By STUART GROSKREUTZ – Stillwater Gazette
ST. PAUL – The state meet provided some ups and downs for the Stillwater girls’ track and field team – not to mention closure for Kelcie Kempenich, Natalie Phippen and the other members of the runner-up 4×200 and 4×400 relay teams.
Those relays were the top performers from among Stillwater’s 14 athletes making up eight entries, including all four relays, as the Ponies compiled 20 points to tie for 14th place in the team standings at the Class AA state meet on Saturday at Hamline University.
Kempenich and Phippen joined Bethany Adkins and Alex Crain to place second in the 4×200 relay with a time of 1:41.76, trailing only an Osseo foursome that broke the all-time state record with a winning time of 1:40.22. The Ponies shattered the previous Stillwater school record of 1:43.04 set by Meghan Weber, Teal Slivik, Jodie Starks and Abbey Fischer in 2001.
The Ponies then closed out the state meet with an inspired performance while finishing second after a photo finish in the 4×400 relay. Fiona Montie, Phippen, Maria Morley and Kempenich, who nearly pulled off a significant comeback with a blistering anchor leg, turned in a time of 3:54.92 – which ranks No. 2 on Stillwater’s all-time list – to place just one one-hundredth of a second behind winner Prior Lake (3:54.91).
Kempenich faced a sizeable gap after taking the final hand-off and eventually caught Prior Lake’s Madison Lesmeister before getting clipped at the line.
"I didn’t plan on getting that close when I started, but I heard my coach (Lancer Lumby) and he was like, ‘you can do it, you’re faster than her’, so then I thought maybe I could do it," Kempenich said. "I didn’t think I could get her until about 100 (meters) out and then around the 200 mark I started closing a little bit and then I hit a wall so it was hard to keep going, but I’m glad we got second. I’m happy."
It provided one of the most thrilling – and surprisingly close – finishes of the meet.
"I’m a little biased, but I thought the 4×400 was probably the most exciting race of the day," said Ponies coach Dawn Podolske, who estimated Prior Lake’s lead at about 15 meters to start the final leg. "Kelcie had a long way to go to even contend. When I saw her, I just thought she had no chance of even getting close to that girl and she just went out after it. That was the final race of her career and she had nothing to lose – to watch that last race was so exciting.
"It was one of the most exciting races I’ve ever witnessed. It was so much like the one where Caitlin Hewes went out after it and got nicked (in the 1,600 meters in 2008). It’s the closest you can come to winning or losing, but second place is not losing. On the backstretch, just to hear the fans and sense it from far away, we saw her lean and it was a photo finish."
It was certainly more gratifying than a year ago when the Ponies failed to qualify after Phippen and Kempenich were part of a team that placed fourth at state in the event in 2010.
"I never got over it from last year until now, so I’m happy," Kempenich said. "It makes up for it, definitely."
In a meet where "team" is a relative term, Kempenich did not even consider competing in an individual event at the expense of one or both relays.
"I just like being on a team," Kempenich said. "I’d rather do it with my team than on my own. It’s more fun just being with the team and warming up with them and sharing the same feelings at the end."
The remainder of the state meet offered a mixed bag for the Ponies, with a disqualification in the 4×100 prelims on Friday among the primary disappointments. Stillwater’s team of Lauren Olsen, Alex Crain, Bethany Adkins and Anna Posbergh was at the front of the pack in their heat before an exchange zone violation cost the Ponies a spot in the finals.
"We had some bumps in the road, obviously," Podolske said. "Things happen in the state meet. You kind of focus on the woulda, coulda, shoulda and it seemed like a disappointing couple of days, but then to get the two seconds was exciting."
The Ponies had a narrow miss in the 100 hurdles where junior Brooke Hunter ranked 10th after prelims to fall short of earning a spot in the finals. Shelby Litchy took a tumble during the prelims in the 300 hurdles and ranked 17th in that event, more than four seconds behind her seed time.
"Brooke just missed making the finals, but that was her second best time of the season," Podolske said. "We wouldn’t have believed it if you had told us she was going to be a section champion, but she gained such huge confidence throughout the season."
Posbergh competed in the pole vault on Saturday and settled for 17th after clearing 10-0. Competing on Friday, Alicia Doerr finished 10th in the long jump with a distance of 15-10 3/4.
Stillwater’s other entry was the 4×800 relay, where Cassie Pratt, Larissa Colvin, Abby Lange and Morley placed 15th in a time of 9:56.25.
Even with a few missteps at state, the Ponies were able to celebrate s successful season that included conference and section titles (True Team and MSHSL) and a fourth-place finish at True Team state.
"It really was a magical season and to have it happen with such a great group of kids made it worthwhile," Podolske said. "The team has had a lot of fun, too. This group of kids has worked so hard."
n Lakeville South scored 56.5 points to claim the state championship while Alexandria and Minnetonka tied for second with 49 points.
Team standings (top 15)
1. Lakeville South 56.5; 2, tie, Alexandria 49 and Minnetonka 49; 4, tie, Hopkins 40 and Farmington 40; 6. Prior Lake 39; 7. Minneapolis Southwest 32; 8. Mounds View 31; 9. Osseo 26; 10, tie, Apple Valley 24 and Cretin-Derham Hall 24; 12, tie, Shakopee 24 and St. Francis 24; 14, tie, Stillwater 20 and Edina 20.
100 – *1. Taylor Anderson (Hopkins) 11.71.
200 – 1. Wensia Johnson (Alexandria) 24.65.
400 – 1. Megan Linder (Cretin-Derham Hall) 56.53.
800 – 1. Haylie Zenner (Fergus Falls) 2:11.27.
1,600 – 1. Maria Hauger (Shakopee) 4:55.88.
3,200 – 1. Maria Hauger (Shakopee) 10:28.85.
100 hurdles – 1. Nadia Lorencz (Farmington) 14.36. Prelims: 10. Brooke Hunter (St) 15.38.
300 hurdles – 1. Meleah Biermaier (Thief River Falls) 43.48. Prelims: 17. Shelby Litchy (St) 50.12.
4×100 relay – *1. Hopkins, 47.73. Prelims: Stillwater (Lauren Olsen, Alex Crain, Bethany Adkins and Anna Posbergh) DQ.
4×200 relay – *1. Osseo, 1:40.22; #2. Stillwater (Bethany Adkins, Kelcie Kempenich, Alex Crain and Natalie Phippen) 1:41.76. Prelims: 2. Stillwater, 1:42.27.
4×400 relay – 1. Prior Lake, 3:54.91; 2. Stillwater (Fiona Montie, Natalie Phippen, Maria Morley and Kelcie Kempenich) 3:54.92. Prelims: 2. Stillwater, 3:57.15.
4×800 relay – 1. Minnetonka, 9:21.51; 15. Stillwater (Cassie Pratt, Larissa Colvin, Abby Lange and Maria Morley) 9:56.25.
Long jump – 1. Nadia Lorencz (Farmington) 17-11 3/4; 10. Alicia Doerr (St) 15-10 3/4.
Triple jump – 1. Taylor Johnson (Eden Prairie) 37-9 3/4.
Shot put – 1. Maggie Ewen (St. Francis) 48-4.
Discus – *1. Maggie Ewen (St. Francis) 179-09
High jump – 1. Tatyana Pashibin (Minneapolis Southwest) 5-6.
Pole vault – 1. Emily Guimont (Edina) 11-6; 17. Anna Posbergh (St) 10-0.
# Stillwater school record
* All-time state record