Is 2016 the best season in the history of Minnesota high school girls track and field? There is evidence to support that statement, and much of it was on display Friday evening at the Hamline Elite Meet.
The 11th annual Elite Meet – held in St. Paul at Hamline University’s Klas Field, the site of the MSHSL state championships June 10-11 – brought together a field of dominant female athletes. It included state champions in every individual footrace and most of the other events.
That’s right, at every distance from 100 meters to 3,200 meters, including hurdles races of 100 and 300 meters, at least one defending state champion was in the girls field for every race. The same held true for two of the four girls relay races and four of the six field events.
“Each year with the Elite Meet you can kind of pick out a particular event,” said Scott Stallman, who coached track and cross-country at Chaska High School for 36 years before retiring in 2011 and now works as a meet official as well as the stadium announcer at the Elite Meet and the MSHSL championships. “A year or so ago it was the boys 1,600 and it was going to be a premier event, it was a who’s who. But this year every event was like that. You just could go down the list.”
And here’s even more proof of the quality of female track and field athletes we’re seeing right now: The Elite Meet field included three girls who already own all-time state records. Those record holders are …
--Wayzata senior Ruby Stauber, whose time of 2:06.50 from last season is the state record in the 800 meters. She has signed with Louisiana State.
--Thief River Falls senior Meleah Biermaier, who set a state record of 42.13 seconds in the 300-meter hurdles at the 2015 state meet. She has signed with Minnesota.
--Rochester Century senior Andrianna Jacobs is a three-time state champ in the pole vault who set the state record of 13 feet, 7 ¼ inches last season and came into 2016 as the best female high school pole vaulter in the nation. She has signed with Nebraska.
Those three athletes won those events Friday at Hamline, and they have a lot of company among some of the most dominant female track and field athletes Minnesota has seen in a long time. Let’s run down the list …
--Chanhassen senior Jedah Caldwell, the defending state champion in the 100 and 200, won both events at the Elite Meet.
--Bloomington Kennedy junior Honour Finley won the 400 at state last year and did the same at the Elite Meet.
--Alexandria senior Bethany Hasz won the Elite Meet 1,600, adding to a resume that includes state titles in the 1,600 and 3,200 and two cross-country state championships. (Her twin sister Megan, who holds one cross-country state crown and state-meet medals in the 1,600 and 3,200, did not run Friday because of an injury.)
--Forest Lake senior Emma Benner (pictured above) won the Elite Meet title in the 3,200, outlasting two extremely young state champs. Finishing second was Winona Cotter seventh-grader Grace Ping (last fall’s Class 1A cross-country state champion); third was Breck eighth-grader Morgan Richter, the 2015 1A state champ in the 3,200.
--The girls 100-meter hurdles field Friday included two state champs and a state runner-up. The winner was East Ridge senior and defending 2A champ Karina Joiner. Staples-Motley junior Millie Klefsass (the 2015 1A state runner-up) was fifth and Biermaier was sixth.
--In the relays, defending state championship teams from St. Michael-Albertville (4x100) and Waconia (4x200) won Elite Meet titles. Pequot Lakes, the defending state champ in Class 1A, placed sixth in the 4x400.
--Along with Jacobs in the pole vault, other defending state champs in field events Friday were Eden Prairie senior Ashley Ramacher (high jump), Jordan junior Jenna Kess (1A champ in the triple jump) and Eastview senior Natalie Manders in the discus.
There are 18 events in Minnesota high school track and field, and 10 of the state records on the girls side were set from 2013 to 2015. (On the boys side, four state records were set during that time.) Two of the oldest girls records were broken last year: Stauber broke the 1984 record in the 800 set by Blooming Prairie’s Jeanne Kruckeberg and Biermaier broke the 1987 mark in the 300 hurdles set by Roseau’s Liesa Brateng in 1987.
“There’s no question” that this is the best era in Minnesota girls track and field history, said Stallman, who began his high school coaching career in 1975, three years after girls track became an MSHSL sport.
“I go back to the very beginning of girls track and this is by far the best era that I can remember,” he said. “There was a time, maybe in the mid ‘80s, where they looked pretty strong. But there’s been nothing like this, top to bottom.”
Kennedy’s Finley is following in the fast footsteps of one of the state’s top all-time sprinters, who also went to Kennedy. Vanessa Clarida, a 2004 graduate, was a ninth-grader in 2001 when she set state records in the 200 (23.93) and 400 (54.36). Those are currently the oldest girls state records on the books.
Pete Svien, who has been the girls track coach at Kennedy since 1998, coached Clarida back then and coaches Finley now. He wouldn’t be surprised if Finley breaks Clarida’s state record in the 400.
“I think the 400 is Honour’s sweet spot,” he said. “She’s got something special, that’s for sure. If I had to predict, I would say if we have a good day Vanessa’s record in the 400 will be gone by the end of the season.”
Weather can be a huge factor in record-setting track and field performances, and Friday’s conditions at Hamline were nearly perfect. Eleven meet records were established on an evening with temperatures in the upper 50s, clear skies and little wind.
Clarida set her state records on a hot day at the 2001 MSHSL track and field meet. If similar conditions are present at the 2016 meet on June 10-11, expect big things.
“If we get some heat,” Svien said, “that state meet is going to be a barn burner, that’s for sure.”
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 654
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 10,255