By Pat Dailey (For Ozark Sports Zone.com)
BRANSON — Not one to shy away from hard work, Carl Junction’s Weston Wendt gained satisfaction in having to rally to win the 100 at the Branson Invitational on Thursday.
His strong finish set Wendt up for four first-place finishes.
Wendt was able to overtake runner-up Destin Owen, of Republic, in the final stage of the 100. Wendt was clocked at 11.49 and Owen in 11.59.
“I had a really rough start,” Wendt said. “I’m not trying to make excuses because (Owen) ran a great race. But the (starting) block clicked down a little bit on me. They were a little lacky. That’s all right. No complaints for a first race. I got to work coming from behind. I chased (Owen) down and luckily got him at the end. It was good work.”
The 100 was a microcosm of sorts for Wendt, who is trusting the process that his and his teammates’ efforts will pay great dividends and culminate once again with gold medals at State. Wendt is part of Carl Junction’s 4 x 100 and 4 x 200 relays that won championships at last year’s Class 4 State Meet.
“Obviously, we’re hoping to beat what we’ve done before,” Wendt said. “We don’t want to be stagnant. We’re looking to improve and beat our school records. We’re never satisfied. You’ve always got to set your standards high and set new goals. Even if you’re doing great, you can do better.
“We’re always trying to win. But it’s also a race against ourselves, trying to beat what we’ve done before. If we can beat our own times, that will eventually lead to us beating everybody at State. That’s our plan.”
Wendt and the Bulldogs’ Joe Kennedy, Lucas Berliew and Sam Repsher breezed to a win in the 4 x 100 relay (43.26) Thursday by more than three seconds.
Repsher, returning from a foot injury, ran the opening leg in Carl Junction’s 4 x 200 relay (1:29), teaming with Wendt, Lance Ward and Lucas Berliew.
Wendt, Berliew and Kennedy were on the Bulldogs’ state champion 4 x 100 relay and Wendt, Berliew and Repsher were on their state champion 4 200 relay.
“We have tons of strong guys to help us come back for a three-peat in the 4 x 100 and repeat in the 4 x 200 at State,” Wendt said.
The Bulldogs posted a 1-2-3 finish in the 200, with Wendt winning (22.71), Berliew second (22.98) and Lance Ward third (23.35).
Ward, a sophomore, won the 400 (50.41).
Ozark’s twins three-time winners
Ozark’s Alexis and Brocklyn Barber responded splendidly to a challenge from their coaches to run the 1,600 for the first time. The twins posted a 1-2 finish, with Alexis winning (5:42) and Brocklyn being second (5:43).
“The coaches thought we could be good at it,” Alexis said. “It wasn’t something I was mainly interested in. But it was fun. I liked it. Maybe we’ll stick with it. Or maybe one of us will.”
“I was so nervous and scared before the race,” Brocklyn said. “I’d never run the 1,600 before and I didn’t want to. But it felt pretty good when I was out there. So, I’m kind of excited to do it again.”
The Barbers were content to run fourth and fifth until making their move on the final lap.
“We weren’t expecting to win at all,” Alexis said. “We didn’t know what we could do. We were just trying to stay with the lead pack. But the last 200 meters, we thought, ‘Let’s go for it.’”
The 800 is the Barbers’ niche and they also finished 1-2, with Brooklyn first (2:29.35) and Alexis second (2:29.80).
When they do finish 1-2, it’s basically immaterial to the Barbers who is first.
“If I win, she’ll be happy for me and if she wins, I’m happy for her,” Alexis said. “When she wins, it feels like I win at the same time. She’s my best friend.”
The Barbers teamed with Ashley Childers and Anna Hitt to win the 4 x 400 relay (4:14).
Childers also won the 200 (27.07) and partnered with Sydney Johnson, Hailey Mackey and Anna Hitt for first in the 4 x 200 relay (1:49). That foursome is made of up of two sophomore and two freshmen.
Lady Bulldogs’ Sluder wins debut
If Shiloh Sluder was anonymous outside of Carl Junction before Thursday, she quickly emerged into a shining star by claiming gold in the 100 (13.24) and 400 (1:01.45).
For the freshman, it was a fulfilling start to her varsity career. She was a COC Large Schools champion at the junior-high level in the 100, 200 and 400 last year.
“I was really looking forward to high school track,” Sluder said. “But I was nervous before I came here. I was thinking, ‘Oh, ‘I’m not going to do well, these girls are bigger than me, they’re taller than me and have long legs.’ But I think I can make up for it.”
Sluder won the 100 while running in the second of four heats. She did not have a recorded time turned in to meet officials beforehand, thus the reason she was in the second heat.
“I was thinking, ‘Wait, why am I in heat two?’” Sluder said. “Then, I thought, ‘It doesn’t matter, I’ve just got to run.’ The girl in lane one was right behind me, so that helped.”
Sluder initially ran the 100 and 200 in junior high before adding the 400 to her workload.
“Last year, I asked coach if I could try something else and he put me in the 400,” she said. “I thought, ‘I like this event.’ So, I’ve continued to run it. Now, the 400 is by far my favorite.
New-look Lady Wolves relay finishes first
Even with Izzy Erickson being the lone returnee from Reeds Spring’s 4 x 100 relay that qualified for State last year, the Lady Wolves were first (50.88) by nearly two seconds.
Erickson’s new relay mates are Shelby Strailey, Paige Rantz and Ashley Nolan. Rantz and Nolan are freshmen and Strailey, a junior, was making her track debut.
“I was happy with it,” Erickson said. “I think we did really good for our first run. We still have a lot of things we can critique and get better at.”
Erickson was second (13.61) in the 100 and Strailey third (13.70).
“That was fun,” Erickson said. “We were competing against each other the whole time. (Strailey) is one of the best things that has happened to our track team.”
“We’re always joking around each other and with us being right next to each other we didn’t want to start laughing,” Strailey said. “It was fun.”
Erickson, a well-established softball standout, didn’t compete in track until her freshman year last spring. She’s grateful to be running with experience this season.
“I feel like I actually know what I’m doing now,” Erickson said. “I’m coming in more confident and with a positive mindset. Last year, I didn’t know what I was walking into. This year, I know what to expect.”
Other notable finishes
— Branson’s Keifer Dooley was a three-time winner on his home track. He won the 1,600 (4:51) and 3,200 (10:32) and ran the anchor leg on the Pirates’ winning 4 x 800 relay (8:43).
– Branson was 1-2-3 in the 3,200, with Zachary Seitz finishing second (10:46) and Reece Long third (10:49).
— The Pirates’ Reagan Ulrich repeated as meet champ by taking first in the pole vault (14-3).
— Carl Junction’s girls were 1-2-3 in the 3,200, with Kaitlynn Franks winning (12:47), Evie Cross second (13:00) and Emma Leach third (13:13).
— Ozark’s Hannah Aberin won both the shot put (30-3) and discus (92-3).
— Andrea Yount, representing Class 1 Bakersfield, won the long jump (15-9.5) and triple jump (34-5).
— Hollister’s Marvin Walters unleashed a 20-11.25 to win the long jump. His personal record had been 18-10.
— Branson won the boys team title and Ozark took the girls team championship.