OTTUMWA — The energy is high, the vibes are loose and the family atmosphere is as strong as ever for the Ottumwa boy's track and field team as it heads to the Iowa High School Track and Field Championships on Thursday.
As the team practiced in a light mist Tuesday afternoon at Schafer Stadium, the sound of laughter was constant in the small huddles of Bulldogs, leading to comical poses and chatter of whether or not to smile for a team photo below the massive Ottumwa "O" in the back of the stadium before practice officially began.
Why such a loose nature as the climax of their 2020-21 season draws near? It starts with an overall confidence that members of the Bulldogs anticipate will lead to high finishes at the big blue oval over the weekend.
Senior Charlie Welch is heading to Des Moines looking to earn personal bests in all of his events (100 m dash, 200 m dash, 4x200, 4x400). Specifically, Welch wants to finish below 11.06 seconds (his season best) in the 100 m dash and below 22.27 seconds in the 200 m dash (his season best.
As his teammates talked behind him and shared laughs, Welch said this type of energy is needed when a big challenge awaits you.
"I think we're all just really locked in because it's state and it's a really big meet and we're all just really excited and we just want to run and give it our best," Welch said. "We have to stay loose about it."
Junior Austin Fountain will be competing in the high jump, 4x200, 400 hurdles, and sprint medley at state, and like his teammates, he admitted he had some fun goals for himself for the weekend.
"To be honest, I want to get into the 54s, but at the same time I want to beat Isaac [Eaton]," Fountain said.
But which would he rather accomplish? Fountain gave his initial answer without hesitation.
"I'd rather beat Isaac," Fountain said. "But we're both going to break into 54s. He's already done it and I'm really close."
Eaton's season best in the 400 hurdles is clocked at 54.94, with Fountain right on the edge of cracking the 54-margin with his season-best 55.00.
The friendship and fun rivalry between Fountain and senior Isaac Eaton is a prime example of the family connection Fountain said is at the heart of everyone on this year's Bulldogs.
Eaton, along with big-name seniors like Welch, Jesus Jaime, Gatlin Menninga, are the core of the Bulldogs' 'family' connection, leaving Fountain confident that they'll send the seniors out right.
"We all know that's a big group of seniors heading out, so we just want to go out and give them a good time and have fun while doing it," Fountain said. "Being able to come back with this group of seniors, they're super strong and athletic. I don't think there's a fault in any of them."
To keep in line with that confidence, he wasn't shy about what how well he thought the Bulldogs could perform over the weekend.
"I wouldn't be surprised if we placed in six or seven of the 12 events, Fountain said.
Ottumwa boy's track and field head coach John Lawrence is setting the tone for his team's open level of confidence, as he is expecting big things from Jaime, Eaton, Fountain and Welch.
"I can see some really good things happening in that 4x200," Lawrence said. "I think we can see some good things out of Jesus in our throws. And in our 40 hurdles, I think we can get two in the top five which would be good."
When asked where the mood is at for his team ahead of the state meet, Lawrence smiled as he looked over as a large group of the Bulldogs laughing together at someone's phone, debating the content on the screen.
He couldn't help but let out a smile of his own, offering a clear peak into where the team's mindset sits before competition begins.
"This week we've been pretty relaxed. There's no real pressure right now but I'm sure they'll get some butterflies when they get up there but they're all just having fun and brushing up on some things before we get started," Lawrence said.
Senior Jesus Jaime, competing in the shot put and discus events, can sense the family dynamic around the team has grown over the course of this season.
Jaime is looking to set personal records of his own in his final high school event. In the shot put, Jaime is hoping to throw over 55. In the discus, he wants to go for at least 165, but anything higher is what he is looking for.
Heading into the weekend, Jaime's season best in the shot put was 54-06.50, while his best in the discus sits at 160-04.00.
"We're all a family. We support each other," Jaime said. "If we do bad, hopefully not though, we'll be there to support each other and if we do good we'll be there to hype each other up and feed off that energy that's gotten us this far."
Ottumwa Class 4A state participants
Isaac Eaton (110 hurdles, 400 hurdles, shuttle hurdle, sprint medley)
Austin Fountain (high jump, 400 hurdles, 4x200, sprint medley)
Charlie Welch (100 dash, 200 dash, 4x200, 4x400)
Gatlin Menninga (long jump, 4x200, 4x400)
Mason Farrington (4x400, sprint medley)
Jesus Jaime (shot put, discus)
Taylor Barndt (4x200)
Cooper Derby (sprint medley)
Blessing Gbambo (shuttle hurdle)
Luke Graeve (4x400)
Maxwell Thomason (shuttle hurdle)
Jeese Vanderheiden (shuttle hurdle)