ST. PAUL — The Stillwater boys’ track and field team scored points in two of the six events it qualified for in the Class AA state meet, which was held June 9-10 at Hamline University.
The Ponies opened Saturday’s competition with a third-place showing in a tight 4×800 relay and followed that up with a sixth-place showing in the 4×200.
East Ridge scored 51 points to capture the school’s first-ever state team championship while Lakeville South (44) and Wayzata (43) followed in second and third.
Stillwater was not going to be a factor in the team chase, but the Ponies carried solid expectations in the three relays and with Josh Phelps in the 400 meters.
The Ponies’ top finish came from Cole Lebourgeois, Noah Johnson, Addison Stansbury and Isaac Krahn in the 4×800 relay, but their bid for a state title fell just short as Bemidji surprised Stillwater and Wayzata to claim the gold medals in a time of 7:52.90. The Trojans (7:53.27) and Ponies (7:53.68) entered with the fastest seed times, but each finished behind Bemidji in a race that remained tight throughout. Versatile senior Cody Roder carried the Lumberjacks to victory with a strong anchor leg.
“I think Wayzata was surprised, too,” Ponies coach Scott Christensen said. “Bemidji beat us fair and square. That’s what sports is, they were just better.”
The Ponies expected to run faster with Lebourgeois leading off the relay. He ran the open 1,600 at sections, but moved into the relay after failing to qualify for state with a third-place finish in that event. He ran the fastest leg for Stillwater, but it was still not enough to separate from the other contenders. Johnson and Stansbury kept Stillwater at or near the lead through the second and third legs passing it to Krahn.
“He couldn’t get the baton second or third but that’s exactly what happened,” Christensen said. “When it’s that windy, it’s hard to get out. We were faster because Cole was our leader and he was 1:56 high, but we couldn’t break away.
“(Bemidji) was out of it after one, but their second guy got them back into it. We have more guys than they run out so I just kept waiting for them to run out. We let them stay in it. They just stayed in it and their guy just had more foot speed at the end.”
Stillwater added a sixth-place finish from Nate Musser, Charlie Richman, Andrew Frenchik and Phelps in the 4×200, but even that was up in the air after Friday’s prelims when Phelps suffered a hamstring injury while competing in the prelims of the 400 meters.
Christensen did not want him to run in the finals, but the Phelps received medical clearance and was able to run a solid anchor leg to bring Stillwater across the line in a time of 1:29.46.
“He should have never run, but he ran hard,” Christensen said. “He didn’t back down and he got in there and ran tough and ran a great leg.”
“It’s just a great way to end out the year,” Phelps added. “Yesterday was kind of a bad day for me with my hamstring in the open 400, but today was a good day to bounce back and with these guys there’s no better feeling than finishing at state right now.”
It provided a medal for someone who entered the state meet with higher expectations.
“It’s bittersweet, because coming in here ranked the second best 400 runner in the state and to not even quality for finals is hard to swallow,” Phelps said. “But I have college next year to help me through that, this is just the beginning.”
After hobbling across the line in the 400 the previous day, Phelps returned home and took an ice bath, followed by heat and light jogging on the grass — determined to not make that his final high school race.
“I definitely thought I was going to run today and I babied myself yesterday,” Phelps said. “I am glad I could run today. I woke up today and said it’s my senior year and it’s my last run before college next year and I want this bad. I want to do it for those guys out there, there’s no other better feeling right now than finishing it out.”
The Ponies were also expected to contend for a spot on the medal stand in the 4×400 relay, but they ranked 10th after preliminaries to miss out on a spot in the finals. Lebourgeois replaced Phelps in that event, which also included Frenchik, Noah Johnson and Stansbury running for Stillwater.
“Cole did a great job, but we had four in the 51s,” Christensen said. “It’s tough when you have four in the 51s.
“Not only was (Phelps) a three-event guy, but second or third in the 400 and he was the key to our 4×400. He was the most valuable guy we had in the meet. They were all important, but he was certainly the most valuable. That stuff happens in sports. You coach long enough and you’re so insulated from the emotion of injuries you just sort of deal with it and it’s next guy up. I hate to see it, but it’s sports. I feel bad for him, but it doesn’t diminish his season at all. He is our second fastest 400 runner ever.”
Phelps, who plans to run at Minnesota State University in Mankato, was determined to finish off an outstanding senior season that was inspired in part by a third-place finish in the 400 at sections a year ago..
“My goal at the start of the year was to make it in the open 400 and I did a lot more than that,” Phelps said. “It’s a really humbling accomplishment.”
The Ponies were also represented in the pole vault by junior Alex Vagle, who placed 15th after clearing 12-6. Another junior, Zach Johnson finished 18th in the long jump with a distance of 19-9 3/4.
“They just came up short,” Christensen said. “In AA track it’s strength and our kids are just a year away. Look at the times and distances and you don’t make up that kind of ground in the last meet.”
It was a mixed bag for the Ponies, but the MSHSL state meet has never been Christensen’s measuring stick for the strength of a program — even though his teams have won five titles.
“I’ll just go back to what I’ve always said. None of the team scores matter,” Christensen said. “The team got all decided at True Team state. We’re the sixth best team in the state no matter what happened. I love coaching this team. The stars were stars and worked hard.
“The 400 I feel bad about. I thought we had Josh in condition and his injury affected the other two relays. The 4×800 we just got beat. Two better teams beat us. I didn’t go home crying, It doesn’t at all change how I view this team. We were sixth at state, that’s what we were on the day you decided the best team in the state is Wayzata, which in a dual meet is going to beat East Ridge by 150 points. East Ridge had a great group of individuals who performed well, but how I look at my track team isn’t what’s based on what happened (at MSHSL state). That’s all been decided.”
Team standings (top 10)
1. East Ridge 51; 2. Lakeville South 44; 3. Wayzata 43; 4, tie, Mounds View 42 and Hopkins 42; 6, tie, St. Francis 41 and Edina 41; 8. Elk River 40; 9, tie, Maple Grove 34 and Eden Prairie 34; 26. Stillwater 12.
100 — 1. Denzel Brown (Eden Prairie) 10.50.
200 — 1. Denzel Brown (Eden Prairie) 20.97.
400 — 1. Genuine Matthews (St. Francis) 48.72. Prelims: 16. Josh Phelps (St) 51.96.
800 — 1. Marcus Haskins (East Ridge) 1:56.94.
1,600 — 1. Seth Eliason (Hopkins) 4:17.08.
3,200 — 1. Alex Miley (Maple Grove) 9:10.82.
110 hurdles — 1. Henry Adams (Edina) 14.07.
300 hurdles — 1. Joel Smith (Mounds View) 37.81.
4×100 relay — 1. Mankato West, 41.95.
4×200 relay — 1. East Ridge, 1:27.17; 6. Stillwater (Nate Musser, Charlie Richman, Andrew Frenchik and Josh Phelps) 1:29.17. Prelims: 6. Stillwater, 1:29.46.
4×400 relay — 1. East Ridge, 3:20.59. Prelims: 10. Stillwater (Andrew Frenchik, Noah Johnson, Addison Stansbury and Josh Phelps) 3:24.81.
4×800 relay — 1. Bemidji, 7:52.90; 3. Stillwater (Cole Lebourgeois, Noah Johnson, Addison Stansbury and Isaac Krahn) 7:53.68.
Long jump — 1. Anthony Fleischfre (Spring Lake Park/St. Anthony) 22-10 3/4; 18. Zach Johnson (St) 19-9 3/4.
Triple jump — 1. Christopher Udalla (Elk River) 46-7 3/4.
Shot put — 1. Eric Rousemiller (Lakeville South) 60-10 3/4.
Discus — 1. Jake Kubiatowicz (North St. Paul) 194-6.
High jump — 1. Eli Hylen (St. Francis) 6-8.
Pole vault — 1. Noah Shafer (Lakeville South) 14-6. 15. Alex Vagle (St) 12-6.