Brandon Valley enters the Class AA state high school track meet looking to score lots of points in both the boys and girls divisions, but the Lynx will have plenty of competition this week at Howard Wood Field in Sioux Falls.
On the boys side, the Brandon should be among the favorites, but there are several teams in the mix for the top spot. Rapid City Stevens, with perhaps the most dominant athlete in the entire boys field in distance runner Simeon Birnbaum, and Aberdeen Central could also be threats.
“There’s a lot of other good teams out there on the boys and girls side,” Rapid City Stevens coach Paul Hendry said. “So it’s gonna probably take everything we got, and maybe even a little bit of luck, to help us win a championship.”
Yankton finished second to Brandon Valley in the Eastern South Dakota Conference meet May 14. Harrisburg should be strong, too, led by two of the better short-distance runners in the state in Tim Bishop and Ben Stratman. They both ran in the boys 200-meter special event at the Howard Wood Dakota Relays. Bishop was in the event as an alternate.
“It was a great experience for (Bishop) and well-deserved,” Harrisburg head coach Kevin Kroger said. “They’re both good kids and work hard at it.”
For Aberdeen Central, the status of star Sam Rohlfs is unknown because of an injury. He’s an excellent jumper and sprinter, but did not compete at the ESD meet.
On the girls side, Brandon Valley should again be a threat, but the field looks to be even closer. Coming off a fourth-place ESD meet finish, Yankton head coach Luke Youmans said his team is “looking forward to an opportunity here to potentially try to get both of our teams on the podium.”
Sioux Falls O’Gorman, loaded with strong distance runners, could also be in the mix, as could Sioux Falls Lincoln and Rapid City Stevens.
“It could come down to the last event,” Brandon Valley head coach Troy Sturgeon said. “It’s just going to be one of those deals where everybody, you know, you have to be at the top of your game and hope you do well.”
Here are 10 Class AA athletes (plus one) to watch during the state meet.
Julian Watson, Brandon Valley
Julian Watson entered the Howard Wood Dakota Relays in the special 200-meter race and as someone who was expected to do a lot of damage. But Sturgeon said that Watson had a “banged knee,” which limited him. Now he’s back at 100%, which is a troubling sign for teams looking to limit the Lynx.
Watson has the fastest 400-meter time in South Dakota this spring at 47.46 and should be the favorite to win the race in addition to contributing in several other areas.
“I think he’ll definitely be in the mix and in the 100 and 200 as well,” Sturgeon said. “He’ll help whatever we relay we put him in.”
Alea Hardie, O’Gorman
After being declared one of the “best distance runners in South Dakota history” at the podium during the Howard Wood Relays, Alea Hardie has added to her impressive resume. At the Rich Greeno meet on May 13, she broke the state record in the 3200-meter run with a time of 10:10.83. It topped the previous record by almost nine seconds and was the ninth-fastest time in the country this year.
Hardie, along with teammates Libby Castelli and Ruth Pardy, make up a loaded distance group for the Knights and are components of a great 3,200-meter relay team with Kiera Pinto. In the final meet of Hardie’s prep career, the Nebraska commit has a chance make even more history.
Simeon Birnbaum, Rapid City Stevens
Stevens will be a major threat in the boys team race, but that’s not the only reason to watch Birnbaum compete. A master of the tactical side of racing, there’s no better runner to plug into a distance race like the 1,600 or 3,200 for a win.
Birnbaum won’t just be chasing first-place finishes. He’ll be chasing state records, too, many of which are already his.
“Simeon Birnbaum is arguably one of the, if not the best, one of the best distance runners ever to compete in South Dakota,” Hendry said. “So it’s nice to have someone like that on your team.”
His best time in the 1,600 this year is 4:06.15 and is almost 12 seconds better than anybody else’s, and his 3,200 time of 8:55.22 is 25 seconds better than that of Josh Martin of Aberdeen Central.
Meghan Walker, Brandon Valley
Meghan Walker has been absolutely dominant this year. She ranks first in Class AA in the 200-meter and 400-meter dashes and second the 100. She’s also been a member of every Brandon Valley relay team with a top-four time on the season.
“We’re really looking for for Meghan Walker (to have a big meet),” Sturgeon said. “Meghan’s had another outstanding year for us.”
Austin Gobel, Yankton
Austin Gobel is one of several competitors on the boys side who give the Bucks a legitimate chance to grace the podium. He’s one of the most versatile athletes on the Yankton boys team. Gobel is a key member of the Bucks 800- and 1,600-meter relay teams, which both have top-four times in the state.
“Austin Gobel (had) kind of a breakout year at the state meet last year in the sprint the events,” Youmans said. “We’re looking for him to have a pretty big state meet again.”
Lauren and Ellen Merkley, Sioux Falls Lincoln
Lauren and Ellen Merkley are both great individual competitors, but they do a lot of their damage as a part of the Lincoln’s relays teams. Though they can compete in just four events at the state meet, the Merkleys are both members of the 400-meter and 800-meter relay teams. The Patriots have the best Class AA time in the 400 relay and the second-best time in the 800 relay.
Additionally, they each rank in the top four in the 100- and 200-meter dashes, and Ellen has the best distance in the long jump this season, followed by Lauren. That gives the Patriots a lot of options in where to use the dynamic sisters.
Sam Rohlfs, Aberdeen Central
Rohlfs is one of the biggest question marks heading into the state meet because he’s been dealing with a lingering hamstring injury and his status is unknown. If he competes, the Golden Eagles could pile up points.
The South Dakota State commit has the all-time state record in the long jump. He went 24 feet, 0.75 inch earlier this season at the Huron Invitational. He also has the best triple jump this spring by a wide margin and is an excellent sprinter.
If he is healthy, he’ll look to cap his senior season with a strong showing in what would be his final high school meet.
Matayah Yellow Mule, Rapid City Central
Rapid City Central’s Matayah Yellow Mule is one of the best girls jumpers in the state.
She has the third-best long jump on the season at 17 feet, 9.25 inches, behind the Merkley sisters from Lincoln. But the triple jump is where Yellow Mule could do the most damage. She has the top distance in the state by almost 2 feet at 39 feet, 9 inches.
If the Merkleys and Yellow Mule are jumping in the same group, there should be a massive crowd around the runway.
Yellow Mule also competed in the high jump at last year’s state meet.
Jaden Guthmiller, Spearfish
The fastest sprinter in South Dakota is the reason some coaches think Spearfish could accumulate points in the boys division. Jaden Guthmiller broke the meet record in the 100-meter dash at the Howard Wood Dakota Relays and came a split second from a win in the 200-meter dash special event, too.
His time of 10.45 in the 100 is the best in the state, a tenth of a second ahead of Harrisburg’s Bishop. Guthmiller also has the best 200-meter dash time at 21.74 seconds.
Even if the Spartans aren’t in the mix for the team title, Guthmiller could have an impact on the standings.
Avery Wittry, O’Gorman
One of the reasons the O’Gorman girls are in such a strong position heading into state meet is balance. While the Knights will do plenty of damage on the track, Avery Wittry will likely add valuable team points in the throws.
She has the best Class AA discuss throw of 136 feet, 10 inches this season and is No. 3 in the shot put with a toss of 40 feet.
While Lincoln will be a tough team to match in the field events, Wittry’s ability to gather points in the throws should keep the team race tight.
Follow Sioux Falls Argus Leader reporter Michael McCleary on Twitter @mikejmccleary.