There were cooler-than expected temperatures over the final two days, and a biting wind on Saturday that hit runners just as they made the final turn and headed down the backstretch at last week’s 2021 Wyoming State High School Track & Field Championships in Casper. Good luck finding any athletes seriously complaining about the weather, though.
After all, considering last year’s meet, and the entire spring season, was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, the athletes were thankful just to have the chance to compete.
“I’m just so blessed to be out here,” said Kelly Walsh senior Darius Wiggins, who won both the Class 4A 200- and 400-meter dashes. “Last year was really tough.”
The state meet capped an exhausting final weekend of the 2020-21 school year. In addition to state track, there was state soccer in Cheyenne and state softball in Gillette. Not surprisingly, both of those state-culminating events produced their share of excitement.
In soccer, both the Rock Springs (4A) and Lander (3A) girls won their first state championships, the Jackson (4A) boys won their second consecutive title and the Worland (3A) boys extended their winning streak to 44 games with their third championship in a row.
Host Gillette won the inaugural state softball tournament, coming back through the consolation bracket to win back-to-back championship games against Cheyenne Central.
State track was a different animal, though. Soccer took place in four locations in the Capital City while softball featured just eight teams. Track, on the other hand, had hundreds of athletes across four classes competing all in one location. The fact that it went off without a major hitch is a credit to the Wyoming High School Activities Association, school officials, coaches, fans and, of course, the athletes. Granted, I did hear more than one complaint about the long line to buy state track merchandise, but given all that we’ve been through the past 14 months that hardly seems like an inconvenience.
With that out of the way, let’s take a closer look at some of the noteworthy performances from last week’s state track & field meet seeing as how that’s where I was.
Star Valley senior Peter Visser added to his ever-growing hardware collection with victories in the 800, 1600 and 3200. The three-time state cross country champion started his weekend by setting a state record in the 3200 with a time of 9 minutes, 18.79 seconds.
Cody senior pole vaulter extraordinaire Grace Shaffer also set a state record, clearing 12 feet, 6.5 inches. Shaffer finished her prep career with six pole vault state titles (three indoor, three outdoor) as well as the state record in both the indoor and the outdoor.
Southeast junior Jordan Stoddard set a 1A record in the long jump with her leap of 19-04.25.
In addition, the Jackson girls set the state record in the 1600 sprint medley (4:11.53), while the Torrington girls set the 3A record in the event and the Tongue River girls did the same in 2A.
Powered by eight individual gold medals, including three apiece from seniors Branson Robison (100, 200, 400) and Zane Horrocks (110 hurdles, 300 hurdles, pole vault), the Rocky Mountain boys won the program’s first state championship.
While the Rocky Mountain boys were claiming the program’s first state title, other programs ended lengthy title droughts. The Sheridan boys hadn’t finished on top of the podium since 1959, followed by the Powell girls (1992), the Tongue River girls (1998), the Lander boys (2005) and the Burlington boys (2010).
Conversely, the Cokeville girls won their fifth consecutive team championship and the Cheyenne Central girls won their third in a row.
Gold medal haul
Western Heritage Lutheran Academy’s Kaden Dower was dominant in the sprints and the throws as the senior won both the 100 and 200 and the shot put and discus.
The four golds capped an impressive prep career for Dower, who will play football at Chadron State College in the fall. He won the 100 all three years with WHLA and captured back-to-back state titles in the 200. Dower also was an all-state running back at Shoshoni this past season after playing the previous two years at St. Stephens.
Visser, Robison and Horrocks weren’t the only athletes to finish atop the podium in three events at the state meet. Natrona County’s Robert Douglas (100, 110 hurdles, 300 hurdles), Douglas’ Kamdynn Townsend (400, high jump, long jump) and Tongue River’s Carliegh Reish (200, high jump, long jump) and Addie Pendergast (100, 400, 800) also walked away with three golds.
Horrocks, Robison and Pendergast also were on relay teams that finished first.
Follow sports editor Jack Nowlin on Twitter @wyovarsity