By Jason Schock
You don’t always need a team effort to win Nebraska High School State Track Meet Championships, particularly in the smaller classes, where it’s hardly rare that 40 points – the equivalent of four gold medals – are enough in a given year. Actually, that was precisely Sacred Heart’s team score the last time it won outright a Class D Boys Title, in 1998.
Furthermore, you don’t need a bus load of Olympians, per se, when a single athlete can potentially win four events, each worth 10 team points. Dawson-Verdon High School, for instance, shared a crown in 2002 with three qualifiers combining for 46 team points.
But there are more ways to skin a cat (for lack of a less gruesome cliche), and the Sacred Heart boys this past weekend didn’t rely on the heroics of a couple elite athletes to carry them to the infield stand. Instead, they used nearly every weapon in the arsenal, scoring a few points here and a few points there. The Irish were entered in 10 events and had 13 different opportunities to score points. In the end, they garnered nine medals and scored 49 1/2 points, beating runner-up Sterling for the title by 5 1/2 points. Many of the medals, in of themselves, weren’t exactly priceless commodities – four were for fourth place or lower – but collectively, most precious.
There was one gold medal and thanks in large part to perfect timing (not unlike a three-pointer at the buzzer), its extrinsic value was perhaps worth more than its 10 points. But not by much.
Entering the 17th and final event of the 2014 State Track Meet at Omaha Burke, the Irish, which started out Saturday with a grand total of five points, sat somewhat delicately atop the Class D team standings with 39 1/2 points, half a point ahead of Sterling and eight points ahead of Hartington. The race was supposed to come down to Sacred Heart and Hartington – and oh did it ever! – but in terms of the final standings, the Irish, barring a dropped baton or bizarre rule infraction, needed only to finish higher than Sterling to win the team title. That wasn’t the most frightening notion for FCSH, which entered with the Class’ fastest district time, incidentally run on the same track as Sterling two weeks ago, just six seconds faster and two medals prettier.
But the Jets, despite competing in the slow heat of the 1600 Relay, weren’t going to concede anything and turned in a season-best time of 3:34.10, winning the heat by some 10-15 yards. So, speaking of heat? That performance was faster than any of Sacred Heart’s times this spring, prior to districts.
“They (Sterling) knew what was on the line,” FCSH Coach Doug Goltz said. “We were not only running against Hartington and the other teams of the fast heat but we were also running against Sterling’s time.”
While Team Irish, comprised of senior Chaz Dunn, junior Sawyer Kean, junior Austin Malone and sophomore Henry Arnold, entered with the best district time, Hartington had actually posted the fastest mile relay time in Class D this spring at 3:29.5. Their anchor, senior Pat Wortmann, was already in possession of three meet medals from the 400, 800 and mile, making them a slight favorite to win. Again, though, FCSH needed only to finish higher than 7th to erase Hartington’s title hopes. The Irish had to better 3:34.1 or the team trophy was Sterling’s.
“Chaz ran well, putting us in the lead,” Goltz said. “Sawyer ran second and Austin ran third; both running well and giving us a lead of five-plus yards over Hartington handing off to our final runner Henry Arnold.
“It was a two team race as the others teams were well behind FCSH and Hartington. We had not lost a 4×400 this season and usually had a good lead by the time Henry got the baton, but he would be pushed like he had never been before by (Hartington runner) Wortmann. He immediately cut the distance down on Henry and with 300 to go he made his move to pass him,” Goltz said. “Henry was inside and Wortmann in lane two. Henry accelerated as Wortmann tried to pass, keeping Wortmann to the outside along the backstretch, around the curve and into the final 100 meters. They were dead even coming off the curve – they had been almost attached to each other for the entire second lap. Wortmann made one final charge but Henry was able to hold him off at the finish line with us winning by .19 seconds. We ran 3:31.19 and Hartington was 2nd with 3:31.38. Sterling’s time held up for 3rd overall. We knew if we won the 4×4 and ran faster than Sterling that we would win the meet,” Goltz said.
The annual 17-event state track meet that begins Friday morning and ends Saturday night without fail will consist of a handful of interesting, unrelated storylines, a few dramatic individual displays of awe-inspiring athletism, and occassionally a couple notable rivalries – again, they’re between individual competitors and often unbeknownst to everyone else – but pivotal moments that decide team titles, if they do exist, are hard to pinpoint and even harder to try and predict. Dramatic team-oriented climactic endings like this one celebrated by Sacred Heart? Blue moon territory. And yet, since it’s Sacred Heart, and since its 2014, maybe only appropriate.
Goltz called this 2013-14 year the greatest of his sterling career weeks before Saturday’s thrilling finale. And, of course, a 13-0 championship football season and 25-5 basketball campaign that finished with a consolation game victory and third place trophy are worthy of celebration and prominent positions in the memory banks of those who made them happen. But while labeling such accomplishments “routine” at a school even as tradition-rich as Sacred Heart is both historically inaccurate and disrespectful to the dedication and work put forth from these athletes and coaches, its also not a case of unprecedented success. The new track trophy represents the first outright Class D State Track title in 16 years, yes, but it’s also the seventh of its kind. And the two new championship trophies added to the case this past school year bring the grand total to 22 — 31 if you count the girls’ state championships. None of them existed before Goltz arrived in the mid-1980s, so a glut of winning alone didn’t likely inspire the “dream season” and “most fun ever” remarks the coach with more than 750 victory laps on the tires (500+ basketball, 250+ football) delivered at the season-ending banquet two weeks ago.
Some of it has to do with naturally forging a unique bond with a class that includes his son and coaching them beginning early in elementary school. And perhaps some has to do with the dedication, focus and overall manner in which they’ve attained their successes.
FCSH didn’t win this track meet because its athletes were so superior they could show up and win with less than their very best. Quite the contrary. It was an uphill battle and the title trophy was incredibly close to finding a home in Sterling. A couple aforementioned “pivotal moments” emerged Saturday afternoon, and clutch, perhaps over-achievements, made the difference.
The Irish scored all of five points Friday, underperforming most notably in the triple jump, where a 1st-2nd 18-point finish by Malone and Arnold was a real possibility – indeed a more realistic expectation than the 6th-7th five-point eventual reality.
“After Friday’s session we left the track feeling disappointed,” Goltz said. Those came in the Triple Jump going 6th and 7th where we thought we could have scored more. A jump of 42-5 was 4th place.”
Neither jumper hit 42-feet, which is a little mind-boggling knowing Malone set a 40-year-old school record in his first event of the spring at 44-7.25; and Henry went 43-11 a week earlier in Auburn to take the district title.
Furthermore, in Friday’s prelims, Henry (400), senior Colin Niemeyer (300H) and Kean (100) all failed to qualify for Saturday’s finals.
However, Haralabidis did qualify for Saturday’s finals in the 100 and 200 – and his eventual third-place performances in both The bright side of Friday was Yianni made it to the finals of the 100 and 200. He had the 6th fastest time in the 100 prelims and 4th fastest in the 200 prelims. At least we knew we would be able to score Saturday in those two events.
After Friday – we were feeling that we might be out of it as far as the team title.
Sterling had a great first day leading in the points with 19. They got 3rd and 4th out of the shot put for 6 and 5 points. Their 4×800 relay ran great getting 2nd for 8 more points. They scored more than projected and still had the 800 where they had two of the top times (Trauernicht, Dirks) going in. They had the 1600 with Trauernicht who could score well. They had Kody Benson in the Discus and they had a 4×400 to end the day.
And Saturday morning didn’t start that well, either, as Dunn ran 10 seconds behind the winner, three seconds slower than his district race, and finished 16th out of 24 runners in the 800.
The good stuff wasn’t even that rewarding. The 4×100 relay team of Kean, Dunn, Malone and Haralabidis scored eight points and set a personal-record at :44.07. The problem? They didn’t want second place and Paxton ran :43.91.