Boys second, girls third at state track meet

Jason Ferguson

Heading into the start of last weekend’s South Dakota State Class A Track Meet, Custer head coach Karen Karim said Sioux Falls Christian’s head coach told her he hadn’t even considered the Custer High School boys in his calculations for teams that could challenge his Chargers for the team title.
He probably should have.
The Wildcat boys gave the Chargers all they wanted and more in the team race, falling to the Chargers by a mere two points—68-66—on their way to a second-place finish at the meet, which was held in Sioux Falls.
“We led the first two days. We almost stole the show. We weren’t really on anybody’s radar,” Karim said. “I knew what our potential was.”
The meet came down to the final race, the 1600 relay, in which the Chargers came in seeded first. The Chargers lived up to that billing, winning the event just ahead of Ethan-Parkston, while the Custer team of Drew Lehman, Cade Lehman, Mical Grace and Sam Gaulke finished in third at 3:29.06.
“If we had been one place behind (the Chargers) we would have tied for the state (team) championship,” Karim said. “It was very exciting.”
While Karim said it’s easy to say the boys lost the team title on the last race, there are plenty of places during any state meet you can point to where you lost a point or two or gained a point or two you shouldn’t have.
“Overall, we had a great state meet,” she said.
Cade Lehman brought home Custer’s lone gold medal, winning the triple jump with a top leap of 44-10 3/4. It was his third jump of the preliminaries that proved to be the winning jump.
“It’s kind of unreal,” Lehman said of the championship. “All the work that was put into it, I didn’t know if something would come out of it. It’s nuts.”
Lehman jumps from the 40-foot board during the competition, and said when he gets four or five feet into the pit, he knows he hit a big jump.
Among those on his heels in the event were his older brother Drew, who finished in third at 43-10 3/4. Cade admits his big brother beating him was on his mind.
“I was like if he gets a good one and everything is right in this jump he has a chance of beating me,” he said.
Cade said he is glad he ended up with bragging rights—in this event, at least.
“He was talking a lot of trash before,” he said with a laugh. “He can’t talk it anymore since I beat him.”
Lehman, who will help lead a strong basketball team next fall as well, said triple jump is something he will work on this summer along with hoops, focusing on getting, faster, stronger and improving his technique.
“Hopefully I stay healthy throughout the next year to be able to perform at state,” he said.
The Custer boys had a handful of second-place finishes, including Cade Lehman in the long jump with a top leap of 21-8. He led the long jump until the final jump of the final competitor.
Roland Sedlacek continued to improve upon his school record in the javelin on his way to a second-place finish in that event with a top throw of 157-5.
Carter Tennyson finished second in the high jump, regaining his midseason form on his way to clearing 6-5, which ties his personal and school record, and Robbie Emery brought home second in the pole vault with a top height of 14-3.
The Wildcats got two individual sixth-place finishes, as Mical Grace ran his fastest 300 hurdles ever in the final race of his career, finishing at 41.43. Sean Shipp ran his way to a sixth-place finish in the 3200 despite a stacked field in a time of 9:41.66, which was a personal record.
Custer’s final points came in the medley relay, as Danny Immormino, Sedlacek, Gaulke and Drew Lehman posted a time of 3:38.97.
“I was very proud of the way the boys competed. We lose some seniors out of the squad but we have some younger kids who we can come back and reload with,” Karim said, adding she hopes to get a few more boys who saw the team’s success this year to come out next year. “We have a state championship team walking the halls of Custer High School.”
On the girls side, Custer’s lone state champion was the obvious one, as Ciana Stiefel won the pole vault by almost a foot, nearly coming in at the height (11-7) that the second-place finisher was able to clear before hitting the bar three times (11-10).
Stiefel, who was named the outstanding girls field competitor at the meet, ended up clearing 12-7 to win her second consecutive championship in the event.
“It feels really good. I’m glad I could repeat and defend my title,” she said.
If there was any pressure for Stiefel to perform this year it was self-applied, she said, as she pushes herself to go higher and higher.
Despite the relative lack of competition at the meet, Stiefel said she is in the same mental state regardless of what the competitors around her are doing.
“I focus on the height and the same things even if (second place) was still in the competition,” she said.
Karim lauded Stiefel’s ability to vault her best on the biggest stage, pointing out Stiefel’s success at the state meet and large meets such as the Howard Wood Dakota Relays, when the vaulters are in the center of the field for all to see.
“She puts her best foot forward and puts on a show for people,” she said. “Everyone is watching and she hits it. That’s pretty awsome.”
Stiefel agreed that the bigger meets bring out the best in her.
“Having that environment of everyone watching me and enjoying when I jump is something I thrive on,” she said. “It pushes me. I like to have them enjoy it as much as I do when I make the bar.”
Stiefel worked her way through a pole change midway through the year so that she is able to achieve higher heights, a pole she said that eventually will help her get over 13 feet, and ideally, 14 feet.
Stiefel will compete in the USA Track and Field series throughout the summer, as well as attending either the Adidas Outdoor Championships or New Balance Outdoor Championships.
Pole vault is now a family affair, as her younger sisters Kelsey and Tenlee have also taken to pole vault and are looking to close the gap between themselves and big sister.
Ciana is well aware of their potential.
“They are coming for me so I have to set it (school record) high enough so they can’t get to it,” she said with a laugh.
Jojo Larsen had another outstanding meet for Custer, placing second in the 100 in a time of 12.33, while placing fourth in the 200 at 26.74. Larsen was also the anchor leg of a pair of relays that placed, as she was joined by Jayda Bennett, Addie Sander and Kylee Ellerton to place fourth in the 400 relay at 50.80, and was joined by Taylor Busch, Rachel Miklos and Kelsey Stiefel to place sixth in the 1600 relay at 4:08.41.
“She continued her points scoring, winning ways,” Karim said. “We are proud of Jojo.”
Karyn Ellerton led a third-place march for the Wildcat girls in the discus, as she threw a personal-best toss of 122-5 that placed her second, while Torri Virtue was seventh at 115-10 and Emily Borkowski was eighth at 115-9. It’s believed this is the first time Custer had all three of its qualifiers place in the discus at the state meet.
“When the kids show up and are ready to compete that’s a fun thing to have happen,” Karim said.
Other individual placings included from Bennett, who battled her way through a sore hamstring to finish sixth in the 100 hurdles at 15.81 and eighth in the 300 hurdles at 47.91.
Rounding out the individual placing was Brit Wheeler, who went into the 800 seeded 17th but ran her way to a seventh-place finish at 2:24.25.
Wheeler also anchored the medley relay team (joined by Sander, Busch and Kelsey Stiefel) to a fifth-place finish at 4:20.02 and the 3200 relay team (joined by Busch, Kelsey Stiefel and Kiran Pesicka) to a seventh-place finish at 10:00.91.
Karim said neither of the teams was in medal contention before she took the baton.
“She is a work horse. I was proud of her,” she said. “Those are big shoes to fill next year.”
Karim said the girls did well and put themselves into position until the last day, finishing in third with 54 points, just behind Lennox at 55 1/2. Sioux Falls Christian crushed the competition, racking up 130 1/2 points.
“There are little places we could have scored a point here or there,” Karim said. “But the team directly behind us was only a half a point behind us. It was really close behind us.”
Karim said the team will miss its senior class, but there are younger athletes who will be back next year who could take the team just as far and even further.
“We will see what we can put together next year coming back,” she said. “I was excited where we ended up.”
Karim said her assistant coaches are a large part of the program’s success, saying they are experts in their disciplines and are passionate about the kids.
“They are the unsung heroes in all of this,” she said. “We’re right where we were last year. There is good competition in the Black Hills. It’s not like we are going to easy meets when we compete around here and I think that helps us be ready for big competition when we get to state. They did a great job.”

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