A Solid Start to the 2021 Track and Field Season

Brandt Cox of Salina South placed second in the long jump at the Saline County Invitational.

Happy Easter everyone! What a beautiful weekend in Kansas, and a beautiful start to the 2021 season. If you're like me, you are just simply pumped up that we have a season this year.

Let's jump right into some of the great performances we've seen already this season, starting with a 2019 state champion who has already crushed his career best in his first two meets of the season.

Manhattan's Darius O'Connell, now a senior, is the top shot put thrower in the state right now, launching the shot 59-0 to win the Junction City Invitational on Thursday. That's about six feet more than he threw to win the class 6A title two years ago, and about five feet more than his previous career best.

Manhattan was a sexy pick as the preseason favorite for the state team title in class 6A boys, and that squad has done very little to raise doubts. Senior distance runner Daniel Harkin - the two-time cross country champion - has posted the No. 1 time in the 3200 (9:29.95) and No. 2 in the 1600 (4:22.33); while senior Charles Jones is No. 1 in the long jump (22-8.5) and senior Jason Moran is No. 1 in the javelin (174-4).

Sprint speed? There's plenty of that going on, too. Shawnee Heights' Jeremiah Smith - a sophomore competing in his first high school season -- has the state's best time in the 100 meters at 10.58, winning the Free State Early Bird Invitational on March 25. About a half hour later, he posted the state's top time in the 110 meter hurdles, winning in 14.59. And later in the meet: 3-for-3 after he also won the 200 meters (22.56).

Hays junior Jaren Kanak has put up an impressive two weeks, as well, winning the 100 (10.66) and 200 (22.16) at the McCook LeRoy Hoehner Trace Invite.

Five Kansas boys have thus far broken the 11 second barrier in the 100 meters.

Here's another new name on the state's sprint scene: Ka'Liyah McGinnis. The speedy sophomore from Olathe North won her first-ever high school race in 12.40, outrunning St. Thomas Aquinas junior Gracie Allen (12.51) at the Olathe North Preseason Classic on March 25.

McGinnis' win put her at the top of the Kansas girls' rankings so far this season. She's also No. 1 currently in the 200 meters, 26.10.

Leavenworth junior Dhakiya Blake, the class 6A state champion at 400 meters in 2019, is back at it. She's posted the fastest quarter mile among Kansas girls, clocking 58.40 to win her home invitational on Thursday.

The best boys' 400 meter runner so far this year was also the best two years ago. Elijah Mosley of Wichita Heights, who won a class 5A state title in 2019 (48.29), is the only Kansas boy under 50 seconds so far this season. He finished in 49.32 to win the Wichita Southeast Invitational this week.

There was a pretty darn good girls distance race at the Blue Valley Northwest Spring Classic on Friday. Senior Riley Beach won her team's home meet in a state-best time of 10:53.58 - an excellent time this early in the season - and beat last fall's class 6A cross country champion, freshman Anjali Hocker singh of Olathe North (11:06.46).

That race featured the top five girls times in Kansas so far with Kaylee Tobaben of Olathe North (11:22.30), Cecilia Fisher of Blue Valley Northwest (11:27.12) and Shea Johnson of Olathe North (11:29.63).

Beach was the cross country runner-up to Hocker singh last fall, and also the 2017 class 6A cross country champion. A week earlier, she also posted the top girls 800 meter time of the young season, 2:20.74 at the Blue Valley West Triangular.

Lawrence Free State's boys, the class 6A state cross country champs last fall, are flexing their distance strength again. Jack Keathley-Helms clocked 1:58.12 to edge teammate Ben Shryock (1:59.81) at the Free State Early Bird Invitational. Those are the No. 1 and No. 3 times in Kansas so far. Shryock is also No. 2 in the 3200 meter run at 9:43.98.

Logan Seger of St. Thomas Aquinas clocked a career best of 4:20.28 for 1600 meters to win the Olathe North Preseason Classic. That's the best time in Kansas so far. Teammate Tommy Hazen sits at No. 4 with a time of 4:27.97.

Five Kansas girls have already cleared 5-4 in the high jump, all winning meets over the past two weekends. They include Lindsey Dewitt of Blue Valley West, Reese Hulcher of Lawrence Free State, Tess Roman of Shawnee Mission East, Asha Regier of Newton and Rayne Erickson of Decatur Community.

How about Belle Peters of Smoky Valley? One of the state's best all-around athletes, Peters has the top jump in the pole vault (12-0), and kicked off her season on Thursday at the Republic County Buff Invitational with wins in the long jump (16-7), 100 meter hurdles (17.64) and 200 meters (28.05). Peters is already committed to compete for Pittsburg State University next year.

Here's a contender for closest finish of the week: Megan Boeding of Kapaun Mt. Carmel clocked 15.91 for the 100 meter hurdles to edge Kennadie Jinkins of Wichita East (15.98) at the Wichita Southeast Invitational.

Otto Knittel of Spring Hill swept the hurdle races at the Baldwin Invitational Thursday, winning in 14.59 over the 110 meter hurdles, and 41.54 in the 300 meter hurdles.

Also this week, Evan Schmidt of Blue Valley West cleared 14-1 to post the top mark in the boys' pole vault. And at the Cimarron Invitational, a good head-to-head battle took place between Dighton sophomore Max Neeley and South Gray junior Brady Deges. Neeley eventually cleared 14-0 to win the meet, while Deges settled for second at 13-6 - the No. 2 and No. 4 marks in Kansas so far this season.


Young Lions in Kansas... 

As we all know, we missed an entire track season last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So, we have two new classes of athletes - freshmen and sophomores - to the Kansas scene this season.

Who are some of the young lions making a splash so far? In addition to Smith, McGinnis Hocker singh and other underlcassmen mentioned above, here is a list of some of those who are making a splash in their first high school season:

* Lillian Harris, Kapaun Mt. Carmel - The speedy sophomore clocked 12.77 to finish third in the 100 and 26.41 for second at the Wichita Southeast Invitational this week.

* Barry Summers, El Dorado - The sophomore has clocked 11.16 in the 100 and 22.78 in the 200 for first and second place finishes at the Andover Central Invitational. He won the 400 at the Winfiled Invitational this week in a time of 52.06.

* Kate Miller, Olathe West - Just a freshman, she swept the 800 (2:24.94) and 1600 (5:16.19) at the Olathe Northwest Invite.

* Nen Matlock, Mill Valley - The sophomore won the 800 meters at the Leavenworth Invitational in 2:00.84, landing him at No. 4 in Kansas right now.

* Kaiden Esfeld, Great Bend - The sophomore was runner-up in the 1600 (4:32.91) to Manhattan's Harkin at the Junction City Invitational, then later won the 3200 (10:10.35).

* Makenzie Premer, Great Bend - A freshman, she won the 100 hurdles (16.64) and 300 hurdles (48.90) at the Junction City Invitational. She was also third in the triple jump (33-8).

* Jayme Hagerman, Larned - Also a freshman, her jump of 37-11 to win the LaCross Invitational is also the best jump in Kansas so far this season.

* Michael Murray, Southeast of Saline - A sophomore, he won the Saline County Invitational with a jump of 21-4, the fifth best mark in Kansas this season.

* Adrienne Locke-Garcia, Olathe Northwest - A sophomore, she won the Blue Valley Northwest Spring Classic with a throw of 37-6 in the shot put. That's the second furthest throw in Kansas this year.

* Grady Seyfert, Beloit - A sophomore, he won the shot put at the Republic County Buff Invitational with a throw of 48-0 (just outside the state's top 5), and was second in the discus at 131-3.


And another addition to my Mt. Rushmore...

My family and I landed in Kansas in 1998 and shortly after that we witnessed one of the truly dominating girls' distance runners in the state's history. Between 2000 and 2004, Trisa Nickoley of Shawnee Heights High School won 17 state championships - four each in cross country, the 400, 800 and 1600, as well as a 4 X 400 meter relay title.

Her dominating career included a high school best of 2:06.67 at the Kansas Relays, which still stands as the fastest time by a high school runner in Kansas. As a freshman at the University of Missouri, she won the Big 12 indoor title in the 800 meters, on the way to becoming a 14-time All Big 12 honoree and four time league champion.

Her career includes NCAA Division I All American honors, and she ran in the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials.

Last week, I named four runners - all great ones in their own right - as my "Mt. Rushmore" of Kansas girls distance runners. I should have included Nickoley, as well. Our Mt. Rushmore will now have five runners.

My bad.