Wichita It's the simple beauty of track and field.
Run, throw or jump faster than your opponent, and you win. No arguments. No excuses.
Nathan Hickey ran faster Saturday night. And now the Lawrence High boys team is a state champion.
Running the anchor leg in the final event of this year's state championships, Hickey passed Garden City's Mitch Hunter during the final 50 meters of the Class 6A boys 4x400 relay, giving LHS the bronze medal.
But that wasn't the precious metal that really mattered. Thanks to the third-place finish, the Lions closed out the two-day competition at Cessna Stadium with 47.75 points - .75 better than Garden City.
Hello, golden trophy.
"My class has been hungry for one (a state title) since we were in junior high," said Hickey, who came up empty on both the football field and the basketball court.
Given one final shot on the track, he wasn't optimistic after a few key performers failed to advance to this year's state meet.
"I thought after we lost some guys that I'd just watched a state-championship team fall apart," he said. "I was wrong."
The Lions found their way to the top spot on the podium by using a far different formula Saturday than the one they employed on the opening day of the competition. Gone was the one-man domination of field specialist Scott Penny, whose two golds helped stake LHS to an early lead.
On Day Two, the buzzword was balance.
While the Lions failed to win a single gold medal in an individual or relay event, they pieced together enough points to pound out a path to glory.
In addition to the relay bronze, high jumper Kevin Logan also took third to contribute the biggest scoring efforts. Otherwise, it was a matter of reaping the rewards of some less-publicized results, such as Hickey's fourth-place finish in the 400 and Cole Walker's sixth-place medal in the high jump.
"You never know what points might make a difference," LHS coach Scott Stidham said. "Every little point mattered today."
"You wouldn't believe the adversity this boys team's been under all year. We've had bad breaks happen. It didn't happen today."
For a time, it appeared the LHS girls squad would be the one looking forward to a big celebration Saturday night. Midway through the track finals, the Lions held a commanding lead in the team race and had Leavenworth coaches muttering aloud they didn't have enough ammunition to fight back.
However, unfavorable finishes late turned the tide and sent the Lions to second place, seven points behind their Sunflower League foe.
Still, the silver trophy will go nicely with the gold medal won by senior Amy Magnuson in the 100 hurdles - her second straight state title in the event - as well as the gold secured by Jennifer Taylor, Sue Schwartz, Kelly Renfro and Kristina Taylor in the 4x800 relay.
Magnuson's victory allowed her to close out the weekend with a gold, silver and bronze and brought her career state medal haul to seven.
"Every time I just came out to have fun and do my best," Magnuson said. "It worked out."
While LHS kept busy pointing to its good fortune, the same breaks didn't fall into place for the Lions' neighbors to the north.
Despite a number of promising showings in Friday's preliminaries, Free State couldn't find the golden touch in the finals, peppering the top five but never coming away with a victory.
Highlights for the Firebird boys - seventh in the team race with 35 points - included a silver for junior Ryan Murphy in the long jump, a silver by junior Keron Toussaint in the 400 and a 3-4 finish by Toussaint and junior Austin Winn in the 200.
"Short a little here, short a little there," Free State coach Steve Heffernan said. "Everybody competed well, but when you get to state, that's not enough. You have to have a little bit of luck. And we were unlucky today."
Especially on the girls side, where Free State saw its hopes for a top-three finish dashed when distance ace Alysha Valencia aggravated an Achilles' injury in the 3,200 - the senior's first race of the day.
A strong showing in the field events allowed the Firebirds to salvage a fifth-place team finish with 38.5 points.
"We talked about coming down here and calling it our playground and having fun at this place," Heffernan said. "And I think we did."