STATE TRACK: Youngest Spartans not shy at state

DES MOINES – Some freshmen are intimidated by the bigger stadium, the larger crowd and the better competition.

Others relish the excitement of it all.

Grundy Center’s Piper Johanns definitely fits the latter.

One of three freshmen on the Spartans’ seventh-place 4×800-meter relay quartet, Johanns found herself bottled up on the first lap before patiently breaking free to move Grundy Center all the way up to second. The performance spurred the Spartans and highlighted the top finish for Class 1A area girls on the opening day of the Iowa Co-Ed State Track Meet Thursday at Drake Stadium.

“It was pretty tough in the beginning but after the first lap it kind of spread out,” said Johanns, who started passing people in the final 50 meters of the first lap as the Spartans clocked a time of 10 minutes, 10.90 seconds.

The strong start was followed by solid legs from fellow frosh Katie Lindeman and Kayla Mathews, before junior Hannah Stumberg closed strong for the Spartans, but deferred the credit to her savvy understudies.

“She has a bright future,” Stumberg said of Johanns. “She’s a smart runner and she doesn’t let the pressure overwhelm her at all.”

That optimism spreads for the rest the group too.

“They’re all amazing runners,” Stumberg said of the freshman trio. “I know they’re all going to go really far in the future. I’ve had the privilege to kind of coach them this year.”

Stumberg also anchored last season’s seventh place 4×800 foursome last year before welcoming three new runners to the fold this year. With the entire quartet returning next season, the junior will have many more opportunities to pass on her words of wisdom.

BCLUW claimed 18th in the race and also has good reason to be optimistic with three underclassmen on their unit. Sophomores Haley Veldhouse and Rebecca Steckelberg book ended the relay, while freshman Amelia Tonner and senior Reeba Box ran the middle two legs for a time of 10:28.97.

The Comets’ shuttle hurdle relay contingent of junior Nicolette Simpson and freshmen Olivia Callaway, Bobbi Paper and Nicole Lutes also placed 18th in 1:12.81.

North Tama sophomore Abi Watson rallied down the homestretch for 13th in the 3,000 in 11:21.50 – just two spots shy of her freshman finish.

“I always try to have a kick at the end,” Watson said of her late surge to pass Southeast Warren’s Kaylee Miller in the final 60 meters.

Colo-NESCO’s Shayla Dean turned in a 20th place clocking of 1:03.66 in the 400.

The sophomore noticed a different surface feel on her trip around the blue oval, but was excited that – like several of her Class 1A underclassmen comrades – it likely is just the first of several more.

“It feels way different. My feet are burning because (the track) is like carpet,” Dean said. “It’s cool having this experience at such a young age. I have two more years to go and get back here.”