Cali Kerschen of Andale (hip number 7) is among the key returners for Andale's girls in 2021.
You'd think that a couple of years gone by might have re-shaped the balance of power in class 4A track and field in Kansas.
Yet, here we are in 2021, and it looks an awful lot like 2019.
Two years ago, Andale swept the boys and girls class 4A state track and field championships, the girls posting a dominating 41-point win and the boys rallying for 20 points in the final event - boys pole vault - to catch Piper on Sunday afternoon of the three-times-delayed meet.
Well, folks, a glance at the 2021 season and it again looks like Andale's girls have a sizable advantage over the rest of the field, and many of the same athletes who helped put the boys over the top are back, too.
The Andale girls are a juggernaut in the throws, and that's primarily because of senior Katelyn Fairchild. As a sophomore, she was the class 4A state champion in the javelin, while finishing third in the shot put and fourth in the discus.
She's now ranked No. 1 in all three of those events, which could potentially mean a massive score of 30 points for Andale - from just one athlete.
Samantha Marx was the state runner-up in the javelin to Fairchild, and remains at No. 2 in that event as a senior. She's also No. 2 in the discus.
In the pole vault, juniors Mary Meyer and Annabeth Baalmann enter the 2021 season ranked No. 2 and No. 3 for Andale. Combined with Fairchild and Marx, their preseason rankings quickly puts Andale's potential state total in the field events to something north of 60 points.
That could put Andale over 80 points at the state meet, not far from the 97 they scored in 2019.
KC Piper placed second in 2019, but that school - and a strong unit of sprinters - has moved to class 5A. It boosts McPherson, formerly in class 5A, as one of the leading contenders to Andale. The Lady Bulldogs could get quality points from junior hurdler Harper Smith; senior thrower Grace Pyle; and junior Rhian Swanson in the long jump, triple jump and high jump. All of those athletes enter 2021 with top four marks in their respective events.
Bishop Miege is a perennial state title contender, and they certainly bring back some firepower in 2021. Junior sprinter Emijan Mccallop is expected back, as well as senior jumpers Sarah Perico (long jump and high jump) and Marin O'Connor (triple jump). But Miege may feel the loss of junior distance ace Grace Meyer, who placed sixth in the class 6A cross country championships for Shawnee Mission East last fall.
Also among individuals, the state's best distance runner may reside in class 4A. Taylor Briggs of Chapman has never been beaten in a state meet race - not in cross country and not in track and field. Her record over four years is 8-0, though it's likely she would be 10-0 had last year's state meet not been wrecked by COVID-19. Briggs has won four state cross country titles (just the sixth girl in Kansas ever to accomplish that feat) to go with two titles in each the 1600 and 3200.
Eudora freshman Sydney Owens and Clearwater sophomore Hayley Trotter placed second and third at the class 4A cross country championships last fall, though nearly two minutes behind Briggs. This year will mark their first track and field state meet; they may be the best of the rest in class 4A girls distance running.
Other state champions from 2019 expected back in class 4A are Kimalee Cook of Circle, a senior who won 100 and 200 meter crowns; Summer Spigle of Ottawa, a senior who won the 400 two years ago; and Sian Helfrich of Pratt, also a senior who won the 300 hurdles in 2019.
Senior pole vaulters Ty McPhail, Noah Meyer and Gabe Ungles are ranked No. 1, 3 and 5 heading into the new year. In 2019, McPhail cleared 15-0 and Meyer 14-6 to post a 1-2 finish at the state meet, pushing Andale past Piper for the state championship.
counters Andale's pole vaulters with one man - Tanner Newkirk. He was the class
4A cross country champion last fall, and seems to be the dominant force in the
division's distance races. He's largely considered one of the top five distance runners in Kansas right now.
Newkirk is an early favorite to win state titles in the 1600 and 3200 meter runs, though he'll face some stiff competition from Bishop Meige freshman Micah Blomker and Buhler junior Tanner Lindahl - who finished second and third and less than six seconds behind Newkirk in the cross country championships.
As far as returning state medalists from 2019, class 4A is distance heavy. Of the 17 returners, 10 of those are in distance events. Sawyer Schmidt, a junior from Augusta, placed second in the 1600 and third in the 3200 two years ago.
The team race in class 4A could come down to some interesting head-to-head matchups between Andale and Hayden athletes: Andale's Daniel Reichart against Hayden's Javion Lee and Jack Konrade in the long jump; and Andale's Chris Burks against Hayden's William Devader in the javelin.
There will be others that score for both schools, but those seem to be some of the key matchups as we head into the season.
Eudora and Bishop Miege could also challenge for the boys' team title. Eudora has the top two ranked 400 meter runners in seniors Daniel Grosdider and Colby Lawhorn, and the top ranked shot putter in senior Darrell Higgins. For Bishop Miege, senior Carson Key is ranked No. 1 in the triple jump, senior Phillipe Wesley is No. 1 in the 200, and senior Trey Ausler is No. 3 in the 110 hurdles and 300 hurdles.
Gavin York, a senior from Wellington, holds down the No. 1 spot in both the 110 hurdles and 300 hurdles heading into the 2021 season.
Other than McPhail in the pole vault, there are no returning boys state champions in class 4A this year.