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Resilient athletes turn in solid performances at Rob Luecke Invitational

Miller’s Tyra Gates, left and Aberdeen Roncalli’s Ella Ulmer, center, clear a hurdle ahead of James Valley Christian’s Jacey Wipf, right, as Ipswich’s Josie Knutson, far right, takes a tumble in the first heat of girls 100 meter hurdles Tuesday at the Rob Luecke Meet in Groton. Photo by John Davis taken 4/26/2022

GROTON – The weather was far from ideal, but track and field athletes were just happy to be outdoors competing during the Rob Luecke Invitational on Tuesday.

While the sun was out, a strong breeze and below normal temps did not supply optimal conditions. Still, athletes enjoyed having an opportunity to continue their seasons.

“We’re just grateful to be here. There’s so many (meets) getting canceled and rescheduled and postponed,” said Roncalli senior Ella Ulmer. “It might be a little chilly, but it’s nice to be able to get out and get going.”

The weather did impact Ulmer on her way to winning the 100-meter hurdles, one of the first events of the afternoon.

“It is still cold. I was having a hard time getting my steps right today,” Ulmer said. “I was trying to three-step and it was just not working. And I’m like, ‘Yep, I’m a little cold today.’ I just had to stick to four-stepping, but it worked out all right.”

Ulmer also ran on the winning 800-meter relay squad along with Jaidyn Feickert, Sarah Schmidt and Morgan Fiedler. While there may be a bit of pressure of not wanting to let down teammates, Ulmer said that is not an issue with her friends.

“They’re so loving and forgiving, so if you have a bad (race), they put up with you,” Ulmer said. “There’s not a lot a whole lot of pressure there, but of course it’s super competitive, so you always try to do your best.”

Like Ulmer, Milbank Area’s Nick Batchelor shrugged off the cool conditions of the day. He won the 1,600 and 3,200, and also ran on the winning 3,200-meter relay squad.

“I honestly, prefer, maybe not this cold, but definitely cooler weather,” Batchelor said.

Milbank’s Nick Batchelor competes in the 1600 meter run Tuesday at the Rob Luecke Meet in Groton. Photo by John Davis taken 4/26/2022

Not only that, but he understands that time is winding down on his senior season.

“This is my last year as a senior,” Batchelor said. “I’m just happy to get to as many meets as I can.”

Batchelor’s relay squad clocked the second best time in Class A so far this season. He said he knew early on that the Bulldogs had a chance to record a special time.

“Running on a team event is really fun because you get to share it with the rest of your teammates,” Batchelor said, “and I knew when our first person came in and had his best split of the year, that we were going to run a pretty good time.”

For Miller’s Jaden Werdel, the weather was a non-factor as she ran to victories in the 400-meter dash and also ran on a winning relay squad.

“Honestly, it’s about a mindset. You just have to go for it,” Werdel said. “Our coaches taught that weather isn’t a factor. I just go off of that.”

Miller’s Jaden Werdel, far right, leads the way to the finish line as she anchors a 800 meter relay Tuesday at the Rob Luecke Meet in Groton. Photo by John Davis taken 4/26/2022

Werdel had plenty of incentive for winning the 400. Her sister, Gracen, was running just two lanes beside her.

“She’s good competition for me, so I owe it to her,” Werdel said.

Werdel is a junior, while her younger sister is an eighth-grader. When asked who normally wins, the elder Werdel looked over her shoulder to see where Gracen was before responding, “I’d say usually me.”

One athlete is trying something totally new this season.

Aberdeen Christian’s Walker Larson is now running sprints instead of long distances.

The senior won his heat of the 100-meter dash and also ran a 200-meter leg on his team’s 800-meter relay.

“I did a lot of weight training over the winter months and summer months,” Larson said. “I’ve been working on my ability to sprint.”

The senior, who has competed in multiple state cross country meets, said sprints are major change of pace, but he is enjoying the new experience.

“It’s been good,” Larson said. “It’s a lot different than what I’m usually used to.”

Aberdeen Christian’s Walker Larson, center, leads Ipswich’s Kyle Hettich, right, during a heat of boys 100 meter dash Tuesday at the Rob Luecke Meet in Groton. In the race from the left: Britton-Hecla’s Ty Fagerland, Ipswich’s Casey Geditz, James Valley Christian’s Isaac Wipf, Larson, Hettich, Griggs Midkota’s Jack VenHuizen and Langford Area’s Keegan Schock. Photo by John Davis taken 4/26/2022

While the sprints are less draining, there is also less margin for error.

“It’s less hard mentally,” Larson said, “but physically you really have to get out fast.”

Roncalli had a solid day in both boys and girls divisions as the Cavaliers continue to gear up for the back half of the season.

“Overall, we had a very successful day today. We’re continuing to see improvements, lots of personal best performances, and seeing just some toughness and competitiveness from our athletes,” said Roncalli coach Mark Stone. “As we approach May, we’re just trying to get a handle on who should be in what events and where we have the best chance to succeed and be successful as a team.”

Ulmer was named the Rob Luecke Most Valuable Hurdler and Fiedler was named the Dick Donovan Most Valuable Field Event performer.

Christian received a first place finish from Joy Rohrbach as she edged teammate Shawnteah La Croix in the 100-meter dash.

“It was great to see Joy healthy today. It’s so fun to see those two running together,” said Knights coach Sam Bjorkman. “Totally different runners; both fast. Shawnteah is tall and has huge strides. Joy is explosive and a good accelerator.”

Bjorkman also pointed out the efforts of distance runner Holden Bartel who ran a 5:18 in the 1,600 and an 11:15 in the 3,200.

“It seems like the farther he goes, the better he gets,” Bjorkman said. “He’s developing consistency and just seeing him develop and mature as a competitor is really what we want this year.”

The Ipswich boys’ 400-meter relay team ended up breaking a school record with a time of :44.21 led by Ty Kadlec who was named the Male Most Valuable Performer after he also won the 100, 200 and ran on the winning 800-meter relay squad.

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