Spring sports are winding down here in Iowa, and although it feels as though spring has just started, the NHS sports teams are rapidly approaching their postseasons.
This afternoon, the Newton boys and girls track teams will head to Johnston to compete in their regional/district meet for a chance to send some of their more outstanding competitors to the state finals in Des Moines.
The boys team, which sent several competitors to Des Moines to compete in the Drake Relays in April, has high hopes for several competitors in both the track and the field events, and despite the shortened season, coach Tom Bartello is happy with the progress of his team to this point.
“We have definitely met expectations,” Bartello said. “It’s been a challenging season. We have had four out of our 10 outdoor meets canceled with no makeup. But all in all, I’m pretty pleased with the boys’ attitude and work ethic.”
Senior Derrick Hurt is currently second in the state in Class 4A for the shot put with his throw of 56 feet, 3.75 inches at the aforementioned Drake Relays at the end of April. He will be the top-ranked thrower in both the shot and the discus at his district site. Hurt has steadily improved all season, and when the pressure was on him most at Drake, he set personal bests in four consecutive throws.
Senior Dakota Hills will also be one of the Cards to watch for a state qualifying spot in both the long jump and the 400-meter dash. Hills will be the second-ranked competitor in Class 4A at Johnston for the long jump with jump of 21 feet even back in the beginning of April. Hills will also be the fifth-ranked qualifier in the 400 with a time of 51.22 seconds.
Hurt and Hills were expected to excel this season for the Cardinals, but the team had several boys perform far and above what their coaches expected.
Sophomore Deonne Harris has been sensational in the 110-hurdles for Newton. He held the top spot in qualifying all the way up until May 2, when Lucas Tang from West Des Moines Valley narrowly eclipsed his time. Still, Harris will be one of the favorites to qualify for a spot at state. Also, Cody Maxwell has excelled in his first year on the track. Maxwell runs the opening leg for the third-qualifying Cardinal 4x400 team that also includes Hills, Andrew Clements and Jarom Williams. Maxwell and Harris also run the final two legs for the third ranked-qualifying shuttle hurdle relay team
“Deonne has really popped this year,” Bartello said. “He was injured last year, and he has really come on since being healthy. He’s been fun to watch. And Cody has been fantastic in his first year on the track for our relay teams. It’s his final semester, and he didn’t want to spend it just sitting around. We’re very fortunate to have him.”
For the girls, there has been a bit of a younger flavor as far as top competitors are concerned, which has come as quite a pleasant surprise to coach Rachel Tomas.
“The girls have done very well,” Tomas said. “They have improved every meet. We just never settle. We jus have to keep pushing and keep doing better.”
The first standout freshman for the Cardinals has been sprinter Sydney Jenkins. Jenkins is the fifth ranked qualifier in Johnston for the 200 with a time of 27.37, less than two seconds behind the top-ranked qualifier. Jenkins also qualified second in the 400 at 1:00.10. Another one of the impressive freshman has been Leela Spencer. Spencer’s time of 13.97 seconds in the 100 puts her in the 22nd spot at Johnston. Spencer and Jenkins also run on the fourth ranked qualifying 800 medley relay team.
“Sydney has been solid all season long,” Tomas said. “She has been great for us. Also, Leela has been another good freshman sprinter for us.”
Even with Jenkins and Spencer flashing speed for the Cardinals, the strength of the girls team is definitely in the distance events, where freshman Grace Coen has blown everyone away. Coen is the team’s fastest qualifier in the 800, the 1,500 and the 3,000. She has the third spot in the 800 at Johnston with a time of 2:17.25, the top spot in the 1,500 with a time of 4:40.45, and she is third in the 3,00 as well with a time of 10:45.07. Coen also anchors the top-qualifying 1,600 medley relay team.
“Grace has been great for us,” Tomas said. “She’s one of the girls we expect to send to state.”
Other potential state competitors for Newton include throwers Michaela Bleeker and Sarah Kalkhoff. Kalkhoff took sixth in the discus at Drake and has since improved her sixth place throw with a throw of 133-9 at Oskaloosa at the end of April. She is the top-ranked qualifier in Johnston for the disc. Bleeker is also a top-ranked thrower for the Cards. Her shot put throw of 35-6 leads the qualifiers by five inches.
Events begin tonight at 4 p.m. at Johnston High School.