Western South Dakota has been known historically for having strong showings at the state track and field meet, regardless of class and location.
Last year, Custer's Tori Glazier and Belle Fourche's Shayla Howell ended their decorated careers with double digit state titles. There's no shortage of boys' and girls' athletes who will be either defending state titles or aiming to win one this season.
One of the rivalries to watch this season will be in the Class AA girls 100-meter hurdles, and it is between two hurdlers from the same town.
Elizabeth Schaefer of Rapid City Stevens took home the title last year, and it always seems to come down to her and Emilee Nickel of Rapid City Central.
Nickel won the state title in 2017, but finished fifth last season when she clipped a hurdle while she was in the lead. It's only served as motivation for her.
She said she also knows that taking down Schaefer won't be easy. She's started this season with a back injury, starting the season with some snow-outs has been a blessing in disguise for her.
"It was a struggle going from first to fifth, especially when I was in the lead and clipped a hurdle. It’s had me more focused this year," Nickel said. "It’s exciting but it’s also a lot of pressure. We’re so close and we always know our times. It’s back-and-forth between us. This year I want to get the state championship back."
As for Schaefer, she has another title to defend, the 300 meter hurdles.
She has won the last four, starting as a freshman. Last season she beat out Josephine Dal from Sioux Falls Lincoln.
Dal will be back this season, and will serve as tough competition for Schaefer if she wants to win the seventh state title of her career.
"She's one of those special athletes that don’t come around very often, so like any other year, we want her to stay healthy, work hard and compete to the best of her abilities," Stevens coach Paul Hendry said. "If her best effort gets her some more state titles in the hurdles that would be great. She has a target on her back, a lot of people are training and want to get what she’s had over the last few."
Having a target on your back is something Nickel knows all about. It was her win in 2017 in the 100 hurdles that pushed Schaefer to work harder and come out on top last season.
Another girls' athlete who will be pushing for more than state titles is Central's Hannah Young.
Her 200-meter title last season came in 24.8 seconds, Harrisburg's Erin Kinney finished second in 25.32. The Cobbler school record is 24.54, and she is hoping for a new record to stand by the at the end of the season.
"It's been my goal since eighth grade," she said of breaking the school record. "It would be so awesome, I don’t even know how I would describe it."
Kinney beat out Young for the 100 title, and her 4x100 meter relay team which also consisted of Hayleigh Young, Peyton Bagley and Lauren Sperlich fell just short to the Sioux Falls Washington team of Haley Christopherson, Laura Petterson, Jacee Johannsen and Nyanas Kur.
She is hoping to change that pattern this season.
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"Her work ethic is second to none, for her to get her first individual state title last year was something special," Central coach David Dolan said. "There’s some great competition across the state, they kind of push each other."
On the boys' side, two different St. Thomas More athletes will be aiming for not only multiple state titles, but to take down records as well.
Jens Christensen, who won the pole vault state title last season, will be trying to break the state pole vault record this season.
He won with a mark of 14 feet, which the state meet record is 14-10 from Sam Pribyl of Webster in 2000.
"He’s a pretty motivated kid. He’s had his sight set on that, and we’ve been trying to figure out how to get him on the right pole," STM coach Scott Benson said of his record attempt. "I think he took some attempts at 16 feet at the last meet. He’s there he just needs to get on the right pole on the right day and I think he has a legitimate shot at it."
There's also Jacob Hyde, who walked away from the Class A state meet last season with state titles in the 200, the 4x100 relay and the 4x200 relay.
In the 200 he finished in 21.88, close to breaking the record set in 2003 from West Central's Slade Hinrichs of 21.55.
Benson said they will also be running Hyde in the 400 this season because he believes that will be the distance he'll be asked to run at in college.
"It’s a little bit different training. It’s a longer race so he has to be prepared," he said. "He’s so strong that while a lot of runners have to go out and build that endurance for that race, he can finish that race. His training hasn’t changed that much, we did some different things in the offseason in preparation because we knew we’d be adding that this year."
Hyde and Christensen's teammate on the girls team, Hayleigh Timmer, will also be someone to watch this season.
She set a state meet record in the 800 with a time of 2:13.61 and topped Tori Glazier.
Timmer finished second in the 400 to another athlete to watch in this season, Caelyn Valandra-Prue, who ran for Class A's Todd County last season and won the 400 with a time of 57.54, barely edging out Timmer's 57.98.
This season Valandra-Prue will be running for Class B White River.
Sturgis' group of Ethan Brenneman, Jared Sailer and Trevor Christman will also be back to defend its 1,600 sprint medley title after Austin Permann graduated.
The Scoopers finished in 3:38.19 ahead of Sioux Falls Lincoln who finished in 3:39.45. Brenneman is also the state's defending 800 champion.
Andrew Law of Wall will also be back to defend his Class B 300 hurdles title, finishing in 40.68. He'll be looking to sweep the hurdle events, as he finished second in the 100 hurdles to Mason Larson of Langford Area who graduated last season.
Most local teams will look to compete at the Pierre Legion Relays Thursday in Pierre.