By SCOTT JACKSON Courier sports writer
---- — DES MOINES — No matter how many times they may have dreamed about it, no matter how many times they may have ran the moment through in their minds, nothing prepares an athlete for that special moment when they achieve an accomplishment as special as a state championship.
For some athletes, such as Centerville’s Graydon Schmidt, Logan Brown and Payton Busch, the feeling is so special it’s worth repeating even when nobody expects you to.
The three returning members the Big Reds’ distance medley relay team surprised several fans Friday night at Drake Stadium in Des Moines by defending their Class 3A state title in the event despite starting in the opening heat, usually reserved as the “slow” heat for teams with the slowest qualifying times. The team, which won the same race last year by just .61 seconds, lapped the big blue oval with new teammate Garrett Moorman in a time of 3:31.38, then watched as Sioux City Bishop Heelan came the closest to challenging the time with a 3:33.89 in the third “fast” heat to give the Centerville foursome a 2.5-second victory and back-to-back championships.
The distance medley team had to replace one individual — Jamey Foster — since last year’s title, which came at a time of 3:30.33. For Busch, a run today in the 3A boys 800 final will give him a chance to live that championship dream for a third time in two years.
Some athletes, like Fairfield’s Daniel Schwartz, didn’t even dare to dream that big. The Trojan senior didn’t think he had any chance of walking out of Drake Stadium as Class 3A’s boys state champion high jumper.
Not until it actually happened.
When it did, it came in such an unexpected manner. Schwartz, whose school record jump of 6-6 had been surpassed late in the year as the top leap on Class 3A heading into state, figured he would need to do better than clear the bar at 6-4 with 17 other competitors also still alive for the title.
“I was really worried I was going to have to hit 6-6 again to have a chance,” Schwartz said. “I just figured someone was also going to make it over.”
Schwartz watched on as, one by one, the multitude of other 3A qualifiers failed to clear the bar. Schwartz kept counting down the competitors until only one last jumper remained.
When that final challenger missed his last try at 6-4, Schwartz suddenly realized he had achieved something he hadn’t even considered until that very moment. The Fairfield senior had won a state title and wasn’t even done yet at Drake Stadium.
“It wasn’t really that much different to try and make it at 6-6. I’ve had meets before where I’ve won and still tried to beat my own height,” Schwartz said. “Once I made it over at 6-6 again, I could have just tried for 6-7.”
Doing that would have given Schwartz a new school record in the process. But with the state title and his own school record already matched on the grand state of the State Track and Field Meet, Schwartz figured he’d send his career off in truly grand style.
“I figured why not go for 6-8,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz just missed in the last attempt at breaking his own school mark by 2 inches, narrowly clipping the bar with the back of his heel. It was still a great way to end an amazing journey for a senior that fully expected a high showing in Des Moines on Thursday, just not the highest showing in the 3A high jump.
“I got fourth at the Drake Relays, and I figured that’s probably how it would go for me at state,” Schwartz said. “I never thought I’d be able to win the state championship. I’m going up against the best jumpers in the entire state. It really hasn’t sunk in that I won the state championship.”
One person that wasn’t surprised was Schwartz’s head coach. Fairfield boys track coach Brian Dunlap has seen his senior high jumper show tremendous resilience after costing himself an entire season that could have resulted in a championship campaign as a junior.
“He placed at state in this event as sophomore, then missed all of last season after being suspended because of a disciplinary situation,” Dunlap said. “You just don’t know how a person is going to respond to something like that. I give Daniel a ton of credit. He worked hard to come back and continue right along being the kind of athlete we all knew he was capable of being.”
“I’m not shocked he won this. He’s been one of the best high jumpers in the entire state all season.”
Schwartz’s accomplishment was even more impressive considering he had to hit the track midway through the 3A boys long jump Thursday afternoon to compete as the anchor in Fairfield’s shuttle hurdle preliminary team. Despite having to miss one jump, Schwartz made it back to continue on in the competition without missing a beat on the way to the state title.
“The only thing that concerned me there was, with that race, he could have struck a hurdle and gotten pretty banged up,” Dunlap said. “Fortunately, he ran his leg and kept on performing in the high jump without having a lapse in either event.”
Schwartz sat back after completing his career on Thursday with the state title, watching his Fairfield teammates continue competing after being placed sixth after day one thanks to the 10 state title points picked up by the senior.
Schwartz watched his Fairfield teammate, Jonny Swanson, have a successful day of his own as the Trojan senior added a team point of his own with an eighth-place run in the boys 3A 400 hurdle finals. That run of 55.58 was quickly followed by an even better showing in the 110 hurdle prelims. Swanson qualified for this afternoon’s finals with the fifth-best time of 15.17 seconds.
“With Jonny’s ability in both events, we can definately put some points up there,” Dunlap said. “Obviously for Fairfield as a whole, we still have Sydney (Howard) on the girls side defending her 100 and 200 titles (today) also. Daniel’s win was just the start of a special few days here for this community.”
State titles were almost a reality for five area South Central Conference runners midway through Friday afternoon. Tasha Alexander, who tripped down the stretch while running for the 2A girls 400 hurdle title last year, nearly made a title-winning return to the event for Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont as the Rocket junior fell just .13 seconds short of a pair of seniors. The third-place showing should make Alexander a preseason favorite in the event heading into her senior season.
Albia’s second of four relay teams also fell less then a second shy of a state title Friday as the Blue Demons’ 4x200 foursome lost to OA-BCIA’s 1:30 flat time in the event. Brothers Ryan and Luke Sarver along with Brett Leshen and Alex Schultz finished the race in a time of 1:30.53 to take home second, giving Todd Ratliff’s squad two top-10 showings in two relay races.
The Blue Demons will have a chance for a big finish today. Albia qualified for both the 4x100 and 4x400 races, including posting the top time in the 4x400 at 3:22.82 in what will be the third-to-last race of the entire track and field season.
The area favorite going into the day to claim a state title was Davis County sophomore Kate Birchmier, who finished third in the shot put and headed into the girls 2A discus as the favorite going in. The school record-holder with tosses reaching nearly 150 feet at times this season struggled early, fouling on her first three attempts and never topping her first recorded toss of 127-3, which still left Birchmier with a fifith-place showing and a pair of top-five state meet finishes as a sophomore.
The Mustang girls stayed right in the thick of the race for their first girls state team title since 1995 after entering the day with the lead in Class 2A. Kassidy Sharp tied for seventh in the high jump with a leap of 5 feet to pull Davis County within a quarter of a point of Hudson for the lead going today’s finals and qualified for the 100 hurdles with the fourth-fastest time at 16.11 seconds.
Equalling Birchmier in the discus in Class 1A was Katelynn Tracy, who finished fifth Friday morning for Moravia to polish off her field event career for the Mohawks with a toss of 112-5. Oskaloosa got points from both long jump qualifiers as sophomore Taylor Richardson finished fourth for the girls with a leap of 16-9 while senior Drew Richmond’s leap of 20-11 was good for sixth on the boys’ side.
The Indian girls and Pekin boys each got eighth-place runs in the distance medley races. The Panthers also picked up a point for finishing eighth in the 1A boys 4x200.
Ottumwa saw their run in the Class 4A girls track and field meet end on Friday with three more events, including runs from the two Bulldog relay qualifying teams. Ottumwa finished 18th in the 4x200 relay in a time of 1:49.05 but did not get a chance to qualify for today’s final 4x400 relay race as the Bulldogs had a false start in the prelims called on junior Charlette Flanders for moving in the blocks, causing a disqualification that brought an end to the career of senior Sydney Strunk, who finished 19th Thursday in the 400 dash.
Sarah Schultz, who ran in the 4x200 along with Ellie Hammack, Sarah Thordarson and 200 state qualifier Erin Sheehy, also finished 18th for the Bulldogs in the 4A girls long jump. The OHS junior finished her season with a leap of 15-6 in her state track and field debut.