Track and field is, in its purest form, an individual activity. Relay races are an important part of the sport, of course, but even in those events each athlete runs as one until handing off the baton.
Continuing down this train of track thought, the question is sometimes asked: Why is high school track and field split into classes? There are two classes in Minnesota, which seems about right. This spring for girls and boys there are 129 teams in Class 2A and 233 in Class 1A, and the best of the bunch will culminate the season with the state championships June 8-9 at Hamline University’s Klas Field in St. Paul.
The debate about classes is not new, no matter the individual sport being discussed: wrestling, swimming and diving, tennis, cross-country, golf, etc. One thing is certain, however, and that is the delight taken by fans of small schools when their kids come out on top in competition with kids from the big schools.
Friday night’s Hamline Elite Meet, the biggest gathering of track and field’s regular season, has been a showcase for 13 years at Klas Field. It’s a splendid concept, bringing together the best from across the state regardless of school size.
The superstars were out in force. The top individual performance this year was by Edina senior Emily Kompelien, who won the girls 800- and 1,600-meter titles over very strong fields.
Other large-school stars included North St. Paul’s Shaliciah Jones, who won the 100 meters and ran a leg on the Polars’ championship 4x100 relay with Brianna Bixby, Jebeh Cooke and J'Ianna Cager. Hopkins’ Joe Fahnbulleh won the 200 and anchored the Royals’ winning 4x100 and 4x200 relay teams (the 4x100 unit was Tyrone Bennett, George Jackson, King Allah and Fahnbulleh, and the 4x200 team was Allah, Jaylen Champion, Sam Leervig and Fahnbulleh). Minnetonka won the girls 4x200 and 4x800 relays.
But kids from small schools made their presence known. Of the 36 events at the Hamline Elite Meet, six were won by Class 1A athletes. They included Martin LaFond of Perham in the boys long jump, Samuel Moore of Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale in the boys shot put, Robbie Grace of Blake in the girls long jump and Fairmont’s Allison Lardy in the girls shot put.
Two other small-school kids took different routes to Elite Meet championships. One is well-known to track and field fans and one is a virtual unknown … or was until Friday night. Both are three-sport athletes.
Mitchell Weber (pictured) is a senior from St. Clair (enrollment 180 in grades nine through 12). He became a state champion as a ninth-grader when he won the Class 1A title in the discus and placed second in the shot put. After sweeping both titles as a sophomore, he was plagued by a wrist injury last year but still finished second in the discus and third in the shot put at state.
Mitchell won the discus Friday night and placed fourth in the shot put (won by Moore). His discus distance was 171 feet, 4 inches; that’s his season-best but the season has not been great. Because of the cold, wet, snowy spring, the Elite Meet was only Weber’s third competition of the year.
“It’s been God-awful,” said Weber, who also has played football and basketball during high school. “I haven’t really thrown shot great this year, either. It’s really frustrating because I have some bigger goals for myself, to try and go on to juniors and also qualify for worlds. It’s kind of frustrating that I haven’t been able to get outside, it makes it a lot harder. Hopefully I can just kick it down and really get to work.”
The work will continue next year at the University of Missouri. Weber signed with the Tigers after also considering Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota State and North Dakota (where his sister Katelyn is a senior thrower). Mitchell wore a knit cap that resembled a Tiger before, between and after his events Friday, along with red, white and blue shorts.
The newcomer is Mora senior Cal Wright (pictured), who is in only his second full season as a track and field athlete. He gave up baseball as a sophomore and was spending time in the weight room before Mustangs coach Chris Goebel convinced him to give track a try.
Wright, who has never competed at the state track meet, won the boys 400 meters Friday, placed third in the 200 and seventh in the 100 in an astonishing bright-lights debut.
“He’s a 4.0 student,” Goebel said. “He does everything coaches ask. He’s involved in everything; football, basketball, track. Great kid, great leader.”
Wright is such a track newbie that he had never even competed in a preliminary race until Friday, running only in small meets with all-finals formats. The only events at the Elite Meet that use prelims are the girls and boys 100-meter races; 18 runners qualify and the top nine advance through prelims to the final.
Two springs ago, Goebel sent Cal an email. "I said, ‘Hey, you’re not going out for a sport this spring. This is what I think you can do.’ Winning the Elite Meet was not in there, but I told him, ‘I think you could go to state, I think you could be all-conference, I think this could be a sport for you.’ ”
The coach was correct.
“Track is amazing,” Wright said. “It’s a team sport yet it’s individual, as well. You can worry about yourself but you’ve got to put the team first. It’s a great experience.
“These are the fastest runners in the state at every position. It’s great competition, it’ll make each and every one of us better. It’s great to compete against these guys.”--To see a photo gallery, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
HAMLINE ELITE MEET
100/ Shaliciah Jones, North St. Paul
200/ Kendra Kelley, Cloquet
400/ Claire Howell, Moorhead
800/ Emily Kompelien, Edina
1,600/ Emily Kompelien, Edina
3,200/ Emily Covert, Minneapolis Washburn
100 hurdles/ Shae Buchman, Rosemount
300 hurdles/ Natalie Windels, Eagan
4x100/ North St. Paul (Brianna Bixby, Shaliciah Jones, Jebeh Cooke, J'Ianna Cager)
4x200/ Minnetonka (Ashley Shields, Olivia O'Brien, Faith Robinson, Emma Harrison)
4x400/ Anoka (Aidan Senior, Sydney Paulson, Noelle Josephson, Taylor Krone)
4x800/ Minnetonka (Annalise Johnson, Grace Hoelscher, Elizabeth Halbmaier, Kylie Melz)
High jump/ Madison Schmidt, Blaine
Pole vault/ Julia Fixsen, Mounds View
Long jump/ Robbie Grace, Blake
Triple jump/ Allyson Weiss, East Ridge
Shot put/ Allison Lardy, Fairmont
Discus/ Cayle Hovland, Willmar
100/ Keylan Jackson, St. Paul Johnson
200/ Joe Fahnbulleh, Hopkins
400/ Cal Wright, Mora
800/ John Starkey, Chaska
1,600/ Addison Stansbury, Stillwater
3,200/ Maxwell Manley, Edina
110 hurdles/ Jonathan Mann, Rosemount
300 hurdles/ Tyler Sealock, Osseo
4x100/ Hopkins (Tyrone Bennett, George Jackson, King Allah, Joe Fahnbulleh)
4x200/ Hopkins (King Allah, Jaylen Champion, Sam Leervig, Joe Fahnbulleh)
4x400/ Mounds View (Jared Herbert, Micah Smith, Josh Sampson, Lukas Hessini)
4x800/ Stillwater (John Degonda, Dylan Olson, Braden Hilde, Isaac Krahn)
High jump/ Xavier Thurman, St. Michael-Albertville
Long jump/ Martin LaFond, Perham
Pole vault/ Calvin Ciganik, Mounds View
Triple jump/ Ian Fosdick, Mahtomedi
Shot put/ Samuel Moore, Bertha-Hewitt
Discus/ Mitchell Weber, St. Clair