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Widener enjoys being the hunted in the hurdles

Langford Area’s Zander Widener, right, leads Warner’s Landon Leidholt, left, in the boys 110 meter hurdles at the Redfield Relays. Widener is the defending State B champion in both hurdles races. Photo by John Davis taken 4/22/2021

LANGFORD – Zander Widener has gone from “horrible” to honorable in the hurdles.

The Langford Area senior will look to defend his Class B state championship in the 110-meter high hurdles and 300-meter intermediate hurdles at the state meet this weekend. While his hurdles journey has been remarkable, it has not always been smooth.

“Believe it or not, I was actually horrible at hurdles,” Widener said. “Back when I was an eighth-grader, I looked like a gazelle just trying to jump over hurdles. It was insane.”

Then, a teammate and state champion hurdler took Widener under his wing.

“Mason Larson was big part of it,” Widener said of his development in the event. “He really helped me a lot. He gave me a lot of tips and tricks of the trade, and things that really boosted my form.”

Since then, Widener has become virtually unbeatable in the hurdles.

While Widener nearly always finds a faster way to the finish line, his races are anything but conventional, according to Langford Area track and field coach Taylor Reints.

“He has good technique and he likes to live life on the edge in the hurdles. When he clears a hurdle there is no room for error with him, but that is why he is so good,” Reints said. “You will hold your breath because either the hurdle or Zander could crash and burn. He gets reckless sometimes, but when he puts it together he is the best 300-meter hurdler in the state and there’s days he the best 110-meter hurdler in the state.”

Naturally blessed with speed, Widener has tried to refine his form in the hurdles, trying to shave precious seconds off of his times. He leads Class B this season with a time of :14.94 in the 110s and :39.84 in the 300s.

“I’ve really been pushing hurdle form and getting over that first hurdle fast, and staying low and keeping my time down,” Widener said.

With little margin for error, sometimes the hurdles take a beating and sometimes Widener bares the blunt of the blows.

“I know I can fall. I know I can mess up and what not,” he said, “but I still want to stay low and have the least amount of air time as possible.”

And when Widener gets off to a solid start in a hurdles race, the rest of the field is left to battle for second place.

“If you can get over that first hurdle first, the odds that someone’s going to chase me down are zero percent,” Widener said. “If I get over that hurdle first, it’s almost game over.”

Widener set the tone for his senior season in the first meet of the year in March when he clocked Class B’s fastest time of the season in the 300s. After a year off during COVID, Widener was chomping at the bit to return to competition.

“A lot of it was nerves. I was so anxious to see what I could do and how I would compete,” Widener said of his initial outdoor meet. “I was just going to run it as fast as I could.”

Widener also plays a key role on a pair of Langford Area relays. When his competitive nature takes over and his speed kicks in, the Lions are a threat everytime they take the track.

“He could score points in multiple individual events at the state meet, but he anchors our relays and when you have someone like that in your relay, you better be getting your work done,” Reints said. “Zander has that personality that brings a lot of confidence to our team and I think that helps tremendously.”

Widener, who will compete at Mount Marty next season, believes his best days are still in front of him. He has his sights set on competing in the Olympics some day.

“That’s a big goal, but that’s something I really want to shoot for. I’ve been dreaming of it,’ he said. “That’s something I really want. I’m going to really buckle down and go as hard as I can. I think I have a lot to go still. I think I’ve barely even touched the tip of the iceberg.”

For now, Widener is focused on this weekend’s state meet and defending his hurdles titles. He admits to feeling a bit nervous, but is hoping to soon make his competitors feel uncomfortable.

“The past couple of days have been a lot of anxiousness. I am nervous. I think it’s healthy to be nervous before any big event,” Widener said. “I love the feeling of everyone’s trying to get me and I’m not going to let them. I’m just going to run as hard as I can and perform to the best of my abilities. And If they catch me, more props to them, honestly.”

Reints, for one, is hoping that Widener will perform up to his potential and provide a lasting memory for anyone watching.

“I hope people get to see what Zander can do at state. I’ve seen things in practice that I know I won’t see as a coach again with a hurdler,” Reints said. “He has the capability to put up some amazing times in the 300-meter hurdles but the perfect race still eludes him. I know one thing, whether he’s in college or hopefully the state meet, he is going to have the perfect race and I want to see that because people will walk away and remember what that looked like.”

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