For many high school track and field athletes in the Sunflower State, the biggest regular-season meet of the year is the Kansas Relays.
With the mega-meet coming up Friday and Saturday, the teams competing Wednesday at the Lawrence Invite didn’t look like themselves.
Though typical event-winners sat out in anticipation of the big weekend ahead, the absence of some of the top runners, throwers and jumpers didn’t make things any less interesting for the Lawrence High and Free State High athletes competing — particularly the LHS girls and FSHS boys, who won team titles.
Lions coach Jack Hood said his team’s invite, where the LHS boys and FSHS girls finished third, gave some athletes who didn’t qualify for the Kansas Relays a chance to fight for varsity spots. Firebirds coach Steve Heffernan, too, said the meet still held importance, because the athletes who were there improving will have a better chance to contribute to their teams’ point totals later in the season.
While the meet had a different balance of talent than usual, LHS junior Emily McEntire said that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, pointing out with a laugh that gave her a better chance of winning.
“When you have the very best gone, you know you’re closer to the top,” she said after her victory in the 1,600-meter run, “and it makes you want to try even harder to be at the top,”
McEntire, who also won the 3,200, had more fun than usual and said the only downfall was her 1,600 time of 6:07 was nowhere near her personal record.
“There was nobody ahead of me to try to catch,” she said.
Lawrence junior Jeffery Moses, who is used to finishing behind teammate Blake Hocking in the shot put, said winning was a nice change of pace.
Would it be possible for Moses to top his strong-armed teammate, Hocking, the LHS record-holder in shot?
“I don’t think he’s unbeatable. He’s a big lug,” Moses joked. “I mean, I like being able to win at this meet, because I know usually I get second.”
FSHS freshman Kiara Clark knows that feeling, too. She said she typically finishes about third or so in the 100 hurdles. But at the Lawrence Invite, she won that race, as well as the 300 hurdles.
“The competition was a lot easier than normal varsity meets,” Clark said.
That didn’t mean Clark, who will run at the Kansas Relays for Free State’s 4x400 relay team, planned on automatic wins.
“I never expect things,” Clark said, “because people always surprise you, and it’s never fair for you to assume you’re better than someone when you’ve never seen them run.”
The atypical field didn’t make Free State junior TJ Cobbs’ take it lightly, either.
“It feels like I have to push myself even harder for this meet,” Cobbs said after winning the 110 and 300 hurdles.
He said he always enjoys the challenge of pushing himself. Wednesday provided a perfect opportunity to do so.
“It feels like we still have to do our best and not slack off just because we’re not running in the Kansas Relays,” Cobbs said. “We’ve still got to do our best.”
The FSHS boys also had individual champions in Cole Stallard (800) and Luke Vogelsang (pole vault). Bri Martin won the long jump for Free State’s girls.
Robert Lyan won the long jump and triple jump for the LHS boys. Finishing first for the Lawrence girls were Jasmine Keys (200), Katie Lomshek (high jump), Kennedy Dold (pole vault), Noel Schildt (shot put), Kelsey Kilburn (discus) and Brea May (javelin).