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Distance runners carry Indians to dominant wins

By Grant Guggisberg

n track, like any sport, most teams have strengths and weaknesses.

For the Manhattan High track team, distance races have become a major strength for both the girls’ and boys’ squads.

Alaina Schroeder swept the girls’ mile and two-mile, while Chris Melgares did the same on the boys’ side, giving Manhattan a 1-2 punch in the distance races that clearly no other school has been able to match. Throw in an excellent day for middle-distance runners Emily Liebe and Evan Williams, and it was no surprise when Manhattan swept in the team standings.

Williams, who won the 800 (2:01.66) and ran on the winning 4x800 team (8:20.15) said this year, the distance group has made it a point to carry the load for the Indians.

“This year is a lot different for last year,” Williams said. “A lot of our state points as far as sprinters go mostly left, so this year we feel as a distance team it’s our job to pick up the slack and when the rest of the team isn’t doing so hot, it’s our job to get it done because we have some of the races at the end of the day.”

Melgares, who set personal records in the mile (4:29.79) and two-mile (9:49.76), said the distance group, which had a solid season in the fall for cross country, is looking to keep getting better.

“We want to be able to put the team on our backs if we have to, and at state, that could be the difference between being on the podium or not, so we really want to do our best,” Melgares said. “There’s a lot of respect between the sprint team and the distance team, because we know they’re going to be doing their best, and we’ll be doing our best too.”

The boys team ended the day with 171.5 team points, finishing ahead of second-place Seaman (134.5) and third-place Emporia (116.5). The girls also won easily, finishing with 144 points, with Topeka High (109.5) in second and St. Thomas Aquinas (101) in third.

“I was a little surprised we won by the amount we did,” said Manhattan head coach Jesse Woodard, who spent the bulk of his day at the finish line helping keep times. “I was pleased with everybody’s performance.”

While Woodard didn’t get to see as many performances as usual, he was happy to see both his team’s win big at their lone home meet of the year. The second-year coach said winning races is great, but depth was the biggest factor in landing at the top of the team standings.

“The ones are great, but when you get the twos, threes, fours, fives - that’s what wins championships,” he said. “You’re not going to get first in every event, so when you get those extra points, it’s huge. Those points add up and it shows how competitive our kids are.”

While the distance races were a strength for Manhattan, the Indians got plenty of points from elsewhere.

On the boys’ side, Manhattan went 1-2-3 in the javelin, with Jacob Holloway (174-10) taking first place, with Ryan McHenry (157-4) and Brady Kiracofe (151-4) right behind.

“Brady Kiracofe hit 151 - he’s been getting better every week,” Woodard said. “I’m very happy about that, and of course, Holloway and McHenry have been very consistent.”

Gabe Caldas (44-10) took second in the shot put, while Brandon Nowlin (131-10) finished in second place in the discus.

It was a tough field in the jumping events, but the Indians held their own. Jacob Harden took fifth in the long jump (20-8) and fourth in the triple jump (41-1 3/4), while Sam Livsey took third in the triple jump (41-8 3/4).

The pole vaulters made progress as well, with Eli Herrera taking third place (12-0).

“Boys’ pole vault, Eli Herrera went over 12 for the first time, and I think Jacob Carlson was at 11,” Woodard said.

The 4x400 team of Williams, Patrick Guvele, Tanavious Richardson and Chris Martin took third (3:33.75), just .10 seconds behind Junction City.

In the sprints, Tre Daniels took fifth in the 200 meter (23.42) and fifth in the 100 meter (11.61), while Christian Mack took fourth in the 100 (11.42). Martin finished third in the 400 (52.17), while hurdler Logan Sutton took third in the 110-meter hurdles (16.28) and fourth in the 300-meter hurdles (45.91).

On the girls’ side, Schroeder led the way in the mile (5:10.27) and two-mile (11:18.97).

“It was pretty cold, and I didn’t have too many nerves or anything,” Schroeder said. “But I wanted to go out and try my hardest. I was feeling it, so I just stuck with it.”

Liebe won the 800 meter (2:29.06), while also teaming with Rachel Beach, Emily Van Natta and Megan Ochoa to take second in the 4x800 relay, which would prove to be the top relay finish of the day for the girls.

In the hurdles, ReJoyce Bryant had a great day, winning the 100 (15.62) and taking fourth in the 300 (51.01).

In the sprints, Aleise Williams took fourth in the 100-meter dash (13.03) and third in the 200 (26.96).

“Aleise Williams in the 100 and 200 is fighting real hard,” Woodard said. “She’s getting thirds and fourths right now, and I know she’s disappointed in that because she’s a competitor. She wants to get first, but she’s running against some older girls with more experience, but she’s fighting and she’s getting better.”

Matty Mahan took fourth in the high jump (4-10), while Taylor Smith took fourth in the pole vault (8-6). Teammate Ashlynn Kleinbeck was right behind in fifth place (8-0).

In the throwing events, Kaylee Kipp won the shot put (35-1/4), with Stephanie Shanower right behind in second (33-3). Shanower won the discus (124-10), finishing well ahead of teammate Kylie James, who took second (111-2). Jessie Kujawa took fifth in the javelin (98-7) to lead the way for the Indians in that event.

Woodard said he is pleased with the way his group competes as a team.

“We may not always get the first, but when you get fourths, fifths, those are huge for us,” he said. “It shows you how much everybody wants it.”

Manhattan will travel to Emporia next week for its first two-day event of the year, while some will head to Lawrence for the KU relays.

“Next week will be tough, we’re at Emporia for a two-day meet and we’ll see a lot of teams we don’t normally see, like the Wichita schools,” Woodard said. “So it’ll be interesting. Of course, we’ll send a few people to KU, so we won’t have our full squad, but it’ll be a good test for us to actually run on back-to-back days and a good measuring stick for us at this point in the year.”

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