Track returns after one-year hiatus

Jason Ferguson

Six hundred and seventy -six days after it last competed in a track meet, the Custer High School track team is back in action.
High school track. You remember that, yes? When Wildcat competitors last stepped onto a track for competition—May 25, 2019 at the Class A State Meet—they were on their way to a second place finish for the girls and a fifth place finish for the boys.
Since that time COVID-19 has wiped out an entire season of track and field, and now 90 Wildcat athletes are poised to pick up where they and others left off in the spring nearly two years ago.
“We had some nice days before the blizzard hit. We got a little nice weather and then we got two feet of snow and it complicated my life a lot,” Custer head coach Karen Karim said with a laugh.
Karim enters this spring as the Wildcats’ head coach for the first time, a transition that was delayed a year thanks to COVID-19.
The students participating in track are getting back into the swing of things at different paces, as some were participating in winter sports, while others were already running by March 1, the first day the state allows track practice to begin.
There will be some differences this year compared to the last time there was Class A track in South Dakota, most notably with state qualifying. Gone are the days of predetermined marks that automatically qualify an athlete for state. Instead, each event will having a rolling list of the top 24 marks throughout the season, and those top 24 in each event—regardless of time, distance, etc.—will qualify for state in that event. Only three athletes from one school can qualify in an event. This means there will be no more of the last-minute qualifications via the top-two finishers in an event at the region meet.
“I will be curious to see if we have more or fewer athletes at the state meet,” Karim said. “I think (the new qualification) should be good for us.”
While the year off will no doubt create some early-season rust and cost athletes a year of eligibility, it may not be all bad for the team. That extra year gave the athletes a chance to get bigger, faster and stronger—especially on the boys side.
“I have a bunch of kids who are juniors and seniors I’m looking for good things from,” Karim said. “They are big, mature athletes.”
On the other hand, there are athletes who were in middle school the last time they competed, and will now be thrust into high school track meets as freshmen and sophomores.
“That’s a whole different ball game,” Karim said. “We have a group of kids who don’t know a lot about high school track. I hope working through JV meets and being really patient we will be able to bring those kids around where they see some success.”
The girls team was likely poised to make a run at the state championship last year, and while some key seniors are gone, plenty of talent returns. Among those are junior Kellyn Kortemeyer, who returns as a two-time state champion in the shot put, having won the title as an eighth grader and freshman.
Also returning is fellow junior Josey Wahlstrom, who has recovered from a knee injury that kept her out of basketball this year. Wahlstrom is the defending state champion in the pole vault.
Wahlstrom was also a part of the state-champion medley relay team in 2019, as were Sydney Gaulke, Goldie Whitaker and Eva Studt, all of whom return.
Studt will be one of the returning distance runners who figure to have strong seasons, along with Kadense Dooley and Ramsey Karim, and Anna Lewis, a hurdler and jumper, is another team member Coach Karim is expecting big things from this season.
Eighth grader Jordyn Larsen appears to be another athlete to watch, as she won the 200 and also placed in the 100 and 400 in last weekend’s season-opening Rapid City Developmental Meet.
The boys team, while somewhat young, appears to be loaded, especially in the sprints, something Custer hasn’t been able to say in several years.
The Wildcats don’t return much in the way of returning state participants from 2019, but have plenty of athletes who should end up at this year’s state meet.
Among those sprinters are Daniel Sedlacek and Jace Kelley, both seniors, as well as Blake Boyster and Tony Plaisted. Gage Tennyson could also be used in the sprints, while also potentially competing in the jumping events as well.
Karim expects Mikael Grace to be strong in the hurdles for the Wildcats, and expects Sterling Sword to contribute in the sprints and relays.
Distance running should be a strong suit for Custer on the boys side, as cross country standouts Gage Grohs, Miles Ellman, Preston Drew and Kaleb Wragge are among those who will run for the Wildcats, while Karim said Justin Doyle and a few other Wildcats should be strong in the throwing events. Nolan Saufley in the sprints and jumps and Dossen Elmore in the throws and pole vaulting are other potential points scorers for the ’Cats.
Karim said she expects by the time this week’s Douglas Early Bird meet comes (tomorrow) her kids to be ready to compete.
“It remains to be seen where we will have holes or have kids step up and fill in,” she said.
Karim said while she believes both of her teams have the talent to compete for conference crowns, it could be Sturgis or Spearfish who claim the title based on sheer numbers. This year is as hard as any to predict because of the extended time between seasons.
“It’s really hard to say what those other schools will bring to the table,” she said.
Despite the layoff, Karim said, the goal, as it is every year, is to win a state championship. Setting that goal has become a tradition for the Custer program.
“That’s always the goal. Sometimes the kids will step up to what you put out there as a goal,” she said. “We hope to avoid injury, be lucky, get some good weather and get in some meets and we’ll have an idea of where we are at.”

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