CHARITON — The Creston and Mount Ayr boys track teams both took big strides toward qualifying events to next weekend’s Drake Relays here on Tuesday at the Charger Relays, but there still might be work left to do.
Mount Ayr, which was bumped up into the large-school class for competition purposes, finished fourth in Class AA with 95 points. Creston finished sixth with 62 points. Pella ran away with the team title, scoring 144 points.
Full official results of the meet were not available at press time and will be published in Thursday’s edition of the Creston News Advertiser.
The Creston boys 4x800 relay team of Bryce Briley, Cooper McDermott, Brandon Phipps and Jay Wolfe entered the meet with its sights set on dropping a Drake Relays qualifying time.
The anticipated four-team showdown of Creston, Pella, Mount Ayr and Albia didn’t materialize the way Creston head coach Pat Schlapia had hoped, however.
Pella held its top 800 meter runner out of the relay, running him fresh in the open 800 meters, while Albia also did not run its top team.
“The matchup we were hoping for wasn’t exactly there, but then again, our boys ran very well with that,” Schlapia said.
The Panthers won the event easily, running a new season-best time of 8:12.81. Mount Ayr finished second, 19 seconds back.
Briley opened with a 2:03 split for the Panthers, followed by a 2:09 split by McDermott, 2:03 split by Phipps and a 1:56 split by Wolfe.
That time, as of Tuesday night, places the Panthers 16th in Drake Relays qualifying. The top 16 times in the state qualify for the Drake Relays in the 4x800.
“That moves us up on the charts, but then again, when we’re down to the last few days before qualifying is over on Thursday night, there’s a lot of teams trying to get that last push in for the events they’re shooting for,” Schlapia said.
“It was awesome we were able to improve that by six seconds again,” he continued. “That’s the second-fastest in school history. All four boys did an awesome job with it.”
Schlapia said for his team to be running that kind of a time at this point in the season, it shows the team is moving in the right direction.
“The last years when we’ve had this success, we weren’t even close to these times in the middle of April,” he said. “Here we’re talking about qualifying in the top 16 for Drake Relays, where these were the times we were shooting for at state qualifying in the past.”
Mount Ayr head coach Brad Elliott knew with his team jumping up into the large-school division, points would be more difficult to come by. Instead, he focused his team on trying to qualify several events for the Drake Relays.
Two Raider relays took big steps toward achieving that goal.
The distance medley relay, featuring a lineup of Jacob Sobotka, Erik Freed, Kyle Dolecheck and Noah Larsen, ran 3:39.3 unofficially.
“I knew with the opportunity to run against Albia, if we could get paired up with them, that would be a good team to chase,” Elliott said. “We moved the baton really well through the sprint legs. Kyle ran a really nice 400 leg for us to keep us in position. I was very impressed with Noah’s finish. Looked like he ran close to a personal best effort for his 800 leg.”
Larsen anchored the Raiders home in 2:00, closing the gap on Albia and eventually overtaking Albia’s anchor runner coming out of the final turn to give the Raiders the victory.
The time, which Elliott said he believes will end up being fourth on Mount Ayr’s all-time performance list, places the Raiders in 18th place for Drake qualifying as of Tuesday night. The top 24 in the distance medley qualify for the Drake Relays.
“Obviously, if we were able to make that big of a jump tonight, there’s other teams out there capable of doing the same thing,” Elliott said. “At this point, we have to wait and see what the weather’s going to do to us.”
The same quartet for the Raiders, in a different order, came back in the 4x400 relay with another showdown with Albia, the defending Class 2A state champion in the event, returning all four members from that team.
Elliott modified his 4x100 relay team in order to give Freed and Sobotka a chance to rest more for the 4x400, and that gamble paid off.
The Raiders ran 3:28.11 to finish second behind Albia, as Sobotka nearly ran down Albia’s anchor leg.
That time not only breaks Mount Ayr’s school record set at last year’s state track meet, but also moves the Raiders into 13th place for Drake Relays qualifying as of Tuesday night. The top 24 4x400 relay teams qualify.
“We knew going into that race if we had the opportunity to chase Albia, we could follow them to a qualifying time,” Elliott said. “We were consistently running 51s across the board. To be running a time this early in the season with a pretty similar group, that’s definitely an awesome time for us there. Hopefully that’s good enough to get in.”
Both Creston and Mount Ayr return to action Thursday at the Panther Relays hosted by Creston. Events begin at 5 p.m. on Thursday.
“Thursday is also the last night for Drake qualifying,” Schlapia said. “We’re going to have some fine competition at our meet with a scattering of conference teams, but we’ll also have Earlham and Mount Ayr. There’s going to be some hot competition on Thursday.”