Wichita No one was more surprised to see Free State High's Adam Fitts win the shot put and discus at last weekend's Class 6A track regionals at Olathe than Fitts himself.
"I mean, I always knew that I had the potential to do it," said the FSHS senior, who smashed the school record earlier in the year by some 14 feet with his throw of 153 feet, 91/2 inches. "But it did kind of shock me as how it all came together at the right time."
What didn't shock Fitts or any other member of the Firebird boys team was Free State's ability to win the regional the first regional track championship for a Free State team.
Now the Firebirds want their history-setting season to include one more accomplishment a state title. Free State will have that opportunity beginning today when the state meet kicks off at Wichita's Cessna Stadium.
"We have a lot of confidence in ourselves," Fitts said. "And we know we'll be happy even if we don't win it, but we think we have a shot."
A shot is what LHS coach Jerry Skakal is banking on as well.
"On paper it looks like we have a shot," Skakal said of both his boys and girls teams. "But the great thing about track and field is that what it says on paper doesn't matter. It's how you do on the track."
Lions' speedster Chris Fulton, the only other city athlete to win two events at regionals, agrees with his coach whole-heartedly and said he'd like to give Free State a taste of its own medicine.
"After they won the regional they started celebrating like they had just won state," Fulton, who smoked his regional opponents in both the 100 and 200, said of the Firebird boys, who took a vocal victory lap around the Olathe District Activity Center.
"But while we want to place higher than them, we know it's going to be tough competition amongst all the top 10 teams."
Still, the fact that the Lions are even mentioned as a team that has at least a shot at state is a far cry from a year ago, when Fulton was the Lions' lone scorer scoring a measly two points that put LHS in a tie for 26th place.
"We definitely know we have a better chance to do it this season," said Fulton, one of 15 LHS boys who will join 17 girl Lion qualifiers at the two-day meet in Wichita.
Free State sent a combined 18 athletes to the meet.
Firebirds' coach Steve Heffernan, whose boys edged the Lions at regionals with a victory in the last event, said most teams kney where the bulk of their points are coming from, but those pleasant surprises, like Fitts' regional finish, make the difference at state.
"It is those other people that step up that kind of determine who wins," said Heffernan, who said his boys squad is poised to make a stronger run after finishing sixth last season. "I felt like with the core coming back from last season we'd have a shot to place in the top three or four if we put together a real strong meet. "But we need some support.
That's what Fitts says he and other individuals have to step up and provide.
"Really, in this kind of meet every point matters," he said. "Field events are just as important as running events and everyone has to contribute to that team point total."
Skakal said he has a handful of kids who could challenge for state titles, but in order to capture a team crown his athletes woul have to show some emotion like Fulton did after regionals. Fulton was so distraught after the narrow team loss that he began crying in frustration.
"I just felt that we were the ones that should have won that meet and we didn't do it," he said. "Now we have another shot."
While the four city javelin throwers who finished 1-2-3-4 at regionals are good friends, don't look for too many smiles on the runway. All four want the title. Free State's Lauren Abney, who won the event with a personal-best throw of 128-7, may have the quartet's best shot at a title. But the Lions' top-placer, Hallie Fitzgerald might have a say. Free State's Jayme Lisher and Lawrence's Erin Knight are the other two qualifiers in the event.
While Lawrence High's Mag Obiefule still doesn't have the spinning technique down in discus, she could still be a threat at the event in state. She's pretty comfortable in the shot, on the other hand. LHS throwing coach Jack Hood worked with Obiefule, who won the shot at regionals and took second in the discus, all last week on getting her spin down. "She broke the fence twice," Hood said with a grin.
Free State's 800-meter standouts, Chris White, Adrian Ludwig and Nick Ens, not only want to maintain their 1-2-3 finish like they had in the Sunflower League meet and regionals, but they also want glory in the 1600. Damian Harden joins the trio by leading off the 4X400 relay, in which Free State finished second at state last season. White, who also took second in the 800 a year ago, said if they could go "1-2-3 and win their relays, that would be a dominating performance."
Other regional winners who will have a shot at state titles include LHS long jumper Sylvester Birdsong; Free State's Hiral Bhakta in the 3200; Lionsecca Raynes, who won the pole vault in 8-6; and Sam Frisbie in the high jump.