It’s hard to believe it given the weather, but we are deep into the spring sports season here in Iowa, and the Drake Relays are upon us. The best runners, throwers and jumpers from throughout the state will gather today through Saturday to decipher the good from the great.
Many, if not most, of the athletes competing at Drake see this as the pinnacle of track and field competition, and it’s typically a season goal for the most ambitious competitors in the state. Outside of the state competition itself, Drake is the only competition reserved for the best of the best. Also, the high school competitors get the opportunity to see how they measure up against some of Iowa’s best intercollegiate athletes.
Newton had a solid year at Drake in 2012, sending five athletes — now-seniors Derrick Hurt (shot put), Andrew Clements (4x400 and 4x100 relays), Dakota Hills (4x400 and 4x100 relays) along with now-junior Jacob Walker (4x400 relay) and since-graduated seniors Blake Tish (4x400 and 4x100 relays) and Zach Roskilly (4x100 relay) — to compete in three events. The results last year were highlighted by Hurt’s second place finish in the shot put.
The Cardinals will have an even more impressive set of athletes to send to Drake this season. Newton will be well represented at Drake today as well as Friday, sending eight athletes to compete in eight different events.
Kicking things off for the Cardinals will be sophomore Sarah Kalkhoff, who will be competing in the discus finals. Kalkhoff has been Newton’s best thrower all season, and she has typically dominated all competition. Her qualifying throw is from the girls’ meet at Ames on April 16. It traveled 126 feet, 10.5 inches, which places her 11th in the state. Kalkhoff is likely out of reach of the top spot, a throw of 143-05.75 by Kiana Phelps of Kingsley-Pierson, but it’s not out of the question to see her pick up a couple of feet and finish in the top five. She will compete today at 3:00 p.m.
The other competitor from the Cardinal’s girls team is freshman phenom Grace Coen, who will be competing in two events. Coen has burst onto the scene as one of the best mid-to-long distance runners in the state. Her 800-meter dash time (2:18.69) from the meet at Oskaloosa on April 13 places her 16th in the state, and it is only 1.16 seconds outside of the top-10. That event will take place on Friday at 1:39 p.m. Her second event will be the 1500. Coen’s time of 4:48.19 places her 11th in that event so far this season. That event will be held on Saturday, with finals taking place at 1:02 p.m. She certainly has the times to suggest she could make a run at a medal or two. The only question will be: is she ready for the big stage?
For the boys, Hurt returns in his senior season looking sharper than ever. After, finishing second last year, he will be looking to move up to the top spot in the shot put. However, the competitor who edged him out last season, Urbandale’s Shaquille Wells, is back as well. Hurt’s throw of 55-04 at Pleasant Hill on April 3 ranks him third in the state, seven inches behind Wells. The shot put finals will be held today at 3:30 p.m. Hurt has another event on his plate besides the shot this year. He will be throwing the discus for Newton as well. While it’s not his weapon of choice, Hurt has been one of the best with the discus in his hands this season. He ranks 18th in the state with a PR of 152-07. He isn’t likely to take the top spot, but being only six feet out of 10th place means a top-10 finish is certainly within reason. The discus finals will be held on Friday morning at 9:00 a.m.
On the track for Newton will be sophomore Deonne Harris. Harris has been very impressive in the hurdle events for Newton this season, and now he will get the opportunity to show what he can do on a much bigger scale. Harris’ time of 14.86 in the 110-hurdles, recorded on April 15 at Norwalk, places him sixth in the state. His sophomore jump has been incredible given that he was only fast enough for 106th place in the state in the same event last season. He will be one of only five underclassmen competing in the field of 32. The prelims for that event will take place on Friday morning at 8:16 a.m. with finals scheduled for 11:43 a.m. later the same day.
The final two events for the Cardinals will both be relays — the 4x100 and 4x400. The Newton 4x100 team consists of the aforementioned Harris, Clements and Hills as well as sophomore Jarom Williams. Despite the fact that their time of 44.76 places them 35th in the state in the event, they are only two seconds behind first-place the Des Moines Abraham Lincolns, and less than a second behind eighth-place East Des Moines. That makes medaling at Drake a definite possibility for the Cardinals, who finished 47th in the same event last year. The 4x100 prelims will be held at 6:00 p.m on Friday night with finals scheduled for Saturday at 3:15 p.m.
The Cardinals’ second relay team, competing in the 4x400 consists of Hills, Clements, Williams and senior Cody Maxwell. That team was timed at 3:29.48 on April 8 at Norwalk, and the time places the team 25th in the state. Newton’s 4x400 team last year finished 19th at Drake with a time that was roughly 1.5 seconds slower than that of this year’s team. So, there is a sign of optimism that the Cards will improve over last season. That event will hold its prelims on Friday night at 9:05 p.m with finals scheduled for Saturday at 4:32 p.m.