Track preps for long trek through districts


Jenna Liu

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Sophomore Ana Ramirez runs the open 400 meters at the Missouri Relays.
At last year’s district meet, the girls team clinched their first district title in school history, and Neal Blackburn, the coach for track and field, has high hopes his team can repeat this feat once more, with the goal of bringing back district championships for both the girls and boys teams.
“We’re really excited about the prospects of what we think we can do for the district meet,” Blackburn said. “We expect to vie for district championships and both the boys’ and the girls’ side.”
Blackburn said the track team has done well this past season and he hopes they can continue this pattern of success into districts. In particular, he singled out the girls team for their range across the board with regard to the various events track and field consists of.
“From jumpers to throwers, sprinters and distance, we do believe that we’re extremely well-rounded,” Blackburn said.
Of this versatile girls team, senior Madison Wipfler is currently ranked first across Missouri in the triple jump, according to MOMilesplit, after she broke the season record with a jump of 38 feet 7.5 inches at the Joe Falcon Invitational in early May.
“As a jumper it’s very hard to improve your distance drastically, so when I jumped 38 feet, it was very rewarding,” Wipfler said. “I’m trying to break the school record of 39 feet 1 inch, and I’m hoping to improve from that going into districts.”
Wipfler’s teammate, sophomore Ana Ramirez, has been participating in RBHS track and field since freshman year, and is already making strides despite her relatively short time with the team. Ramirez, who runs the 200 meter dash and the 400 meter dash in addition to two relays, hopes to continue improving in time for districts
“Every meet I’ve been getting better, even if just by a few seconds,” Ramirez said. “I’ve been working hard and all my training has been showing through my competition.”
The girls’ high caliber is imperative as they prepare to face off against Jefferson City High School, which Blackburn named as the Bruins’ main rival at the district competition. With the girls looking strong, attention turns toward the boys team, who Blackburn said will rely heavily on seniors Evan Schulte, Zach Cook and Luke Darrough to contribute the weight of the points and push the boys to a district title.
Cook and Schulte competed in cross country together last fall and have both signed on to run for the University of Missouri as freshmen next year. As this will be their last high school district track competition, Schulte said the intensity of practice has increased with the opportunity to take home their third district championship just a few days away.
“Times are faster in workouts, and practices are a lot more serious because it’s a win or lose situation,” Schulte said. “If you don’t get top four, then you don’t go on [to sectionals].”
Cook echoed Schulte’s words and said the team’s preparation for districts began with them shaking up the way they run during practice.
“We are beginning phase four in training where we are running faster practices on the track as opposed to the longer bulk mileage and training we have been doing,” Cook said. “Our times should start to drop as the season progresses, and I think our team is really set up for a strong post-season.”
With the demanding presence of track and field practice at the forefront of these athletes’ minds, the seniors must also prepare to bid farewell to RBHS and the man they have called “Coach” for the past four years.
“It’s kind of weird to think about it being my last year,” Schulte said. “It’s gonna be hard to leave because there are very few, if any, coaches like Blackburn, and I couldn’t ask for better teammates.”
Wipfler repeated these sentiments and named her coaches and teammates as the foundation of her love and commitment to the RBHS track and field program.
“I can truly say I have never met more dedicated athletes and coaches before, and I’m honored to be a part of a team so inspiring,” Wipfler said.
For Cook’s last run at districts, he said he is hoping to close out his high school career by competing at state with Schulte, Connor Crabtree, and Luke Walters, the four of whom made school history by all hitting a district qualifying time during the regular season.
“We have four of the top eight two mile times in the state,”Cook said. “We are all seniors, and as we prepare for these next five weeks, I know each of us couldn’t see a better ending to high school than representing Rock Bridge at the state championships.”
Blackburn said while the team is focused on preparing for districts, the reality of saying goodbye to the seniors he has mentored for years continues to weigh on his mind.
“I think it always just hits us after their final events at the state championships, and kind of those last embraces, and you realize that everything we’ve worked for over the last four years, that’s the culminating moment, and we always kind of get hit with all the emotions, and it definitely is pretty tough,” Blackburn said. “I just hope that we rise to the occasion, have one of our better performances of the season, and just kind of fight, claw our way to the title, and just really relying on one another and encouraging one another throughout that day.”
By Jenna Liu