relief of the bigger 5A and 6A schools.
Leavenworth (class 6A) and Newton (5A) have the next best girls teams in Kansas as we near the halfway mark of the 2019 season. Both teams are loaded in the sprints and relays. Olathe Northwest's girls have a pair of stars in Maddie Righter (high jump and long jump) and Jaleesa Mcwashington (triple jump) to highlight another of the state's best teams. And St. James Academy's girls will smack you in the mouth with its pack of middle distance and distance runners.
Gardner-Edgerton's boys and girls are new to the conversation, and have shown strong potential on the track and in the field. Next to Andale, they may have the best balance among the teams we've seen so far this season.
Even so, nobody wins state championships in early April. It's why - as they say - they play the game. We're going to learn a lot more about the best teams and the best individuals in Kansas in the weeks to come.