By Matt Bunke, Community Editor
The Watertown-Mayer girls’ track and field team traveled with only a small contingent to the Minnesota Class A state track and field meet last week at Hamline University in St. Paul, but they made their presence felt in a big way.
The Royals had a total of five girls competing in four events, but those athletes posted enough points to finish in second place as a team and miss tying for the state title by a single point. The Royals won state titles in two events, both with times that shattered the previous school records, and got three personal bests at the meet. Of the Royals’ four events, they didn’t finish lower than fourth in any of them.
"The kids did really well," Watertown-Mayer co-head coach Rich Winter said. "I don’t think we could have gotten anything more out of them."
After the Royals cruised through prelims on Friday afternoon, the real fun began on Saturday, when senior Marissa Janning won a state title in the 300-meter hurdles and also led off the Royals’ 4×800 meter state championship relay team, which also included eighth-grader Katie Heilman, sophomore Liz Miller and junior Hannah Johnson. Freshman Caitlin Duske also netted a third-place finish in the triple jump for the Royals, and Heilman finished third in the 400 meters. It all added up to 38 points on the day, just one short of state champion Blake School, which came out of the same section as Watertown-Mayer.
"We knew we had shot of being in the 30s, but you never know what everybody else is going to bring," Winter said. "Blake is in our section, so that was kind of nice for our section getting 1-2 overall."
Ironically, the Royals finished better at the state meet than they did at the section meet, when they finished third. However, Winter said his team never fares as well at smaller meets that emphasize team depth as they do at much larger meets, where a few strong events carry much more weight.
"We didn’t have very many kids," so they knew they needed to perform," Winter said.
The Royals got the day off to a fantastic start on Saturday with the day’s first event, the 4×800-meter relay. There are no Friday prelims for that event, but this year, for the first time, the finals were run as two heats. The Royals shattered their own school record – which they had set at the section meet with a time of 9:41.47 – by finishing with a time of 9:31.06 at state and winning the event by almost 9 seconds over Adrian.
Interestingly enough, the Royals actually won their own heat – which featured all the fastest qualifying times from sections – by about 14 seconds over Park Rapids Area. Adrian ran in the second heat for the slower qualifying times, but still finished in second place.
The Royals also shifted the order of their runners for the state meet, moving Janning, the team’s most experienced veteran and state participant, into the leadoff spot, and putting Johnson as the anchor. Heilman and Miller ran the middle two legs. Winter said the shift was intended to give the Royals an early lead, which it did.
"We figured that our most experienced runner would run strong, give us a good start, and try to take other teams out of it a little bit," Winter said. "That way they had to start worrying about who was coming up behind them instead of trying to catch us."
For Janning, capping her incredible athletic career at Watertown-Mayer with a state relay title apparently wasn’t enough, so she went out and added another title in the 300-meter hurdles with yet another school record time. Janning had broken her own record at the section meet with a time of 46.85 seconds, but ran the state finals in 45.39 seconds. She won by about a quarter of a second over Jaelin Beachy of Staples Motley.
Making Janning’s two-championship performance even more impressive is the fact that the reigning Ms. Basketball in Minnesota spent the last week leading up to the meet in Omaha, Neb., preparing to join the Creighton women’s basketball team rather than preparing for the state track meet. Winter said it was fitting for Janning – whose standout athletic career actually began for him as one of the state’s best cross country runners in seventh grade – to end her career with a state title.
"Marissa was there to race," Winter said. "It was an unbelievable effort. She ran smooth and strong and didn’t stumble on any hurdles."
While competing at state was nothing new for Janning, who has competed at state competitions in three different sports, it was the first state track and field appearance for Duske and Heilman. Heilman, just an eighth grader, actually was making her second state appearance overall after qualifying in gymnastics in the winter.
Both budding stars posted strong showings. Duske finished third in the triple jump with a distance of 36-feet-2.5-inches, and Heilman finished fourth in the 400 meters with a personal best time of 58.72 seconds after running 1:00.52 at sections. Duske’s triple jump was not technically a personal best, but Winter said it was probably the best jump of her career.
"Caitlin has the school record in triple jump," Winter said. "She had a wind-aided one earlier in the year, so this is probably her best jump without a wind."
Duske finished 17 inches behind state champion Hailey Brinkman of Melrose, and Heilman was about 2 seconds behind champion AnnMarie Healy of Providence Academy in the 400. Winter also noted that Heilman, though the youngest and least experienced of the Royals’ state qualifiers, made great strides to finish where she did in the 400 meters.
"She’s still learning how to run it," Winter said. "She’s improved her running strategy the last two races in the 400."
Watertown-Mayer also had a number of boys’ competing at the state meet, including Nick Hix, Dan Raiter, Matt Scanlon and Drew Walstrom in the 4×200 meter relay. The squad competed in prelims on Saturday, but fell short of qualifying for the finals and ultimately finished in 11th place with a time of 1:34.79.
"The boys didn’t run their best, but they were happy to make it," Winter said.
Hunter Hulley also competed in the high jump for the Royal boys’ team. He cleared 5-feet-10 inches.
"That is about what he had been doing pretty much all year," Winter said. "It wasn’t his best, but he did well. The boys are hungry, and they want to come back."