When we last left the 1A classification of Kansas Track and Field, the state meet crowd had just gotten a glimpse of the future sprint queen and king in the division.
That was late May, 2019, when Kiowa County freshman Addi Heinson scored a pair of runner-up finishes in the 100 and 200 meter dashes, pushing Moundridge senior and prohibitive favorite Jamya O'Quinn to a pair of close finishes.
The global pandemic wiped out the two budding stars' natural ascension to the throne of class 1A sprints last year, but they're now ready to see what life is like on center stage.
Heinson, now a junior, also placed fourth in the 400 meters in 2019, racking up three medals in her first-ever high school state meet.
Heading into the 2021 season, Heinson ranks first in the 100 and 200 (Jackson is second in both), and Jackson is first in the 400 (Heinson is No. 2). While it remains to be seen who else will rise up to challenge for the class 1A girls sprint titles this year, we're likely to witness a thrilling dual between Heinson and Jackson, at the least.
Robles is the only class 1A boy expected to return this year who has ever won a state meet medal. Every other state placer in the 100 and 200 from 2019 has now graduated. So it certainly feels like the senior has a firm hold on the class 1A sprint crowns this year. His career bests are 11.03 in the 100, and 23.10 in the 200 - about two-tenths of a second better than others likely to return this season.
Here's where we throw caution to the wind, however: Even coaches are scrambling as this season begins to fully understand what they have on their teams this year. Last year's lost season due to the pandemic means that, since 2019, coaches have lost two classes since they last suited up - and this year's teams will be led by those who were freshmen and sophomores.
It also means that coaches are breaking in two new classes; not just this year's freshmen, but also this year's sophomores, who will be in their first year of high school competition as well. Youth will have a chance to shine as the 2021 season moves along.
We do know pretty definitively who will be the top contenders in the boys and girls distance races. Collin Oswalt of Central Christian and Jaycee Vath of Lincoln swept the 1600 and 3200 meter titles in 2019, as well as the class 1A cross country titles last fall. Both are seniors who have dominated this division for well over three years.
Vath, who also placed fourth in the 800 and ran a leg on her team's state-winning 4 X 800 relay, is the headliner in events that were predominantly led by freshmen and sophomores two years ago.
* 8 of the top 11 finishers in the 800 are expected back this year.
* 4 of the top 5 in the 1600 are returning.
* 9 of the top 11 in the 3200 are returning.
Nearly 40 girls who placed at state in 2019 are expected to return, while just 20 boys are expected back. Two years have passed, however, and it's difficult to know who's since moved away, transferred to other schools, or a myriad of other factors that keep those kids from getting back on the track this spring.
Top hurdlers who could be back this year include senior Regan Ast of Ingalls, and juniors Landrea Sears of Sedan and Abigail White of Pretty Prairie - who finished fourth, fifth and seventh in the 300H in 2019.
Kelton Buettner of Hamilton is one to watch in class 1A boys. He's the top returner in the 110 hurdles, and has top 3 marks in the high jump and triple jump entering this season. Seniors Ethan Salmans of South Gray (fourth in 2019) and Tate Davis of Ingalls (fifth) will challenge for a state title in the 110 hurdles.
The top end strength of the division is likely to be a deciding factor in the team races. Kiowa County's girls are the defending state champs (from 2019), and Heinson is a key to winning again; Satanta's Jackson could keep her team in the mix, as well.
Their sprint points will be tested against Lincoln's distance strength with Vath and junior teammates Shelbie Ford and Raegen Stewart. Those three were also part of Lincoln's state championship 4 X 800 relay in 2019.
The boys' team race is a big jumble. Defending state champ South Gray was hit hard by the past two graduations and should have fallen back to the pack this year, opening up the title chase to Beloit-St. John, Jackson Heights, Osborne, Central Christian, Madison and Hamilton.The beauty of track and field is that teams can score points in a lot of ways. Depth - not always a luxury for the state's smaller schools - could be the deciding factor for a state championship. The question: which of those schools can secure enough sixth, seventh and eighth places at the state meet?