Burke stadium awaits 22 Discoverers
Columbus High track and field will be sending 22 athletes to the state championships on Thursday and Friday in Omaha.
Among the group there is a nationally ranked pole vaulter, a set of twins, a high jumper who overcame a torn meniscus and a senior who’s in his second year of pole vaulting.
Many find themselves in position to bring home some hardware while others will be looking to end the season on a high note with a personal best.
Curtis Briggs may be the most unlikely of the bunch. The senior tore his meniscus the third day of basketball practice back in November and spent the season in crutches on the bench.
And while it may have been a setback, it wasn’t the end of his career as a Discoverer. Briggs went through surgery in January then focused on finding his way back to the track with dutiful rehabilitation.
That hard work paid off last Friday when he was fourth in the high hump at the district meet in Norfolk and earned an automatic bid to Burke Stadium.
“The whole thing went pretty well,” Briggs said. “I haven’t had any problems with it. I’m finally getting back to full strength. I didn’t know if I was going to qualify for high jump at all, or do well, and I was just going to focus on running. It ended up being the other way around.”
At the district meet it came down to three jumpers and Briggs needed one of them to not clear the bar. After the first one made it the pressure was on.
“It got really stressful there for a second,” he said. “The second guy missed, and it was just a great feeling.”
Briggs hopes to clear 6 feet, 2 inches at the state tournament and hopes other athletes can learn a lesson from his recovery.
“Never give up,” he said. “You have to keep grinding on it to get back to where you were if you get hurt.”
Junior Jaidyn Garrett is literally rewriting the record books in Columbus and across the state. After winning back-to-back state titles in her freshman and sophomore years she is looking to three-peat this weekend in the pole vault.
After clearing 13-4 at the Nebraska Track Festival last month, she’s the all-time, all-class leader in Nebraska in the event and currently sits 10th in the nation for girls high school pole vaulters.
Despite coming in as the heavy favorite, Garrett isn’t approaching state as a foregone conclusion.
“It was just a relief being able to go back to state and being able to show what I can do again,” she said. “I’m just trying not to focus on anything but the vault. Just try to maintain a relaxed composure and just have a smooth day. Just have a solid day. Having a smooth runway would be the ultimate goal.”
Jessica Gardner of Lincoln North Star is second in the rankings with a season record of 12-0 and a personal record of 12-1. Gardner vaulted 10-8 at districts while Garrett vaulted 12-6.
If Garrett can clear 13-0 she’ll break the All-Class State Meet record currently held by Jenny Green of Grand Island Central Catholic set back in 2003.
Senior Caedyn Nolan only started vaulting last year after switching from sprints. Despite being relatively new to the event, he cleared 13-0 at districts to clinch a spot in the state championships.
“I was just super pumped up seeing it’s only my second year vaulting,” Nolan said. “I’m a senior this year, so I was just overwhelmed that it actually happened. That was my goal from the beginning of the season. I thought it was going to be a little bit of a challenge, which it was.”
Nolan said the decision to switch events was due to him having good speed and height which made him a prime candidate for vaulting.
Nolan said his goal in to set a personal record and clear 13-6.
Juniors Nick and Noah Stoeckle have been competing against each other their entire life.
Between the two twins, they’ll be participating in five events at state.
Nick will run in the 110 hurdles, 300 hurdles and the 1600 relay. Noah will be jumping in both the long and triple jump.
“We always try to beat each other,” Noah said. “I love working with my brother because he always pushes me because he’s always hard on himself. It makes me hard on myself when I’m trying to get better. It’s always fun to watch and cheer each other on.”
After missing state last year, Noah said he was excited when he qualified last week.
“I was really ecstatic,” he said. “I missed it last year. I was predicted to go to state for triple jump. I had an off year after making it to state freshman year. I was super happy about this year, especially to make it in both long and triple.
“I’ve really struggled with long the past few years , so this year has been really great for long. I was happy to make it for both on both final jumps. It was sigh of relief, and I’m ecstatic last year. ”
Noah said he hopes to get into finals in both his events and possibly push for the school record in the long jump.
Nick said having a twin on the team brings out the best in one another.
“It’s definitely fun to have a brother out here,” he said. “There’s a different kind of competition when it comes to siblings. You’re always trying to one-up them and just be better than them.
“In a way, it pushes us harder to do our best and be leaders to other people. When you are brothers on the team, people notice there’s two of you and not just one. Plus it’s just fun to push each other and have fun and just grow together in track.”
Nick said state week always comes with extra adrenaline.
“It’s state week, it gets me extra excited,” he said. “First and foremost, I’m just having fun at practice. I’m excited for state to come up, big competition. Most importantly though is it’s just another meet.
“Just treat it like so, practice hard. On and off the field just do well in school. Just keep it up. State’s a really fun experience. It’s just fun to get to compete against the best of the best. ”
Like Garret, Nick is a Discoverer expected to find his way to the podium based on his season thus far. But rather than worry about expectations, he’ll try to live in the moment.
“I like going to state,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun. I just focus more on that part.”
Peter Huguenin is a sports reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com