CLASS 3A TRACK AND FIELD PREVIEW: Experience Keys State Title Chase for 3A Teams

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Just in case you've ever thought that state meet experience and senior leadership weren't necessarily the key to success in high school athletics…well, shame on you.

You are now banished to a lesson in Kansas Class 3A track and field.

Perhaps more than any classification in Kansas, this one has shown the value of having senior athletes on your roster. Last year, 19 of the 30 individual state titles went to athletes who were in their last year of high school. It means that class 3A has the fewest number of returning state champions among Kansas' six track and field divisions.

More so, the teams that seem to be the pre-season frontrunners for the 2018 state titles are senior-laden or have athletes that have already tasted state meet success.

Let's start in Beloit, where the girls track and field team enters the 2018 campaign as the pre-season favorites for the 3A state crown. The squad has a bona-fide star in senior Sydney Johnson, who enters the season with the top marks from 2017 in the discus and shot put.

But the squad stands to cover several events at the state meet, including the 1600 and 3200 where sophomore Hannah Burks -- the state champion in cross country -- is the leading contender. Her sister Hayley Burks is also a medal contender in the same events.

Junior Blaise Spangler is back, and has the top returning mark in the pole vault. Caleigh Hewitt, a sophomore, is also a medal contender in the pole vault.

But defending 3A state champion Nemaha Central is not going to relinquish its title easily. Despite some graduation losses, Nemaha Central has one of the state's top all-around athletes in the horizontal jumps in senior Allison Rottinghaus; and in the throws with junior Jacy Dallinghaus, who is the defending state champion in the discus as well as a top-three contender in the javelin and shot put.

Also look for Norton Community, Cheney and St. Mary's to battle it out for one of the podium spots in the 3A girls team chase.

Norton Community is led by star sprinter Slayten Braun, who enters the season with the division's top marks in the 200 and long jump. She's also a top three contender in the 100. Sophomore Lexi Kats has Class 3A's second best returning time in the 1600, and third best in the 3200.

Cheney is led by junior Layne Needham, who has the division's top returning time in the 300 hurdles. Senior teammate Kadie Smith is a preseason favorite to win the javelin, and should also place high in the shot put.

St. Mary's has perhaps the division's top female sprinters in seniors Jasmine Hurla (100 and 200) and Logan Hurla (400). Senior Amy Foster is a top-three contender in the discus.

The Class 3A girls division also is ripe for several other nice storylines, including the return of Wellsvile junior Paige McDaniel, who won the 400 and 800 at state last year, and was second in the 200. Elizabeth Kettler of Hiawatha, a junior, has won the 3200 meters two years in a row and will try to go 3-for-3 this season. And Sterling's Taya Wilson is the defending state champion in the 100 hurdles, but could also take home state medals in the 300 hurdles, pole vault and triple jump.

On the boys' side, Scott Community enters the 2018 season as the favorite to win the class 3A team title -- largely because of two superstars on the track and in the field.

Junior Marshall Faurot is a top-three contender in the 110 hurdles and 300 hurdles, and a top-two contender in the pole vault and high jump. Fellow junior Jack Thomas could be the state champion in the 1600 and 3200, and is a top-five contender in the 800.

Those two could put up enough points to hold off Scott County's main pursuers, but it won't be easy.

Garden Plain is led by top-ranked Dylan Dreiling, a junior, in the high jump, and top-ranked Sam Thimmesch, a senior, in the shot put. Senior Jared Becker should be in the mix for state titles in both hurdling events, and senior Nick Dooley is a top-three contender in the pole vault.

Norton Community's Jace Ruder, a senior, is the defending state champion in the 300 hurdles, and is looking to add the 110 hurdles to his resume this year. He's also got the division's top mark in the discus entering this season, though Tyler Palic of Marion is the defending state champion in that event.

Perry Lecompton could make some noise at state with top-ranked Colton Mallonee, a junior, in the triple jump, as well as sprinters Shane Quinlan (200 and 400) and Josh Leclair (400).

Beloit's boys may be a bit of a longshot for a team title, but they will bring a pair of talented leaders in senior Blaine Burks (second best returning time in the 800), and sophomore Creighton Johnson (second best returning mark in the discus).

Class 3A girls returning state champions

100 hurdles -- Taya Wilson, Sterling

400 -- Paige McDaniel, Wellsville

800 -- McDaniel, Wellsville

3200 -- Elizabeth Kettler, Hiawatha

Pole vault -- Grace Stohs, Marysville

Discus -- Jacy Dalinghaus, Nemaha Central

Class 3A boys returning state champions

110 hurdles -- Tyler Watts, Caney Valley

300 hurdles -- Jace Ruder, Norton Community

3200 -- Robert 'Owen' Pearce, Kingman

Discus -- Tyler Palic, Marion

Javelin -- Carter Swindale, Osage City