By BRANDON HURLEY
DES MOINES - The Drake Relays aren’t often used as a training ground. But for Panorama’s Lydia Knapp, it was her time to shine.
The senior not only placed third in her strength, the discus, she also ran the third leg of the shuttle hurdle relay after a sudden call to action.
Knapp was asked to fill in for Payton Douglass following her season-ending injury a few days earlier, leaving what head coach Greg Thompson thought was a big hole.
But, veteran leadership paid off in a big way during the state’s biggest track meet.
The Panorama girls’ track and field team captured a trio of top 10 finishes en route to a breakout Drake Relays April 25-27 in Des Moines.
Three seniors topped the charts with Knapp leading things off in the discus while fellow senior Morgan Johnk, competing in her third Drake Relays high jump, secured her second straight top five finish. Not to be left out, Bailey Beckman rounded out the high placements with a 10th place spot in the girls’ long jump.
Medals in nearly half of the six events the Panthers competed in was quite the outcome, head coach Greg Thompson said, especially in a field jam-packed with 4A and 3A competition. But the relative unselfishness of Knapp is what really stuck out most. First, her top three performance exceeded expectations coming in, then ran a smooth relay leg to finish off her time in Des Moines.
“I thought Lydia Knapp had a great weekend,” the coach said. “She was seeded sixth in the discus, but ended 3rd. That is huge for her confidence going into the state meet knowing that 6 of the top 8 at Drake were in Class 2A.
Four of Knapp’s throws in the discus cleared 130 feet before the senior cocked back and tossed a 135-1 on her fifth throw. Tipton’s Jamie Kofron captured the event title with a top throw of 147-08 while South Hardin’s Brylie Zeisneiss finished runner-up thanks to her throw of 141-01.
Knapp didn’t have long to dwell on her breakout performance and was alerted of her last second need to join the shuttle hurdle squad Friday morning. Knapp impressed, showing Thompson the potential of his newly formed quartet as they finished 12th with a blistering fast time of 1:09..83 despite wet, rainy conditions. Shey Storesund opened the relay and was aided by Abbi Brown, Knapp and Johnk.
“The biggest takeaway was the shuttle hurdle relay performance and knowing that they can still run well with an alternate,” the coach said. “We talked about her running the shuttle hurdle relay on Wednesday, but that decision wasn’t really made until Friday morning. She hadn’t run the hurdles in a race since April 4.”
Johnk cruised through the opening rounds of the girls high jump, clearing the first three heights on her first attempt, which placed her first overall as the bar moved to 5-06. Unfortunately, the senior could not clear the height that knocked her out a year ago, placing her fifth after three straight misses. Friday morning opened up for gorgeous conditions, which may have played a role in the veteran’s third and final Drake Relays as she cleared 5-04.
“Morgan also got a big boost of confidence clearing 5-4 without any misses,” Thompson said. “She knows she can get that height and be pretty fresh for attempts at 5-5 or higher.”
Keokuk’s Miracle Alles brought home the event gold clearing 5-08 on her first attempt while Sara Hoskins of Pleasant Valley (5-06) and West Burlington-Notre Dame’s Katy Stephens secured bronze by clearing 5-06 on her third attempt.
Johnk was in action a few more times last week, as she placed 31st in the 100-meter hurdles (16.78) after clipping the final hurdle.
“Morgan was running so fast in the hurdles that she got too close to the 7th hurdle and clipped it with her trail leg,” Thompson said. “She learned from that and had a great shuttle hurdle race on Saturday.”
Beckman finished 10th in the girls’ long jump Thursday afternoon, missing a spot on the finals by three inches. The senior leapt 16-10.75 on her opening jump, earning her a near spot on the medal stand. Abraham Lincoln’s Darby Thomas secured her third straight Drake Relays title, jumping 19 feet even on her first attempt of the finals.
There’s plenty of potential left for the Panthers to achieve, Thompson said, as he was quick to offer up suggestions after each race or attempt. With state qualifying only a week away, the time to perform is now.
“I already texted most of the girls the videos from their events and what they need to focus on in the next couple of weeks,” Thompson said. “We do that during regular invitational meets as well, but it seems much more magnified and important when it is on a stage like the Drake Relays.”
The girls’ 4-by-100-meter relay squad of Beckman, Johnk, Hope Arganbright and Kassidy Bremer finished 43rd out of 96 teams with a time of 51.78, just a hair off their season-best time. Ankeny captured the event title, running a blistering time of 48.57.
The Panorama boys’ had just one event qualify for the Drake Relays, as senior Gracen Welberg placed 19th in the high jump, clearing 6-01.
“Gracen will learn from this experience and already knows what
he needs to improve upon to get a better performance,” Thompson said. “He was 10th amongst 2A jumpers. He just missed 6’ 3” on his second attempt which would have placed him in a tie for 12th overall and 6th for Class 2A. So, he has a goal of medaling at the state meet.”
With the West Central Conference meet tonight (May 2 in Panora) and the Class 2A state qualifying meet a week later in Panora as well, things get heated in a hurry. Time to gear up and make a push for a chance at a state title, Thompson said.
“Our focus this year has been on sprint mechanics, running form, and block starts with our sprint and hurdle crew,” the coach said. “Those still need work. We feel we can improve our shuttle hurdle relay exchanges and make a few adjustments to our 4-by-100 exchanges as well. That should help us get an overall faster time.
Thompson continued, “Our focus with the middle distance is pacing, but with so little training in April because of our meet schedule, that hasn’t been addressed in practice.”