DES MOINES — Ask any track athlete in an Iowa High School what their goal is and you will quickly hear the words “blue oval.”
The famed surface at Drake Stadium hosts the state meet, and Thursday’s Class 3A session included seven Perry athletes competing in five different events.
“Nothing beats this,” Bluejay senior Jacob Thompson said after running the lead leg of the 4×800. “Last year we (the relay) didn’t make it, so our goal this year was to make it here and then place (a top eight spot). We didn’t place, but to end your senior year by running at state is a good feeling.”
Thompson, younger brother Zach, senior Alex Long and freshman Kaleb Olejniczak entered the state meet as the 18th seed with a time of 8 minutes, 29.49 seconds. On Thursday the foursome clocked in at 8:30.12 to finish as the 18th seed.
Perry would almost certainly have run at least a second or two faster had not Long — and three other runners — been interfered with on the first exchange. Long took the baton from Jacob Thompson, and, just as he was beginning to reach full speed, had to join several other runners in dodging a lead runner who stepped into their path after his hand off.
“I don’t know that it necessarily broke my stride, but we did have to suddenly go around the guy and then keep going, so maybe it did cost a second or two,” Long said. “It was not time we were looking at, it was a place, and we didn’t get it.”
Jacob Thompson and Olejniczak (the third runner) both ran personal-best split times in the relay, with the former clocking in at just under 2:05 and the latter at just under 2:08 for their 800-meter legs.
Sophomore Reece Dunlap competed twice for the Bluejays, finishing 20th in the 100 dash in 11.7 seconds and 23rd in the 200 in 23.35. As was the case for most of the session, both of Dunlap’s heats were run into a strong headwind.
“Reece is not a big guy and he is just a sophomore and still has to develop his strength,” Perry boys head coach Ben Coy said. “In both races he was running against upperclassmen who were bigger and stronger, and when you are dealing with that kind of headwind — which he had not faced all year — it can make a difference.
“He still has two more years to be running down there and now he knows what he needs to do,” the coach added. “I am confident we will see him here again in several events.”
Adan Medina finished 21st in the 400 dash after making a circuit in an even 52 seconds.
“I wanted to break 51 (seconds) and get in the 50’s but I didn’t run my best today,” the junior said. “Everyone here is very fast, and I knew I had to give it everything and I just didn’t have my legs today.”
Dunlap will lead, and Medina will anchor, Friday’s 4×400, which will run shortly after 2 p.m. Alexis Garrido will handle second-leg duties, with Jose Castellanos running the third leg.
Junior Emma Olejniczak was the lone Jayette in action Thursday. She returned to run the 400 at state after having done so two years ago as a freshman. In 2014 she turned in a 1:04.54; on Thursday her time was 1:04.36, good enough to improve from the 24th seed to 21st place.
She said the headwind definitely played a factor in her race.
“I was shooting for a 1:02, but then I hit that wind coming out of the last turn and it got really hard,” she explained. “I felt I was on pace (for a 1:02), but the wind bothered me.”
“Emma got out to a strong start in her first 300 meters, but that wind was not easy to run against,” Jayette head coach Matt Hardy said. “I thought the way she was going we were looking at a high 1:02, but the final 50 meters or so was pretty tough on her.”
Olejniczak made her circuit running alongside the wall in lane eight, and experience she enjoyed.
“It really helped because you can really here the fans cheering, and even if they aren’t cheering for you it is extra motivation,” she said.
The junior also said he enjoyed watching younger brother Kaleb compete earlier in the afternoon.
“It was awesome watching him,” she smiled. “Now I have someone to compete against, because I know he is going to be here all four years so now I have to make sure I am, too.”
Senior Taylor Lathrum will be the first thrower in the 3A shot put Friday, which begins at 9 a.m. Along with the boys 4×400, they are the only Perry events in day two of the meet.
Should the 4×400 qualify for the finals, they will run in the next-to-last event of the meet Saturday afternoon at approximately 4:15 p.m.