All Varsity Kansas Stories

Girls track notes: Andale teammates build hurdle success

Published May 31 at 9:56 p.m. | Last updated June 2 at 8:12 a.m.

Friendship prevails

For almost three years, Andale’s Abbie Maxwell had consistently finished ahead of teammate and best friend Leah Reichenberger in both of the hurdle events.

That came to an end at the beginning of May, when Reichenberger took off and began winning races. It could have caused a rift in the friendship, but it actually strengthened it, something that Reichenberger swears by as the reason behind her sudden succes.

The rocketing success culminated on Saturday in the 300-meter hurdles, as Reichenberger became the state champion in Class 4A with a winning time of 44.73, the second-fastest time in Kansas this season.

“My success is all because of her,” Reichenberger said. “She calms me down when I start to freak out and talks me through it and it just helps me out so much.”

Maxwell finished third in the same race. She admits that it was initially tough when Reichenberger began passing her, but Maxwell found no trouble in supporting her teammate and even rooting for her.

“She’s just so awesome and I’d rather be close with her and pick each other up than hate each other,” Maxwell said. “We push each other and work hard together and I know we wouldn’t be here without each other.”

It’s a situation that Andale coach Greg Smarsh has seen cause tension between teammates in the past. But not Reichenberger and Maxwell, who are now set on trying to finish first and second in all of their races as seniors — and it doesn’t matter who wins.

“They couldn’t have handled it any better, either one of them,” Smarsh said. “They’re best friends and they support each other immensely and that’s pretty cool to see.”

How, Inman?

At every race this season, there would inevitably come a moment when some athlete, coach, or fan would come up to the Inman girl sprinters and ask how this was possible.

How is it possible that three girls as fast as Emma Aberg, Krystal Miller and Krystan Miller came to join together at the same time in Inman.

“We’re always like, ‘We don’t really know how,’ ” Aberg said. “It’s just kind of luck, I guess.”

Inman begged more questions after what it did to its 2A competition. All three qualified in the 100 finals and each placed in the top five with Krystal Miller winning in 12.99, while Aberg took home gold in the 200 with a time of 26.29.

To top it off, the three combined with Nicole Neufeldt to win the 400 relay in a time of 50.41.

“It felt 100 times better to win the relay than it did to win the 100,” Miller said. “Winning as a team and having people to celebrate it with is so much better.”

It did take some coincidence for the three to unite. Aberg is a foreign exchange student, while Krystan Miller is a softball player who ran in just her fourth track meet ever at state.

“This was pretty much our only year to do it,” Krystan Miller said. “We had the pressure on us to get it done. So it feels pretty awesome to finally do it.”


Coming off an exhausting 400 race and already nursing a bad hamstring, Andale’s Courtney Lies was sure her upcoming triple jump competition was not going to end well.

“She came over and told me that she was just going to go easy on her first jump,” Andale jumps coach Jordan Ungles said. “She said she was drained.”

Then she jumped a 37-5 1/2, a personal-best mark. Then came a 37-8 1/4. Lies didn’t stop PRing until she launched a leap of 38-9 to effectively win the 4A title after finishing near first the previous three years.

“My hamstring has been causing me problems since the seventh grade,” Lies said. “I wasn’t going to let it ruin my senior year.”

The 38-9 mark was the second-best jump of this season in Kansas and falls just outside of a Top-20 jump of all-time in the state’s history. In fact, all six of Lies’ jumps on Saturday would have won the title and all six were personal-bests.

“It’s just so amazing,” Lies said. “It hasn’t really sunk in yet. I never thought a state championship was possible. Now it’s just kind of unreal.”

Expect more

If you talk to Maize South’s Kassidy Johnson, she will tell you that there was no expectation to win the state title in the 400. Sure, that was the goal, but Johnson, a freshman, didn’t think it was fair to expect to win it.

Her coach, Steve Rasmussen, wasn’t as timid.

Especially after Johnson proved him right, pulling away through the curve of the 400 to win the 5A title in 58.31. She also placed fifth in the 800 later in the day.

“It didn’t surprise me at all,” Rasmussen said. “I expected it. She’s just a natural in the quarter. And she hasn’t even been in the weight room yet, so she has a lot of growing to do. We’ll get some strength on her. Hopefully sophomore, junior, senior year, she’s going to be real tough.”

As for Johnson? She was exhilarated to become a champion.

“I just came here to do my best,” Johnson said, “and I ended up doing better than that.”

Smooth operators

No one executed handoffs better than Heights did on Saturday, as Gabriella Ocadiz, Kolby Ganther, Rianne Richard, and Chaylynn Conley teamed up to win the 400 relay title in 5A in a record time of 48.26.

“We do this rhythm system and we work on getting it into each other’s hands,” Richard said. “We don’t say anything, we just know. Once we hit the zone, our hands go out and it’s all about trust with us.”

Conley also finished fourth in the 100 in a time of 12.80.

Run angry

It was shocking to everyone involved, including Courtney Griffiths herself, how the 400 race slipped away from the Winfield junior. She was overtaken around the curve and finished third behind Baldwin’s Morgan Lober and Scott City’s Kelly Wycoff.

She still finished in a personal-best time of 57.90, but third was unacceptable in her mind. So Griffiths took it out in her 800 race, running another personal-best, 2:17.27, to win her first state championship in 4A.

“One of my teammates at the finish line told me that it looked like I was angry,” Griffiths said. “I wasn’t truly angry at that point, but I was definitely more focused. I’m going to come back next year and try it again, but it feels good to get this one.”

Best from the best

Newton has been a factory for talented throwers over the last decade, but its best thrower of all may become sophomore Payton Roberts-Parker.

After dominating the shot put competition on Friday, Roberts-Parker won the 5A discus title in similar fashion. Her best throw of 135-11 was more than 19 feet better than second place.

With two more years left and two state championships already, Newton throwing coach Pete Anderson doesn’t see any limits.

“It’s pretty scary really,” Anderson said. “She’s just started to figure out how to work and she’s still getting stronger all the time. The sky is the limit. I think right now technically she can still get a lot better. And she’s going to get stronger, so it’s pretty crazy to think about how good she can be.”

Worth the ticket

Kapaun Mount Carmel freshman Alyssa Wheeler almost didn’t compete in her regional meet. She wanted to instead travel to Chicago that Friday for a national forensics tournament with her high school partner.

But her parents wanted her to compete so badly, Wheeler said her dad bought her an airplane ticket so she could do both.

Wheeler qualified and made the ticket worth it, as she cleared 11 feet in the pole vault and won the 5A championship over Salina Central’s Halie Turner on a tiebreaker.

“I’m really glad that I went now and was able to do both,” Wheeler said. “I didn’t want to leave my partner hanging, though. But this feels pretty great. I couldn’t stop smiling.”

Bad taste gone

Northwest senior Calea Carr was shocked with herself after entering as the favorite in the 6A discus and failing to make it to the finals.

“I had to throw that over my shoulder,” Carr said. “It was really shocking to perform the way that I did. I told myself that I had to come out (Saturday) and put it behind me.”

Carr did exactly that, erasing that bad memory and replacing it with one of winning the 6A shot put with a throw of 42-9 to win the competition by over three feet.

“Yesterday is yesterday and I’m going to enjoy today now,” Carr said.

Pressure’s off

Entering the season as the top returning 4A 100 hurdler, Circle’s Talia Highbarger felt a cloud of pressure hanging over her. Add in that she would be running for the state title in front of her future college coaches at Wichita State, and no doubt Highbarger was pressed to perform.

That’s why she felt a little lighter after finishing the 100 hurdles race in 15.66, securing the state championship she felt like she was supposed to win all season.

“It’s like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” Highbarger said. “I’ve had all of this pressure in the past year and it’s gone now. I felt like I had to do it and I did. It feels good.”

Back again

It was an eerie feeling for Caldwell’s Tyann Isaacs when she lined up next to Valley Heights’ Brandi Jo Roepke, the defending 1A champion in the 100.

“I remembered running against her last year in the prelims,” Isaacs said. “I got blown away.”

Isaacs, a senior, had qualified for state in the 100 all four years, but this was the first time she had made it into the final. She made it count.

In a stirring upset, Isaacs matched Roepke the first 60 meters and pulled ahead to displace the defending title holder in a time of 12.85.

“It makes everything so much sweeter,” Isaacs said. “I would do it all over again, too, if I knew my senior year I would finally win.”

Title No. 2

It might be wise to start a list for Collegiate freshman Jewell Bolden’s accomplishments at the state meet.

She started the list off this weekend with two state championships, the second coming in the 3A 100 hurdles, and another medal, placing fifth in the 200. Bolden won the hurdles race in a time of 15.12.

“I like big meets like this, they’re my favorite,” Bolden said. “I hate running in small meets. I like to see a lot of people in the stands because I like when people watch me and I can show them what I can do. It really pumps me up.”

Clutch jump

Entering her final jump of the 3A triple jump competition, Marion freshman Marissa Jacobson sat in fifth place needing to match a jump of 35-8 1/2 for the title.

She did one better. Actually one and a half better, leaping 35-10 to escape with the state title on her last jump.

“It’s an amazing experience,” Jacobson said. “I knew it was a good jump when I hit the board. I just got this feeling. It’s just very different thinking about winning (a title) and actually getting to experience it. This is so cool.”

10 more minutes of happiness

West Elk junior Sarah Hines successfully defender her state championship in the 2A 100 hurdles. But not without a challenge.

Kiowa County’s Heather Melton was neck-and-neck with Hines over the last hurdle, but Hines lunged forward at just the right time to win in 15.45 — four-hundredths of a second ahead of Melton.

“I thought about pulling a Sonny Lee,” Hines said, a reference to the West Elk graduate who famously dove across the finish line in the 2009 state meet. “I just kept thinking about wanting it more. I could see her in my peripherals and I just knew I had to push harder.

“I kept thinking after the race, ‘Did that really happen? Did I do this again?’ 

Northwest's Deron Thompson

Heights girls 400 relay

Andale boys 400 relay

Carroll's Ricky Sanchez

Maize South's Kassidy Johnson

Winfield's Josh Hanna, Riley Osen

Northwest's Mitchell Shurtz

Hutchinson's Jared Page

Hesston's Ryan Schadler

Collegiate's Jacque Williams

Trinity Academy's Tyler Burns

Medicine Lodge's Scott Beecher

Cheney's Taylor Needham

Inman's Krystal Miller

Caldwell's Tyann Isaacs

3200 relay pep talk

Carroll senior Nick Giusti, 5A 110 hurdles champ

Collegiate freshman Jewell Bolden, 3A 100 hurdles champ

Circle senior Talia Highbarger, 4A 100 hurdles champ

Berean Academy senior Gabe Holmes, 2A 110 hurdles champ

Andover Central sophomore Jordan Birch, 4A 110 hurdles champ

-- Taylor Eldridge

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