The favorite coming into the Class AA boys high jump, Isaiah Morin-Baxter of Rapid City Stevens was one tipped bar away from elimination in his specialty at the South Dakota State Boys Tack and field championships Friday in Brandon.
After missing twice at 6-feet, 2 inches, the Raider senior summoned up an extra dose of resolve on his final leap, and though the bar wobbled a bit on his final chance at that height, stay it did, and Morin-Baxter rode the momentum of the do-or-die leap to a gold-medal winning performance.
He would win the event at 6-6, missing three times at 6-8.
“Starting slow has been a problem for me all season, and it was kind of scary today,” Morin-Baxter said of his pulse-pounding win. “I try to get warmed up as soon as I can, but I’ve had a couple meets where I miss the first couple jumps and then come back. I clearly was not yet ready to jump with those two misses. And so I did a little more warming up and came back ready and focused, and with confidence I would make it.”
Easier clearances at 6-4 and 6-6 settled the issue with Morin-Baxter edging Yankton basketball standout Matthew Mors for the title and completing a South Dakota grand-slam having captured the prestigious Howard Wood Relays championship in early May.
The win completed another impressive leap as he finished 11th at state last year and came in Friday with the heavy favorites tag firmly fastened.
“Coming in as the favorite was huge pressure,” said Morin-Baxter who will be competing for the University of Augustana next year. “You walk by people and sometimes you hear your name and you know you are expected to deliver. And if you win, everybody expects it, and if you lose, it’s all on you, so it was a huge relief to come through.”
Morin-Baxter’s winning effort helped propel the Raiders into a tie for third place in the boys' team standings with 25 points, behind runaway team leader Sioux Falls Lincoln (80.50) and Watertown (34).
Sioux Falls Roosevelt leads the Class AA girls team standings with 51 points while Stevens sits fifth (28).
Sturgis standout Ethan Brenneman took a different route to his second consecutive Class AA 800-meter title, jumping to the front on the first curve and never looking back en route to a 1 minute, 56.73 second winning effort.
“I do that every race. It could be a waterfall start and I would still do that. I just have to go out fast,” Brenneman said. “I want to be the leader, so I can’t get elbowed or boxed in, so I go out fast, cool it a little bit, and then with 300 meters to go, I go all out.”
Though in the lead from start to finish, Brenneman admitted that his late sprint to the finish line was perhaps spurred by a little extra motivation.
“I did hear some footsteps. One of my buddies (Tucker Berens of Pierre) was right behind me, so I thought I better push it into second gear,” said Brenneman, who will be joining the track squad at Iowa Western Community College next fall. “You aren’t going to get good unless you put in the time. Everybody likes to shine and get the glory, but if you haven’t put in the two-a-day workouts and taken care of yourself, it isn’t going to happen. All the credit for my success goes to our coach. Scott Peterson is the one of the best coaches in any sport, and it shows in that I think we are tied now for the most 800-meter wins in the last 20 years.”
Though Morin-Baxter and Brenneman were the only Black Hills area winners in the Class AA competition on Friday, a number of competitors turned in solid performances.
Senior Aubrey Williams of Stevens finished second to Sioux Falls Lincoln’s Leo Kayee (45-7 ½) in the boys triple jump with a of 44-8. Also placing for the Raiders in the triple were Jake Hafner (fourth) and George Pittman (seventh).
The Raider ladies placed three in the triple jump as well — Megan Baloun (third), Rylie Stonecipher (fourth) and Sammi Sundby (sixth). Other placements included Madisyn Trupe (third in girls pole vault) and Bryanna Kuhn, fifth in the 3200 won by Melanie Jacobs (Aberdeen Central) closely followed by Douglas sophomore Alissa Wieman.
A major disappointment came for Stevens in the girls 4X100 relay as a botched handoff on the final exchange in the prelims eliminated a Raider team that had the third best time coming into state for Saturday finals.
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“It’s a very technical event and unfortunately we didn’t get that last handoff down,” Stevens coach Paul Hendry said. “The girls were upset, but I think they bounced back nicely. They all had other events and they did very well in them. They put that in the past and took care of their next event.”
Big points await the Raiders on Saturday as senior Elizabeth Schaefer will be shooting to defend her 100- and 300-meter hurdles titles. Schaefer has won two 100-meter titles previously and four consecutive 300-meter titles.
“That has definitely been a goal of hers to win both the hurdles again,” Hendry added. “I think she ran one of her fastest times of the year in the 100 hurdles today and will probably have to do as well tomorrow to beat a talented field."
For Rapid City Central, senior Hannah Young, with the second fastest qualifying time in the 100 and 200, and top qualifying runs by the girls 4X100 and 4X200 relays teams, were the highlights of the day.
“Our girls performed very well today,” Central coach Dave Dolan said. “They had some of their best times and performances of the year, and that’s all we can ask from them at state. We don’t have a shot at a team title with so many events we don’t cover, but what they did, they did well.”
The Class A events at Tea High School on Friday were a showcase for Black Hills area athletes, particularly for the St. Thomas More Cavaliers.
The defending Class A champions in both boys and girls kicked off their title defense with winning performances on both sides of the ledger.
Jens Christensen easily won the pole vault with a 14-6-foot clearance, while Custer’s Dathan Elmore finished third (13-0), nipping STM’s Austin Bartunek (STM) on misses. Jacob Hyde put himself in position to sweep the sprints, recording the best times in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter prelims.
Lennox leads the Class A boys with 33 points closely followed by St. Thomas More (28).
On the girls' side, Kaci Cooper (2:22.33) and Haleigh Timmer (2:22.76) went one-two in the 800 meters.
The Custer girls (39) hold the team lead heading into the final day off a big day on hand Friday, led by a pair of 9th graders as Josey Wahlstrom won the pole vault (9-6) and Kellyn Kortemeyer won the shot put (43-1 ¼)
Wildcat Nathaniel Youngblood claimed gold for Custer on the boys side with a win in the 800 meters (2:02.91).
Custer is followed in the girls' team standings by Lennox (20), while St. Thomas More is tied with Elk Point/Jefferson with 18 points.
And while Hill City didn’t win any events on Friday, the Rangers maintained a long tradition of excellence in the girls' distance events as Karlee Simmons, Abby Cutler and Janean Hanka went two through four respectively in the 3,200 finale.
The Class B events were held at Howard Wood Stadium on Friday and the results of one event setup what may be a huge day for Caelyn Valandra-Prue on Saturday, as the White River sophomore won the 800 meters (2:21.93).
Valandra-Prue, a winner of the Class A 400 meters in 2018 while competing for Todd County, will be shooting for three more individual golds on Saturday as she has the fastest qualifying times in the 200 and 400, and the second quickest time in the 100 meters.
All three classes head to Howard Wood Stadium on Saturday for the final session. Field events are scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. (MDT) while track events begin at 8:30 a.m. The final event of the day, the boys 4X400 relay goes at 1:35 p.m.