With 60 athletes signed up to compete, several of which qualified for the state meet a year ago, first-year Custer High School track coach Jordan Likness is optimistic both teams can once again be contenders when the state meet rolls around in May.
Likness replaces long-time head coach Craig Black, who retired as a teacher and coach at the end of the last school year.
“We have been getting some decent work indoors, but the weather has not been great for getting outdoors for practice,” Likness said of his first few days on the job. “The kids have been working hard, and the rest of the state has to deal with the rotten weather too, so I think we’ll be fine.”
Among the 32 girls out for the team this year are Kellyn Kortemeyer, who won the Class A state title in the shot put despite only being in eighth grade. Other returning state qualifiers for the Wildcats who return on the girls’ side are Josey Wahlstrom, who was eighth in the pole vault and part of the fifth-place finishing 1600 relay and also qualified in the 200 and medley relay; Anna Lewis, who was a part of the 1600 relay and also qualified in both the 100 and 300 hurdles; Mallory Delmont, who was part of the sixth-place finishing 3200 relay team and also qualified in the 1600 and 3200, Ramsey Karim, who was part of the 3200 relay; Nancy Falkenburg Brown, who was part of the 1600 relay, Kadense Dooley, who qualified in he 3200; Hannah Golder, who qualified in the shot put; and Sidney Gaulke, who qualified in the medley relay.
Likness said Delmont, who has placed at the state meet every year since her seventh-grade season, has the potential to qualify and place this year in multiple distance events.
Eighth-grader Sierra Oesterling, who helped the Wildcats win a state championship in cross country in the fall, is a Wildcat who Likness said could do big things in the 3200. Others girls from the cross country championship team (Karim, Dooley, Falkenburg Brown, Eva Studt, Josie Dvorak, Serenity Meyer and Emma Helfer) should fill out the distance events nicely.
Wahlstrom has twice qualified for the state meet in pole vault, and will be among the team’s top sprinters. Lewis is also a two-time state qualifier, having done so in hurdle events. Her sister, Grace Lewis, is also an experienced hurdler.
Likness said senior Tyrae Johnson will help out in the sprints, as will junior Cinthia Rubio-Hernandez, Gaulke, Heidi Moore, Goldie Whitaker and Emily Meyer.
Kortemeyer will undoubtedly be the favorite to repeat as state champion in the shot put, and should compete for the crown in the discus, as well. Golder, Laney Carlin and Nichole Johnson will all compete in the throws for the ’Cats as well. Lexie McQuarrie is a two-time state qualifier in the pole vault, and eighth-grader Alyssa Koffler may see some varsity time in that event.
“We have girls who can score points in multiple events this season, but we will need to come up with some depth for the relays to really compete as a top team,” Likness said. “Placing multiple kids in certain individual events may help us tip the scale in our favor.”
On the boys’ side, senior Nathaniel Youngblood is among the top returners, as he qualified for the state meet in four events last year, and was a part of the school record-setting 3200 relay. Youngblood was also a part of the fourth-place finishing 1600 relay, the fourth-place finishing medley relay and the 800.
Other state meet qualifiers who return for the boys are Jace Oesterling in the 1600 and 3200, Kaleb Wragge in the 1600, Dathan Elmore, who finished seventh in the pole vault, EJ Gonzalez, who was part of the 400 relay team, Daniel Sedlacek, who was also a member of that team, and AJ Kortemeyer in the shot put.
Youngblood placed fourth in the state cross country meet last fall, helping the Wildcats to a state championship. Oesterling was also a member of that team, and placed sixth at the meet.
Likness said Wragge was one of the best freshmen mile runners a year ago, and the rest of the state championship cross country team (Miles Ellman, Pierce Sword, Preston Drew and Tucker Youngblood) should help fill out the remainder of the distance events.
Likness said Kortemeyer has worked hard in the weight room and will be counted on to lead the team’s throwers, while sprinters Micaiah Grace, Danny Fries, Sedlacek and Gonzalez bring experience and fellow sprinters Zach Mann and Damon Hartman show promise.
Elmore will be counted on to lead the pole vaulters this year, which include his younger brother, Dossen, as well as Ashton Dekker. Junior Isaac Powers is expected to be the team’s top high jumper.
“I expect our boys to keep setting and breaking personal bests throughout the season, while having fun and striving for a team championship,” Likness said. “We return a few talented athletes in almost every area. How much those boys have grown and improved remains to be seen, but the potential for a successful team is there.”
In the girls’ conference race, Likness said defending state champions St. Thomas More is the favorite, with Spearfish and Sturgis also contenders because of the larger pool of athletes they have to draw from as class AA schools.
The same three teams are the favorites on the boys’ side as well, Likness said, for the same reasons.
“Scoring points in a track meet is a numbers game,” he said.