When the time comes to hit the blue track at Drake Stadium this week, members of the Colfax-Mingo track teams will likely be approaching it in different ways.
For the Tigerhawk boys, final chances for state titles are on the mind, while the girls will likely just celebrate the fact they are there after some tense waiting earlier in the week.
Seniors Connor Hainer, Jaden Van Dyke and Chad McLain have had state in their sights all season, and in some cases, for most of their careers. Dubbed “The Big Three” at the beginning of the season, the trio has set itself up for success both individually and with each other.
“It worked out really well, and I’m proud of all the kids,” C-M boys coach Matt Barkalow said. “Connor, Jaden and Chad were leaders all year long and Byron (Johnson) really rounded into that. The nice thing is we’re past the ‘excited just to be there’ stage. We’re there to compete.”
Hainer earned a medal as a sophomore and currently leads Class 2A in the long jump, is fifth in the 200-meter dash and apparently has yet to run his best race in the 400. Van Dyke earned a medal in the 800 last season and currently sits third in 2A in the event. McLain’s season-best throw of 50 feet even could land him on the medal stand if he can do it again, but his trip is almost made complete by the fact that he was throwing a max of 30 feet just two years ago.
Joining those three in the 17th-ranked 4x400-meter relay that is less than two seconds away from a school record will be fellow senior Byron Johnson. Of all the events, Barkalow is almost the most intrigued by the 4x400 since it is usually one of the last events ran in a normal meet. At state, however, it will be the Tigerhawks’ first event, and thus will carry the highest expectation for improvement.
“When they run that together on Friday, that’s their first event of the day,” Barkalow said. “So on fresh legs, I really think we can run with the other guys in the heat, make the finals and break another school record, which would be a great accomplishment.”
As always, it will be a bittersweet moment for the Tigerhawks when they wrap up competition, even if there are a few state titles in tow. Barkalow has frequently praised this group for helping build the program up to more than double its size and productivity than when Barkalow took the reigns.
“I told the younger guys they need to look at the older guys and see what they’ve accomplished,” Barkalow said. “They’ve set the attitude on and off the track and done everything I’ve asked them to do, and that’s a pretty remarkable class. That’s a great thing to propagate your program when you have leaders like that.”
Unlike the boys, the Tigerhawk girls qualifiers found out they were making the trip at what seemed like the last possible second.
When that call finally came, the 4x200 team of Jessica Kolo, Erin Earles, Jessica Albright and McKinzie Tjaden learned it had just extended the Tigerhawks’ streak of state qualifiers to four years.
“The girls were ecstatic and I am sure they did not get much sleep,” C-M girls coach Zach Tomas said. “I told them going into the state qualifying meet that we had to improve our team time, and they delivered.”
Although it is just one team, the 4x200 squad boasts a wide range of experience. Kolo, the lone senior, and Earles, a sophomore, both served as alternates at state last season and have not yet run in Drake Stadium. Joining them are Tjaden and Albright, two freshman coming off breakout seasons that should factor into the team’s success for years to come.
Coming in ranked 21st out of the 24 teams, Tomas has firm goals of where he would like the squad to be at the end of state.
“Each girl has ran a great race at some point this season, but we have yet to have each girl run their best in the same race,” Tomas said. “If each girl runs her best split of the season, we could improve our team time by about two seconds. Our goal is always to improve on our seed coming into the state meet, and I truly believe we have the potential to finish top 12.”