ST. PAUL — Receiving points from 10 of its 11 entries, the Stillwater boys’ track and field team won its second Class AA state championship in three years on Saturday at Hamline University.
In addition to critical points in the pole vault and discus, the Ponies showed off their strength in the distance events while racking up 65 points to outlast runner-up Forest Lake (59.5) and third-place Wayzata (57) for their fifth state championship since 1996.
Since the current two-class format began in 1976, only Stillwater, Wayzata and Mounds View with five each have won more than three state championships and only Apple Valley (three) has captured more than two. For Stillwater’s senior trio of Eric Colvin, Wayde Hall and Sean Bjork this marks the fourth state championship in the last three years — two in track and two in cross country — providing some friendly competition to the glory years of 1995 to 1998 when the Ponies won three state titles in each sport.
“It’s great. It’s pretty special to be a part of it and leave our mark on history,” Hall said. “It’s a lot of fun when everybody comes together and you see what they’re doing and you get the points and everybody is cheering for each other. It’s the best atmosphere.”
Forty-nine of Stillwater’s points came from its distance crew, but a runner-up finish by senior Connor O’Neill in the pole vault on Friday provided a nice boost after the Ponies did not match their own scoring projections in the 3,200 meters. Freshman Eli Krahn made the biggest splash after surging to second place in the two-mile free-for-all on Friday and followed that up with an individual state championship in the 1,600 meters on Saturday.
Krahn finished the mile in a time of 4:09.38 — less than three-tenths of a second off Ben Blankenship’s school record (4:09.10) set while capturing his second gold medal in 2007. Krahn held off Hall (4:10.42) and third-place Obsa Ali (4:10.91), who won the 3,200 meters a day earlier, for the title.
In addition to capturing the 22nd individual state championship for a Stillwater track athlete in the 32 years Scott Christensen has been the head coach, Krahn’s times in both races are the fastest in the country by a freshman this year according to milesplit.com. He also set the national record for a freshman in the 1,600 — bettering the short-lived all-time mark set by Austin Tamagno (4:09.43) at the California state meet on June 1.
“That didn’t even come anywhere near my mind,” Krahn said of the national record. “I had been shooting for a PR myself, that’s what I was going for, but I’ll take it. It hasn’t really sunk in yet, but I’m sure it will a little later. I’m excited to be part of the Stillwater dynasty at this point.”
Krahn was seeded third based on the 4:16.96 he ran at sections but there was no shortage of contenders from what is considered a deep and talented group of distance runners in the state right now.
“I knew Colvin was going to go out really hard and my goal was to stay up near him and the guys. I knew it was going to be fast, but I needed to stay up near those guys and stay in contention to the end,” Krahn said. “We were fast through all of it and going into that last lap I felt like I had some left in me and so I just made a move. I started trying to go around right at 400 (meters) to go, but I just packed up when I got between two guys until around 200 and I moved around Wayde and just really started to go for it.”
Hall, who is no stranger to state championships after winning the individual cross country title in the fall, could only marvel at his young teammate, who he embraced just moments after crossing the finish line in second place.
“I did everything I possibly could,” Hall said. “Eli was just too strong the last 100. I really don’t have any regrets. It was a fast race.”
Colvin’s efforts in the two-mile also helped create an epic race where Ali (8:57.07), Krahn (9:58.67) and Chaska’s Joey Duerr (8:59.03) each bettered the existing all-time state meet record of 8:59.19 set by Mike Torchia of Rochester Lourdes in 2006. The fourth- and fifth-place finishers Zack Benning (9:02.37) of Hastings and Jacob McDermott (9:02.58) of Cretin-Derham Hall also finished under the existing Class AA state record of 9:02.65 set by Elliott Heath of Winona in 2007.
Krahn was well behind Duerr before closing fast and slipping past him at the line to snag the silver medal.
“I rolled around that corner and was like holy cow, it was crazy fast. I was ecstatic about that (3,200),” Krahn said.
Colvin (9:07.80) and Hall (9:09.04) placed seventh and ninth in the 3,200. Even with superb running conditions for this year’s meet, it’s worth noting that in the previous five years Hall’s ninth-place clocking would have won three times and finished second the other two years.
“It was a crazy fast race,” Hall said. “We really push each other with all the surges we do and how we race. We couldn’t do it without each other. Me and Eric just didn’t have it at the end, but I think we rebounded pretty well.”
As he did in the 3,200 meters a day earlier, Colvin moved out quickly in the 1,600 and pushed a fast pace throughout the race. He faded to eighth down the stretch with a time of 4:16.62, but drew praise from his coach and teammates.
“If Channel 11 calls, Eric Colvin is the Athlete of the Week,” Christensen said. “Anybody who understands track and field understands that Eric Colvin single-handedly brought those times to fruition in the mile and two-mile — both from our kids and any kid in the meet. If Eric Colvin doesn’t run the races like he ran, we don’t win the state meet. He’s the basketball equivalent of getting 25 rebounds in the game or the left tackle in football. If you’re just there watching grandson Billy running you’re going to say it’s too bad he tired off, but I told those kids the only thing that’s going to disappoint me is if you don’t run the style that got you to this point and for Eric that meant having the courage to take it out. He carried it out as long as he could have and in a world full of followers, he’s a leader. He’s athletically courageous.
“If we don’t have three guys in the mile and two-mile racing each other as much as the competition, we don’t win the meet. It had to be those dynamics for the meet to work. It was almost like a relay, they were racing each other but they were relying on each other. Eli got the American ninth-grade record, but he absolutely needed Eric to get it.”
Christensen was confident in all three of his runners in the two longest races, but not necessarily surprised by how things played out. One sign that it might be Krahn leading the charge across the line came after a workout earlier in the week where the coach set a three-lap goal of 3:12 — with a 45-second jog between each lap — and then one final lap to see what they have left. Hall and Colvin ran 55- and 56-second laps while Krahn closed in just 51 seconds.
“Right then and there I thought this kid can win the mile and go under 4:10,” Christensen said. “He’s not going to finish in 51 because those jogs aren’t in there, but he’s going to be able to come in under 60. The key is to have someone get you to 3:12 and that’s what Colvin did. I’ve had six state mile champions since 1996 and they’ve all followed that same pattern.”
Stillwater’s others to capture state titles in the 1,600 under Christensen are Andy Tate in 1996, Luke Watson in 1997 and 1998 and Blankenship in 2006 and 2007.
Krahn finished 24th at the state cross country meet last fall — a solid showing, but not necessarily one that hinted at a 1-2 finish at state in the distances races this spring. He may not have expected so much, so soon, but there was some early encouragement this spring.
“We had a time trial the first week of practice and I did really well and I realized I could make some serious jumps this season and go for some really good places here,” Krahn said.
He’s also grateful to those seniors for pushing him in practice.
“I’m going to miss those guys so much,” Krahn said. “With them it takes every workout to the edge, makes every workout harder, better and faster when you get to push yourself with those guys every day.”
Winning the team title required more than just longer races and O’Neill picked up the Ponies after they scored fewer points than anticipated in the 3,200. O’Neill cleared 15-feet to finish second behind Buffalo’s Mitchell Valli, whose 15-7 1/2 effort was a new all-time state meet record.
“It snowballs when people do good like that. It’s really awesome,” Hall said of his teamate.
O’Neill no-heighted at state as a sophomore and finished ninth a year ago.
“(Christensen) wanted us to come out with 24 points total (on Day 1) and when I brought out the 10 we were right there exactly, so we were right on track,” O’Neill said. “My goal after 10th grade was that senior year I want to get top three up on the podium and I came away with second so I’m pretty happy with that. (Friday) was great and today is even better now that we’ve won it.”
There were some anxious moments along the way as O’Neill needed three attempts to make 14 feet and Bird — who finished fourth in the discus with a distance of 155-1 — only qualified for the finals on his third attempt in the prelims.
“If either of those things don’t happen, we don’t win,” Christensen said.
O’Neill is also rare for an elite level pole vaulter in that he was a four-event competitor for the Ponies throughout most of the season. With the season already condensed because of the late thaw and poor weather conditions — resulting in the cancellation of four varsity meets — O’Neill’s challenges only increased for a technical event like the pole vault.
“He never complained and was a great captain,” Christensen said. “He was so focused and so disciplined. At both sections and True Team state the vault was indoors so he was running in and out of the building to pole vault and other areas and he is a much greater manager of his energy and time than I thought he would be. He’s worthy of everybody’s applause who followed Stillwater track. Connor was willing to do anything and he’s a real team guy. I think he did it as much for the team points as anything else.”
Stillwater ran in Section 1 (the slower one) for the 4×800 timed finals, but still managed to finish fourth after finishing less than two-tenths of a second behind third-place Roseville. The Raiders finished 10 seconds behind the Ponies at the Section 4AA meet, but dropped more than 26 seconds off that time to finish in 7:54.69 — capped by anchor Tony Joyer narrowly clipping Bjork and the Ponies (7:54.88). Bailey Hesse-Withbroe, Tayler Aarness and Luke Richie also ran on the relay for Stillwater, which shaved more than 15 seconds off its section time.
Bjork added a fifth-place finish for the Ponies in the 800 meters with a time of 1:55.71.
Kevin Meads also competed for the Ponies in the 110 high hurdles, but ranked 15th with a time of 15.71 in Friday’s preliminaries and failed to advance to the finals.
1. Stillwater 65; 2. Forest Lake 59.5; 3. Wayzata 57; 4, tie, Eden Prairie 30 and Champlin Park 30; 6. Hopkins 29; 7. East Ridge 27.5; 8. Woodbury 27; 9, tie, Chaska 26 and North St. Paul 26.
100 — 1. Shaheed Hickman (Hopkins) 10.90.
200 — 1. Akeem Sirleaf (North St. Paul) 21.97.
400 — #$1. Nathan Roese (East Ridge) 47.56.
800 — 1. Matthew Rosen (Bloomington Jefferson) 1:53.82; 5. Sean Bjork (St) 1:55.71.
1,600 — 1. Eli Krahn (St) 4:09.38; 2. Wayde Hall (St) 4:10.42; 8. Eric Colvin (St) 4:16.62.
3,200 — #$1. Obsa Ali (Richfield) 8:57.07; *2. Eli Krahn (St) 8:58.67; 7. Eric Colvin (St) 9:07.80; 9. Wayde Hall (St) 9:09.04.
110 hurdles — 1. CJ Janu (Spring Lake Park) 14.37; 15. Kevin Meads (St) 15.71.
300 hurdles — 1. Cody Walton (Forest Lake) 37.60.
4×100 relay — 1. Forest Lake, 42.43.
4×200 relay — #$1. Wayzata, 1:26.92.
4×400 relay — 1. Wayzata, 3:17.06.
4×800 relay — 1. Eden Prairie, 7:47.61; 4. Stillwater (Bailey Hesse-Withbroe, Tayler Aarness, Luke Richie and Sean Bjork) 7:54.88.
Long jump — 1. Josh Lieberg (Sartell-St. Stephen) 21-10 1/2.
Triple jump — 1. Terrance Bowers (Hopkins) 45-9 3/4.
Shot put — 1. Benjamin Krynski (Lakeville North) 57-0.
Discus — 1. Anthony Tyler (Forest Lake) 160-3; 4. Nate Bird (St) 155-1.
High jump — 1. Ryan Lockard (Eastview) 6-7.
Pole vault — #$1. Mitchell Valli (Buffalo) 15-7 1/2; 2. Connor O’Neill (St) 15-0.
* Stillwater school record
# Class AA state record
$ All-time state meet record
Contact Stuart Groskreutz at email@example.com