The Smith-Cotton track and field team is preparing to go where no Tigers have gone since 2010.
Senior Jacob Lamb qualified for the state track and field meet in the 800 and Tigers’ relay teams are state-bound in the 4x400 and 4x800.
It is the first time since Andrew Byrd qualified in the 400 in 2010 that the Tigers will be represented at state, and the team is hoping for its first trip to the medal podium since 2009, when Blake Price took seventh in the discus and Sheraden Staten was eighth in the 110 hurdles.
“It’s just been a lot of preparation and focusing on our posture and just being prepared and staying relaxed,” said senior Kylen Williams. “State’s a big deal, so I just want to stay relaxed, run our race. I think we’re all just going to be fine.”
In the 4x800, Lamb and Williams are joined by fellow seniors Brady Ritzert and Luke Rosendale. The 4x400 is likely to include Lamb, Rosendale, senior David Desmond and freshman Luke Guier.
After a season of running together, Lamb said the relay teams feel like family.
“We all know what we are capable of and we expect a lot out of each other,” Rosendale said. “I’m pretty comfortable running with all of them.”
Coach Brad Hagedorn said that is the result of finding the right mix of athletes.
“As coaches, we monitor that very closely throughout the season,” Hagedorn said. “If we don’t think we can trust a kid, we will not put them on there. The kid’s got to get by us before he’s even mixed into a group because of what’s at stake.”
Williams said he really started to notice the teamwork when the 4x800 team took first in the West Central Conference meet earlier this month in Warrensburg.
“I think we always have a good chemistry because we’ve run a lot of races together, and in practice we work out together,” he said.
In the 4x800, the Tigers took third in the sectional with a time of 8:15.30, beating their seed time by more than five seconds. The 4x400 team also took third at sectional with a time of 3:27.88.
“We want to run a season-best,” Hagedorn said. “We’ve been high 3:26 once and 3:27 twice. I think we’re ready for a breakthrough. I think we can knock several seconds off of that. We’ve never had all four run hot and run a (personal record) at the same time. I think if we all run our season best, we can knock several seconds off of that.”
Lamb’s sectional time in the 800 of 2:01.44 was slower than the sectional times for 15 runners from other sectionals, but Hagedorn attributes that to a slower pace in Lamb’s race.
“There’s nothing I have seen that he won’t PR and make the final eight,” Hagedorn said.
Not knowing how fast the other heat on Friday will be, Lamb said he hopes to finish in the top two of his heat to automatically pass him through to Saturday’s final.
“Right now I’m just looking at the prelims and just taking it one race at a time,” he said. “I’m trying to win the heat, but there are a lot of fast guys in both heats.”
Lamb said he hopes to lock on to the leaders from the start, a strategy that led to his win at the WCC meet.
“I think I’m starting in the eighth lane, so what I’m going to do is get out fast, which I usually do, and then just lock onto his back and stay with that first group the whole time,” he said.
During Lamb’s freshman year in Oregon, he only ran the 400. When he moved to Sedalia as a sophomore, he began with the 400 and added the 800 near the end of the season.
“I always tried to be a sprinter, but I don’t really have the body type for it,” he said. “I’m not powerful enough. I have the speed but there are other guys (with more).”
He found that he had more endurance than the sprinters, and began running the 200 before finding the 400, which he calls “the perfect race.”
“I just love that race,” he said. “It’s the perfect length and it’s a man’s race. The 100 guys can’t do it. They don’t understand. They’re rabbits. They try to sprint at the beginning and then halfway through they’re like ‘Whoa, that’s a bad idea.’ That’s where I come in. I’m still a little bit slower at the beginning and then just destroy them on the back and in the finish.”
But it’s the 800 where Lamb has made his mark this season.
“He just wants to win,” Hagedorn said. “He’s the hardest worker we’ve got in practice. He busted his hump all winter. He’s put in the mileage and the work to get to where he is.”
The schedule for the state meet has Lamb’s prelim in the 800 scheduled for 4:45 p.m. Friday, with the 4x400 prelim slated for 6:30 p.m. On Saturday, the 4x800 final is scheduled for noon with the 800 final at 2:55 p.m. and the 4x400 final at 4:10 p.m.
That could result in a lot of down time.
“I don’t like guys sitting around all day and then warming up to run one race,” Hagedorn said. “I want them engaged all day.”
At the sectionals, the Tigers spent some of that down time by traveling down the street to the middle school track to run.
“We were supposed to run at 5:35. Well, at 4 we went down there and ran a simulated race with three or four of the kids who had been sitting around all day just to get engaged and involved,” Hagedorn said. “It helped us, because they all ran really well in the 4x400.”
Hagedorn plans to do the same at the state meet, using the alternates on each relay team.
Though the state meet will be a new experience for these Tigers, they have run at big meets in the past, like the invitational at the University of Kansas.
“They understand what a big stage is like,” Hagedorn said. “They’re not going to be wide-eyed when they get down there because we have prepared them for that situation. They will be keyed up, but they have stepped up and performed every time they needed to, so I don’t have any worries about that.”
The Tigers have approached the week leading up to the state meet with their usual focus in practice.
“It’s pretty serious, but relaxed at the same time,” Rosendale said. “We just want to get in the work so we can do well.”
It’s that focus that has helped them after good showings at the WCC and district meets.
“Everybody was excited after we won conference, so we celebrated that day and then it was back to work,” Hagedorn said. “We had a great district meet and we celebrated that day and it was back to work.”
The state meet will get under way Friday and continue Saturday at Lincoln University’s Dwight T. Reed Stadium in Jefferson City.
“We deserve to be here and we put in a lot of work this season,” Williams said. “We’re ready to go. The records show that we’ve done pretty good.”
Smith-Cotton at state meet
Friday and Saturday at Lincoln University in Jefferson City