BUFFALO — Under cloudless blue skies, 14 track and field teams competed at Buffalo High School Thursday, including all four Sheridan County schools. The largest meet of the young season for Arvada-Clearmont, Tongue River, Big Horn and Sheridan high schools featured competitors from all Wyoming High School Activities Association classes and offered the opportunity for athletes to acclimate to the several hundreds of runners, jumpers and throwers they competed against.
The all-day event, which featured as many as 16 heats for the boys 200-meter dash and continuous, simultaneous field and track events, forced athletes to operate self-sufficiently in their preparation and recovery. The Sheridan County coaches hustled between the track and field event locations to offer their advice but relied on their week of practice and senior leaders to influence the competitors’ pre- and post-event routines.
Besides rediscovering the rhythm of outdoor track and field meets after the coronavirus forced the cancellation of last year’s season, the Sheridan County coaches hoped for personal records and pre-qualification times for the state meet at the Jerry Campbell Invitational Thursday.
“Just having them bring the positive energy to each of their events,” Sheridan head coach Taylor Kelting said of the Broncs’ and Lady Broncs’ goals. “And, on the other hand, just getting as many kids as we can on a nice day like this qualified for state.”
Preslee Moser said putting a week’s worth of practice to the test at a big meet benefits the Lady Broncs and Broncs, while competing against 4A runners and field athletes Sheridan will likely have to beat at the regional and state meet.
From 4A Sheridan competitors to 1A Arvada-Clearmont athletes, the benefit of the larger meet showed itself in every heat’s high level of competition. Sheridan County’s track and field veterans and newcomers competed against 2019’s fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place 4A girls teams and first-place 4A boys team.
For 2A Tongue River, smaller meets have previously served as confidence boosters and an opportunity to place in different events. The Eagles, Lady Eagles, Big Horn Rams and Lady Rams will not compete at the regional and state meets against 3A or 4A athletes and used Thursday’s competition instead as time to realize where room for improvement remains.
“We compete against ourselves first,” Tongue River head coach Steve Hanson said, “and the record we set and the time that we set last week, and then we compete as everyone else secondly. Let them drive you. Let them push you.”
Despite the stiffer, higher class competition, Tongue River athletes held their own and won events. Addie Pendergast won the 400-meter dash with a time of 1 minute, 0.37 seconds, while Wyatt Ostler won the 1600-meter run in 4 minutes, 40.73 seconds.
Hanson said he thinks his team is ahead of schedule in terms of managing themselves and showing ownership at meets, and Pendergast acknowledged she felt overwhelmed at first with the size of the event but finished the day feeling proud of the way Tongue River handled itself and competed.
Similar to Tongue River’s success, Big Horn’s girls 1600-meter sprint medley relay set a school record with its 4 minutes, 37.12 seconds second-place finish, and freshman Kate Mohrmann, who ran as the first leg, said the team had looked at the records during indoor season and feels proud to soon have their names on the record wall.
Additionally, senior Garrett Custis won the 300-meter hurdles with a time of 43.23 seconds and finished second in the triple jump by half an inch.
The Rams and Lady Rams’ head coach Kirk McLaughlin’s enthusiasm throughout the afternoon came from strong finishes but also from what he learned about each competitor, where they need more coaching and what events best suit each athlete.
“We’re excited, one, but it’s also like, ‘I know what we can do to get better at this,’” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin and Arvada-Clearmont’s first-year head coach Tim Rowe echoed Hanson’s statement when the cross-county head coaches spoke about the benefits of competing against 3A and 4A competition while still remembering the return to 2A and 1A competition will be less intimidating in the future.
But Panthers senior Torrey Veach placed fifth in the triple jump, proving his merits against larger-class competition and gaining confidence, though he and Rowe noted the goal of Thursday’s meet was to set personal records regardless of opponents’ schools.
With hundreds of runners milling about the infield, taking to the track and waiting for their turn at the pole vault, long jump pit, discus cage and shot put circle, the midday and afternoon track meet resembled a competition from 2019. Along with solid performances from the county’s teams, the return to track and field’s normal gave both Sheridan County coaches and athletes joy.
“It’s just good to see kids being kids and playing sports,” Hanson said. “That’s really it — I’m just happy about that.”