Heading into the spring, it would have been understandable if nobody expected the Custer High School (CHS) girls track team to do much of anything at the state meet.
Gone was multiple state champion runner Tori Glazier and some talented throwers and runners like Tayler Carlson, a key to Wildcat relays over the years. Replacing them were many unproven youngsters who had never competed on the biggest stage in high school track.
Only a few months later, those youngsters were key in the Wildcat girls bringing home a second-place trophy from the meet and surpassing the expectations of many, if not most.
“I thought our girls did extremely well,” Custer head coach Jordan Likness said. “I felt if we could have had a few extra bodies we could have really given St. Thomas More a run for their money, which we did anyway. We had some young talent step up and shine through.”
Among those was thrower Kellyn Kortemeyer, who won her second-consecutive title in the shot put with a top throw of 43-1 1/4.
Kortemeyer may have entered the meet as the defending champion, but she was actually seeded second going into the meet, as Kenna Curry of Elk Point-Jefferson had the best throw of the year headed into the meet.
Curry had thrown over 43 feet earlier in the year, and with Kortemeyer’s personal-best throw being just over 41 feet, she knew she had to add two feet to her best throw to beat Curry. Then she went out and did it on her second throw in prelims.
“I knew what I had to get in order to win,” she said.
Kortemeyer credited adrenaline and a struggle in the discus earlier in the meet with providing her the boost to unleash her best throw at the most critical of times.
“My adrenaline was so high,” she said. “I had to get my mind right. I didn’t do as well as I wanted to in the disc.”
Kortemeyer will enter her sophomore year as a now two-time state champion with larger goals in front of her.
“It feels good, but I still have more goals for myself to accomplish,” she said.
Josey Wahlstrom won the team’s other individual state championship in the pole vault, clearing 9-6, the same height that she had cleared a week earlier at the Region 8A meet, making her the top seed in the event.
“I was confident, but at the same time having the target on my back got me excited and kind of nervous,” she said.
Wahlstrom cleared 9-6 on her second attempt—the only competitor to hit that height—and attempted 10 feet and barely missed.
Being a state champion sent her into a bit of shock, she said.
“I was in shock for a while until I was on the podium,” she said. “Then the emotions hit me.”
Wahlstrom plans to clear 10 feet next year and has another ambitious goal—to go higher than her brother Clayton did in his pole vaulting days when he was a standout athlete at CHS.
Perhaps the most unexpected championship came in the sprint medley, when Goldie Whitaker, Sydney Gaulke, Mallory Delmont and Wahlstrom combined to run the race in 4:21.46 with Delmont running an anchor leg for the ages in the win.
“She really stepped up in a big way and shined,” Likness said. “She gave us a kick at the end to give us that title.”
Strategy for the race started the day before, when the decision was made only moments before the qualifying race to have Gaulke and Wahlstrom run the 200 legs of the relay, Nancy Falkenburg Brown run the 400 leg and Eva Studt run the 800 leg instead of having Delmont and Goldie Whitaker run the 800 leg and a 200 leg, respectively.
The idea, Likness said, was to take 200 meters of work off Wahlstrom’s legs and 800 meters off Delmont’s.
“It was a gutsy call by coach (Karen) Karim. She brought (the possibility) to my attention,” Likness said.
The move worked, as after Gaulke and Whitaker’s 200 legs in the final, Wahlstrom took the baton and began to work her way toward the front before handing the baton to Delmont, who had a back-and-forth battle with another competitor before bolting to her inside and racing to the finish line in first.
Delmont’s relay leg was only one part of a great state meet that saw her also finish second in the 1600 at 5:21.27, third in the 800 at 2:25.71 and also join Ramsey Karim, Sierra Oesterling and Kadense Dooley on the 3200 relay team that finished second in 9:46.73.
Other individual places for the Wildcats included Wahlstrom finishing fourth in the 400 at 1:00.66, Sierra Oesterling finishing fifth in the 3200 at 11:51.12 and Dooley finishing fifth in he 1600 at 5:23.26.
The Wildcats finished with 66 team points, just behind champion St. Thomas More, which had 76 points.
The Wildcat boys finished the meet with 36 points, good for fifth place. Like their female counterparts, the St. Thomas More boys took home the state championship trophy by scoring 97 points.
Nathaniel Youngblood capped his Wildcat career with a state championship in the 800, winning in a time of 2:02.52. Youngblood said his strategy consisted of staying with Braden Peters of West Central, the favorite heading into the race. With around 300 meters left in the race, another competitor, Levi Vanden Bos of Sioux Falls Christian, began to sprint and attempt to pass the field. Youngblood said he was determined to not let that happen and kicked it into gear, passing the field and taking control of the race. Youngblood said he could feel himself slowing down around the 100-yard mark, but was able to hang on and win by over a second.
“I was kind of surprised at first,” Youngblood said of his winning run. “I was like, ‘Did I really just win? Did I really win?’ It took me a while to get that through my mind. I felt it when we got to the hotel. I was like, ‘Holy crap, I won.’”
Youngblood may be finished as a Wildcat runner but not with running competitively, as he will head to Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell in the fall to begin his collegiate track career.
Youngblood also placed fourth in the 1600 at a time of 4:34.92, while anchoring the 1600 relay team that placed sixth. He was joined on that team by Blake Boyster, EJ Gonzalez and Micaiah Grace.
The Wildcats got a pair of third-place finishes at the meet, one from Jace Oesterling in the 3200 at 10:09.57 and the other from Dathon Elmore, who set a personal best height in the pole vault when he cleared 13 feet.
Rounding out the Custer places for the boys were Oesterling placing sixth in the 1600 at 4:37.84 and the 3200 relay team of Oesterling, Youngblood, Kaleb Wragge and Tucker Youngblood finishing sixth at 8:27.91.
“I was talking the boys up saying they could be fifth and above this year and maybe even top three,” Likness said.
Most of the athletes for both teams return next year, which could mean big things for both squads. The girls, in particular, will undoubtedly be among the favorites to dethrone St. Thomas More. If more sprinters and jumpers can be found, Likness said, it will only help strengthen the team.
“We have to diversify some of our athletes so we can use them in places they don’t think they belong,” he said. “We have to get them to strive and believe and achieve a little more.”
Likness said he is proud of what the Wildcats accomplished this year, a year that didn’t have the best of weather and saw several meets postponed or cancelled.
“The kids brought fight and determination to the table,” he said. “I really appreciate the mental toughness the kids showed this year. I look for great things to happen next year.”