Can anyone catch Valley Heights' girls?

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For much of the past half decade, teams have tried and tried to keep up with Valley Heights' girls at the state track and field championships. And only once have they been successful.

Valley Heights again enters the class 2A state championships as the prohibitive favorite, having won state titles in three of the past four seasons and returning a powerful core of athletes with names very familiar to the state's track and field scene.


Tops on that list is senior Kayla Smith, who has won 10 state medals during her high school career, including three straight state titles in the triple jump. Smith added the long jump title last year, and is a top-three contender in the 100- and 200-meter runs. She won all four of those events at her regional meet.


In three years at the state meet, Smith has scored 67 points - or an average of 22.3 points per year.


She'll be joined this year by a couple other standouts in senior Skyler Saunders and sophomore Samantha Vermetten.


Saunders is the two-time defending state champion in the high jump, having cleared a career-best 5-8.5 to win the class 2A crown a year ago. She also placed third in the pole vault and sixth in the triple jump last year - two events in which she will likely score big points again this season.


Vermetten burst onto the state scene as a freshman last year with runner-up finishes in the 800, 1600 and 3200 - only Bennington distance star Halle Johnson was able to beat her in those races. Johnson is back, too, so Vermetten has her hands full, but she should still score big points toward the team title. She qualified for state this year in the 400, 800, 1600 and 3200.


Johnson's Bennington team provides perhaps the greatest challenge to Valley Heights' dominance. Johnson currently holds all of the class 2A girls distance titles - cross country, 800, 1600 and 3200 - having swept the three track events at last year's state meet.


But Bennington also has the top-ranked squads in the 4 X 400 and 4 X 800 relays. If the rankings hold, that's 50 points for Bennington between Johnson and the two relays.


Other teams with a shot at unseating Valley Heights are Kiowa County, Ellis and Bluestem.


Kiowa County sophomore Sabrina Thomas is ranked No. 1 in class 2A in the shot put and discus, and the team also has three relays that each could finish in the top three.


Ellis is highlighted by junior speedster Cassie Waldschmidt, who has the top times in class 2A in the 200 and 400, and No. 4 in the 100. Triple jumper Abby Burton is No. 2 in the triple jump, and Ellis has the top-ranked squad in the 4 X 100 relay.


Bluestem is a darkhorse in the team chase with strength in the field events, including Destiny Masters in the high jump and long jump; Addyson Emmons and Torrance Lovesee in the triple jump; and Hannah Augur in the long jump.


Among individuals, Jamya O'Quinn of Moundridge tops the class 2A rankings in the 100 and is No. 2 in the 200. Teammates Josalyn O'Quinn and Makayla Blair are also top five contenders in the 100.


Trego Community's Helen Giefer leads the class 2A rankings in the 1600 and is No. 2 in the 3200, leading her team's chances at state.


Others to watch in class 2A include Jessica Saunders of Hillsboro (shot put and discus), Rylee Gleason of Kinsley (200, 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles), Kloie McIntyre of Herington (100 hurdles and 300 hurdles), Tiana Epperson of Ness City (javelin, discus and shot put), and Aubry Donley of Lincoln (400 and 800).


The boys class 2A team title could also be about a pack of teams trying to catch a powerful Stanton County team. Senior Devin Berens is one of the division's best in the 100 and 200, while Stanton County also has powerful relays in the 4 X 100 and 4 X 400. And pole vaulters Duane Jones and Trey Summers are top three medal contenders. Stanton County did lose some firepower when junior Creed Puyear, a state medal contender in the triple jump and long jump, did not compete at regionals.

The pack of teams chasing Stanton County, though, makes it quite possible that the state title is not a foregone conclusion. Teams with loaded rosters and capable of scoring big at state include Bennington, St. Francis, Smith Center, Sacred Heart and Yates Center.


Bennington is highlighted by state title contenders Ryan Stanley in the pole vault, the 110 hurdles and 300 hurdles.


St. Francis has top-3 ranked teams in all three relays, as well as the No. 2 ranked 800 meter runner in Tate Busse. Wyatt Hackler (100) could also make his mark.


Smith Center could get a 1-2 finish in the javelin from Colton Hutchinson and Hesston Maxwell. Dalton Kuhn is the No. 2 ranked shot putter, while Avery Hawkins could also place in the top five in that event. And Jesse Staples is No. 3 in the class 2A 400 heading into state.


Sacred Heart's Jacob Faerber is No. 1 in the  400 heading into the class 2A meet, though he failed to qualify for state in the 200, where he had also been atop the class 3A rankings for much of this season. Distance runner Luis Mendez could do well in the 1600 and 3200, and javelin thrower David Anderson is No. 4 in class 2A.


Yates Center is all about their distance runners. They won the school's first-ever state title in cross country last fall, and that crew wants to pull off the same feat on the track. Junior Hadley Splechter won the 1600 and 3200 last year - and added the cross country title last fall - and is a strong favorite to do that again this year. He also runs the open 800 and a leg on the Wildcats 4 X 800 relay, which won the state title a year ago and is No. 1 in class 2A heading into this week.


Among individuals, the class 2A meet features one of the country's best discus throwers in Marion's Tyler Palic. He sits at No. 16 in the U.S. rankings, with a season best throw of 191-11. He won the class 3A state title a year ago with a mark of 175-11. Palic could also finish in the top three in the discus and javelin.


Wesley Shaw of Hillsboro is the top-ranked thrower in the shot put, and No. 2 behind Palic in the discus. He beat Palic in both events at last week's regional meet. Class 2A defending state discus champion Zach Pierson of Plainville enters this year's state meet with the third best throw in that event.


There should be a good battle in the boys 110 hurdles and 300 hurdles between Toby Penner of Berean Academy and Michael Marietta of Pittsburg-Colgan. And Splechter could get a fight in the distance events from Ethan Thompson of Meade and Cooper Mumford of KC Christian.


Class 2A Girls returning state champions


300 hurdles - Rylee Gleason, Kinsley

400 - Aubry Donley, Lincoln

800 - Halle Johnson, Bennington

1600 - H. Johnson, Bennington

3200 - H. Johnson, Bennington

High jump - Skyler Saunders, Valley Heights

Long jump - Kayla Smith, Valley Heights

Triple jump - Smith, Valley Heights


Team - Valley Heights


Class 2A Boys returning state champions


400 - Jacob Faerber, Sacred Heart

1600 - Hadley Splechter, Yates Center

3200 - Splechter, Yates Center

Discus - Zachary Pierson, Plainville


Team -- Plainville