It was a mistake. Mitchell Day knew it, Shaq Thiessen knew it, and jumps coach Donya Hilliard knew it.
Hillsboro High School junior Mitchell Day came into the Marion regional with one of the best marks in long jump among his competitors. With his jumps requiring pinpoint accuracy from the board, using his sprinter speed to his advantage, Day missed the mark on his first jump. He then went and ran in the prelims of the 100-meter dash before returning to the pit.
At that point, Hilliard told Day that he needed to surpass 19 feet, 11 inches to make it into the finals of the event. He cleared 20-5.75. It was a mark Hilliard was sure would land him in the finals and she scratched his final jump.
“I knew he had just run in the 100,” Hilliard said. “I was trying to save him for the final.”
Day again left the pit and when he returned he learned that he needed a 20-7 to make the finals; at that point it was too late to make up the jump. Two Marion jumpers, Patrick McCarty and James Jones, had set personal records in the event. Jones had cleared his previous mark by more than two feet. It threw Hilliard off. Hillsboro’s top jumper, Shaq Thiessen, had to fight, making the finals with the fifth best jump of the preliminaries; he had jumped the furthest of any regional competitor coming into the meet.
Day could have sulked and let missing the long jump affect his performance in the 100. He said he let the jumping controversy affect him for 10 seconds. He then channeled that negativity into fuel for the 100.
He won a tightly contested final by less than a 100th of second, narrowly edging Ryan Bibb of Halstead. Day ran one of his best times of the season, 10.80. He also ran under 11 seconds in the prelims, 10.91.
“It’s a relief,” Day said of his state berth in the 100. “The pressure has been on all year.”
Before Day could overcome a disastrous start to make it to state, his good friend Thiessen also had a state berth on the line. Thiessen had completed some of the longest jumps in the state for 3A; he had placed third in the event last year at the state championship meet. It had seemed like a given that he would be going back to state this season.
But on Friday it seemed far less like a given as Thiessen struggled to make his mark, jumping nearly a foot ahead of the board, limiting his distance. The wind at the track was also affecting Thiessen’s take off.
“I was getting worried,” Thiessen said.
With adjustments provided by Hilliard, Thiessen hit a new mark in the final to clear 22-4, an inch further than his previous best mark of the season.
“He knew he had to come out and prove himself,” Hilliard said. “He’s a trooper.”
In an event that was far from a given to repeat as a state competitor, the Trojans’ boys’ 4x800 team placed third with a time of 8 minutes, 49.75 seconds.
The 4x800 team replaced both Joel Allen and Justin King from the 4x800 team last season, the Trojans’ two best runners from a season ago. Senior Bret Mueller and junior Josh Richert were back. An alternate from last year, Avery Franz, filled one void. Freshman 3,200-meter runner Grant Knoll filled the other.
“Losing two was hard,” Richert said. “But we replaced them with two pretty good guys.”
Richert and Franz agreed that part of the team’s motivation going into the meet was to get Mueller a state invite. Mueller said he was disappointed in his cross-country and wrestling seasons not being able to make it to state.
“I’m using that as a drive,” Mueller said.
Mueller turned in three gutsy running performances on Friday. He passed one opponent on the backstretch of the 4x800, after Franz had put Hillsboro into state contention in the third leg, to secure third place. Mueller then ran the anchor leg of the 4x400 team — featuring Thiessen, Richert, and Franz — passing an opponent again on the final stretch to secure fourth place with a time of 3:35.86. They finished only two tenths of a second behind Douglass.
Before the 4x400, Mueller virtually came out of nowhere to qualify for state in the 800-meter run with a time of 2:04.90, besting his previous season record by almost 3 seconds. Hillsboro head coach Dennis Boldt said Mueller was seeded seventh or eighth in the event before the race.
With the positive mojo from the 800, Boldt switched Mueller to anchor the 4x400, a move that paid dividends.
It turned out that Mueller was in good shape for a state berth. However, placements in the 4x800 and 4x400 did provide state tickets for Richert and Franz, who both came up just short in individual events.
Richert set a new personal record in the 1,600-meter run, with a time of 4:54.47. However, he finished fifth in the event.
“Josh did everything he had to do, he just lost a tough race,” Boldt said.
Franz placed fifth in the triple jump with a leap of 42-6. He was only two inches away from qualifying.
Two Trojan female distance runners also turned in state qualifying performances. The word to describe them was dominant.
Senior Callie Serene won the 800-meter run with a time of 2:28.27, more than two seconds faster than Cassie Hollenback of Douglass.
Serene has been rounding into form the past several weeks. It helped at regionals that she could focus on the 800 and not have to worry about the relays.
Relay teammate freshman Emily Sechrist won the 3,200-meter run with a time of 11:58.42. She topped the next closest runner by 20 seconds.
Sechrist placed second in the 1,600, with a time of 5:27.85. She lost to Savannah Wright of Douglass by less than seven-tenths of a second.
Boldt attributed Sechrist’s success to her work ethic and coachability. After a state championship cross-country season, she swam in the winter to prepare for track. He said he sees the freshman runner improve on a weekly basis.
Both Serene and Sechrist will attempt to top the same competitor in the their state events. Heather Ruder of Hays-Thomas Moore Prep won the 800, 1,600, and 3,200 last year at state. She has the best times in all those events this season.
High jump and pole vault
Junior Tyler Proffitt qualified in the pole vault, placing fourth with a jump of 12-6.
Boldt praised Proffitt for staying within himself. Proffitt had reached the personal best mark of 12-6 last week and instead of trying to shoot for a higher mark, he perfected his technique at 12-6 to clear the bar in fewer jumps.
“Here’s a kid who dedicated himself to working on technique,” Boldt said of Proffitt. “He jumped what he could jump on this day.”
Before the event, Proffitt had sized himself up against the competition, knowing that a mark of 12-6 would be necessary for state contention.
Sophomore Jesse Brown qualified for state with a jump of 5-10 in the high jump, good enough for fourth in the event, although the third-place jumper, Nick Mannebach of Garden Plain, and second-place jumper Tom Mailloux of Hutchinson Trinity Catholic also only cleared 5-10.
Having cleared 6-2 earlier this season, Brown was disappointed in the jump, but said he was affected by the high winds at Warrior stadium.