Sunday...the day after Kansas crowned individual state champions in 216 events, and team champions in 12 divisions. We'd all be tired and sunburned and hoarse, yet exhilarated after two days of watching the country's largest state track and field meet.
Although I've been going to the state meet in Wichita State's Cessna Stadium most every year since 2010, this would have been my fourth year covering the meet for Kansas MileSplit.
So I thought it would be an appropriate time to look back at some of the great state meet moments I remember from four years of writing about Kansas' track and field athletes, starting with a fond memory from...
I guess I better explain. Yeah, I know the 2020 track and field season was wiped out by COVID-19, but there were Kansas track and field athletes across the state who powered through the spring anyway, not satisfied with letting loose of lofty goals.
One of those is Brandon Bates, a senior at Beloit-St. John High School this spring. A year ago, Bates finished fourth in the 800 meters at the class 1A state meet with a time of 2:01.21 - just 1.1 seconds off his school's record in that event.
Bates' story reflects the beauty of track and field at all levels. Every athlete can have a goal they strive for, their own personal "state championship" moment where they have forged through a storm to reach heights they once only dreamed of.
And so it was with Bates, whose goal this spring was to grab his school's record for 800 meters - 2:00.1, a record that had stood since 1964, or 56 years. Like so many others, however, his hopes seemed to be dashed when the global pandemic led to stay-at-home orders and the end of the spring sports season. For Bates, who won't run in college, it also seemed to be the end to a competitive running career.
"After a few days of feeling sorry for himself, he decided to make a run at the record on his own," said Bates' cross country coach, Ben Letourneau, who is also an assistant coach for track and field.
Letourneau began emailing weekly workouts to Bates. The young man, who lives just two houses down the street from the high school track, worked out on his own and mapped out a series of time trials to help him reach his goal. He recruited a couple buddies - his brother Adam, a five-time state medalist; and David Lutgen, the class 1A state champion in cross country (2017) and the 1600 and 3200 (2018) - to help him along.
His first effort was a 2:08, followed a week later with a 2:04, and then two weeks ago - in what would have been his league meet - he set a personal best of 2:01.1.
Then came "regionals" last week: 2:00.55, less than a half second away.
Last night, on the Beloit High School track, at approximately 5 p.m. - the same time that the class 1A state finals would have been held - and with 53 friends and family creating a hyped atmosphere, Brandon Bates got his fairytale ending.
It wasn't a Cessna Stadium moment, and it probably wouldn't have won the class 1A state title in that event. But it was a victory for the human spirit, a victory over those times in our life when it seems like it would be much easier to check it in rather than stare down adversity.
That's a state meet moment I likely will never forget.
Kudos also to Beloit High School twin sisters Hannah and Hayley Burks who mapped out and completed their senior track and field season despite the global pandemic. Each week this spring, the Burks sisters staged their own meets on their high school track, running the middle distance, distance and relay events that they would have normally run during their school's 2020 spring schedule.
If they were scheduled to run the 4 X 800 one week, they would each run two legs of the relay. Then, they'd rest a little while, and run the 800, 1600 or 3200 -- depending on the week and meet that they would have been scheduled to run.
Saturday, at 3:30 p.m., they finished their own "state meet," Hannah clocking 5:31 and Hayley 6:26 for 1600 meters. After a trip to Dairy Queen, they returned to the track to cheer on Bates.
The sisters will head to Fort Hays State next Fall.
In no particular order, let's look at what I consider some of the best Cessna Stadium state meet memories I've had since the 2017 season while working for Kansas MileSplit:
Kyler True rips 4:07
The Olpe senior was already the best distance runner in Kansas during the 2017 season, and a cinch to roll through class 1A state titles in the 800, 1600 and 3200.
But he captivated all of Cessna Stadium in the finals of the 1600 meters when he made a bold solo attempt to challenge the 4 minute mile mark.
On a hot day, and a little more than an hour after he rallied his Olpe 4 X 800 relay team to a state title, True ran hard from the gun, opening with three consecutive 62 second laps before finishing in 61 for a time of 4:07.17.
It was an all-class state record for 1600 meters, knocking more than six seconds off the previous mark of 4:13.60 by Steven Smith of Shawnee Mission South. True won four state titles that day - 9:12 for 3200 meters included - seemingly never worried about saving energy on what was a long two days.
His win in the 1600 brought to mind Jim Ryun's historic state meet win in 1965 when Ryun clocked 3:58.3 for the mile while running alone, on a cinder track. As electric as True's race was, Ryun had run nine seconds faster for a mile (which is a few yards longer than the 1600). True gave those of us born after Ryun's remarkable run at least a sample of what it must have been like in 1965.
Mosley nips Wright for 400 meter state title
The rubber match in the finals of the 400 meters was as
great of a race as one would ever want to see. The two speedsters left the
field behind from the gun, roared through the backstretch neck-and-neck and
came sprinting down the homestretch in lanes four (Wright) and five (Mosley) as the crowd rose to its collective feet.
Mosley lunged at the line. Wright lunged at the line. Their arms nearly tangled in their extreme effort to cross the line first.
Nobody could say for sure who had won, and after a few intense moments, FinishLynx declared Mosley the winner by one-hundredth of a second - 55.50 to Wright's 55.51.
Hankins' final heave wins the javelin
Again in 2017, there was high drama in the class 6A boys javelin. The state's top-ranked thrower was Manhattan freshman Sam Hankins, who also had hovered in the top 10 of the U.S. rankings throughout the season.
But at the state meet, Lawrence's Hunter Krom was getting the better of the competition. After five throws, his best of 204-2 had him sitting nearly four feet ahead of Hankins, who was the last thrower in the finals.
On his sixth attempt, Hankins sprinted down the runway and let out a mighty grunt as he let loose with the javelin. He waited anxiously for nearly a minute before the judges measured his throw at 204-10.
Hankins easily won state titles the following two years and likely would have completed his career this season as a four-time state champion in the event. Through his junior season, Hankins' only defeat in a Kansas high school competition came at the Great Bend Invitational in 2017 to his teammate Josh Haus, an all Big 12 performer for the University of Oklahoma.
Lister and Torres show heart of champions
Everybody loves a winner, it seems, and Leavenworth's Aarika Lister and Liberal's Dusty Torres certainly qualify. At the 2018 state championships, they claimed state titles in the 100 meter dash, Lister winning in 6A with a time of 11.64, and Torres taking the 5A crown in 10.89.
It's what happened later in the meet that is most memorable to me.
It was clear after Torres' win that it came at a price.
Nearly the same moment he hit the tape, the senior grimaced and clutched his
right hamstring - a sight that makes track and field fans go "oooh!' for all
the wrong reasons.
Lister's win was brilliant and all seemed well with the senior speedster. She seemed to be on her game that day, and a strong contender to add the 200 meter title later in the meet.
But later in the afternoon, word had spread that Lister may not be right. And it turned out to be true. She took a standing start in the finals, and ultimately jogged around the track to an eighth-place finish.
Same for Torres. There was no doubt the hamstring was shot and so he painfully jogged the half lap into the finish for the eighth-place medal.
Why were those performances significant?
For me, because they both represented sacrifice of self. They both represented care and love for their teammates, their school and their community. The team titles in class 6A girls (Lister) and 5A boys (Torres) were coming down to the last two events, with both Leavenworth and Liberal in the mix. The one point that Lister and Torres scored by hobbling to the finish was more of a statement about their character and selfless attitudes.
As it turned out, neither of their teams were able to pull off the state title. But it surely didn't diminish the true heart of these two champions.
Faurot takes a shot at history
Scott Community senior Marshall Faurot wrapped up the class 3A pole vault state title when he cleared 16-1 at the 2019 championships. But rather than inch the bar up slowly, he asked officials to add nearly another foot so he could take a few shots at the mighty 17-foot barrier.
Now, understand, this event was taking place on Saturday afternoon, a time when the track events are dominating spectator's attention. Yet, as Faurot's decision was announced, there was a distinct shift in focus by the crowd toward the pole vault pit.
Faurot's first attempt at 17-0.25 seemed off from the start, but on his second attempt, he went up and over - then oh-so-slightly nudged the bar on the way down. The third - and final - attempt was also unsuccessful.
It was one of those rare moments when an event that perhaps many track and field fans don't consider as "marquee" grabbed the spotlight.
Faurot won state titles in the 110 hurdles and high jump as well, leading Scott Community to the team title. Faurot now competes for the University of South Dakota; he had an indoor best of 15-11.25 this season, prior to the global pandemic shutting down the NCAA season.
Junction City's girls rally from 43 points down
The greatest comeback I've seen for a state championship by a team was put up by the Junction City girls in 2017. At noon on Saturday, the Lady Blue Jays had scored just 16 points in the class 6A meet, 43 points out of first place.
They were a sprint-rich team, and they were set up well for Saturday's track finals. It helped that pre-meet favorite Kiena Newman held serve by winning the 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles. Junction City also won the 4 X 100 relay in a season-best time of 48.38.
But it wasn't until the last event of the day - the 4 X 400 - when Junction City completed its comeback. Nashaia Nixon (pictured below) clocked 59 seconds on the anchor leg to pull the Blue Jays from sixth to fourth place, good for five points and a two-point team win over Olathe Northwest.
Between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday, Junction City scored 52 points to get the win.
During the same meet, Newton's girls had a nearly-similar, remarkable comeback of their own. The defending champs trailed Mill Valley by 34 points heading into Saturday afternoon, but by day's end, they had a 14-point victory. They would go on to win a third consecutive team title in 2018.
Splechter and Hoffer have a huge day
Splechter won the 2019 class 2A 800 (1:57.43), 1600 (4:26.77) and 3200 (9:45.06) on the same day because weather forced the 3200 to be moved to Saturday morning (normally that race is run Friday morning or evening).
In 2018, Hoffer won class 5A state titles in the high jump (6-10), long jump (23-4.75) and triple jump (46-9.25). Now at the University of Nebraska, Hoffer was an all Big 10 performer in the indoor high jump his freshman year.
Passing the baton in fine fashion
The relays are pretty dynamic to watch, particularly when teams are moving the baton smoothly from runner to runner.
Two great years stand out to me for outstanding relays: In 2014 (before I worked for MileSplit), the boys' squads from Manhattan and Olathe East flip-flopped the state's No. 1 and No. 2 rankings in all three relays for the entire season.
They had not met head-to-head during the season...until the state meet. All three relays came down to the anchor leg, with Manhattan winning the 4 X 100 and 4 X 800 relays, and Olathe East winning the 4 X 400. Olathe East had a dominating sprint squad and scored 85 points to beat Manhattan (75) for the class 6A boys team title.
Another great relay squad was St. James Academy's girls in 2018, which demolished the all-class record in the 4 X 800 relay with a time of 9:19.60 (pictured below). It was just under 12 seconds better than the previous all-class record. Mill Valley's girls finished second in 9:24.38, also smashing the previous state best.
St. James Academy later won the 4 X 400 in a class 5A state record time of 3:56.56, and was fourth in the 4 X 100.