Three years ago, Joe Rush took up running for the first time. Last weekend, he ran his way to a state championship.
Rush, a senior on the Custer High School track team, won the 3200 at last weekend’s Class A State Track Meet, and in doing so, defeated Derick Peters of West Central, a prohibitive favorite whom Rush had never beaten in a race. That is, until now.
Talk about saving your best for last.
“It was amazing. He’s been running his entire life,” Rush said of Peters, who is nationally ranked in cross country running. “I crossed the line and was at a loss for words. I couldn’t believe I won.”
Just because Rush couldn’t believe he won doesn’t mean he didn’t think he had it in him to beat Peters.
Rush started to believe he could slay the dragon that is Peters a few weeks ago when he broke the school record in the 3200. He knew his personal record was only seven seconds behind Peters’ and theorized if he could shave a second a lap off in the eight-lap race, he could beat the Trojan runner. He and assistant track coach Karen Karim discussed strategy for the race for a couple of weeks, and it’s a strategy that paid off.
It’s also a strategy that Peters wanted to change. Before the race Peters approached Rush about working together to give the crowd a show in the race. Rush told Peters he would work with him, but in the back of his mind he had his own plan—take the lead, hold it and push the pace. The only possible problem with that strategy was the weather, as temperatures over the weekend (the meet was held in Spearfish and Rapid City) was well into the upper 80s.
Rush said he and Peters exchanged leads for the first half of the race, while he told himself that when there was 1,000 meters left—two and a half laps around the track—he would take the lead and not give it back. When there was 600 meters left, he felt himself getting tired and questioned if he could hang onto the lead. A hundred yards later, however, he dug in, telling himself that if he could give it his all for the last 500 meters of his previous race, a leg of the Wildcats’ 3200 relay, he could do it with a state championship on the line in this race. With 300 meters left, he dropped the hammer. Peters couldn’t catch him.
“I controlled the race pretty much the whole time. I made it a two lap race,” Rush said. “It wasn’t necessarily fast, but it was very strategic.”
Rush finished the race at 9:52.55.
The championship was the culmination of Rush’s rapid ascension into one of the state’s top runners, and marks the hitting of a goal he set at the beginning of the season when he told a teammate he would like to add his name to Custer’s wall of champions that is prominently displayed on the west wall of the Armory.
“I said, ‘you know what? Why not make that a goal? Why think of myself as second best? Why not make myself number one?’ It feels great to accomplish a goal I had,” he said.
Custer’s other championship came from someone four years Rush’s junior, as Kellyn Kortemeyer shocked many people by winning the girls shot put title as an eighth grader. In a sport where the older participants generally do better, youth was served when Kortemeyer uncorked a throw of 38-8 on her first throw to win the gold medal.
Kortemeyer admitted she was nervous heading into the meet, and said in practice the day before she was set to compete she wasn’t confident that she could do well when it was time to throw. She became even more nervous when the meet started, since it was her first state meet.
“I was really nervous and freaking out,” she said.
The discus, which Kortemeyer had also qualified for state in, didn’t go as well as she had liked prior to the shot put, but she said she knew she couldn’t let the discus results affect how she threw the shot put. Her first throw put those worries to rest, and made her a state champion.
“It feels good,” she said.
With four more years of eligibility left, Kortemeyer is already dreaming big as to what she can accomplish and has already signed up for a summer lifting program with plans to throw the shot put over 40 feet next year.
Tori Glazier wrapped up her brilliant career with a pair of silver medals as she finished second in both the 800 and 1600 in times of 2:16.03 and 5:11.33, respectively. She finishes her career as a five-time state champion in the 800 and a two-time champion in the 1600, as well as several gold medals in relay events.
It appeared for most of the 1600 that Glazier would add to her state championship count as she led by a large margin most of the race, only to have her legs seize up the last few yards of the race. She fell to the ground, and a last-second lunge for the finish line saw Vermillion’s Maddie Lavin cross the line .11 seconds ahead of Glazier in a photo finish.
“A true heartbreak,” Custer head coach Craig Black said of Glazier’s tumble.
Glazier said after finishing second in the 800 and knowing the 3200 relay team wouldn’t make the finals she was determined to leave everything on the track in the 1600. The race was going just as she wanted, with her content to stay behind the leader and then out-sprinting everyone to the finish.
She was doing just that, taking off at the 200 meter mark. She said she felt fine until about 10 meters left in the race when suddenly “everything stopped working.”
“I kept trying to move forward, but everything gave out and I fell,” she said. “It was a blur. I heard someone scream ‘get up!’ I tried to get up and reach, but I had already used everything. I had used everything I had.”
Glazier said coming up short was hard, but said she has had her share of success over the years, which is something she can lean on in such a tough moment. She also takes solace knowing she left it all on the track, something she said she hasn’t felt in other races she has come up short in.
“There’s not much I can do. Obviously God made it happen for a reason,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking. I think part of it was everything I put on my legs the day before. I pushed myself to the max. I don’t regret anything I did in the race.”
Black said it has been a pleasure to coach Glazier, the most decorated track athlete in school history, but points out she is much more than just a strong runner. Glazier received the Gold Medal Scholarship at the Howard Wood Dakota Relays earlier this season, an award given for not only what an athlete accomplishes on the track in their career, but also what they do in their community.
“It was a tough way to end her last high school meet, but she’s had a fantastic career,” Black said. “Tori has been a great leader. She’s very encouraging and helpful with the younger ones. She has so many positive things besides her athletic gifts. She has been a great athlete and a great person.”
Rush won a bronze medal in the 1600 at the meet, finishing in a time of 4:34, while also running a leg of the Wildcat 3200 relay team that placed third in 8:10.76 and set a new school record in the process. He was joined on the team by Max Oesterling, Ben Wahlstrom and Nathaniel Youngblood.
Defending state discus champion Reed Ashmore finished in third place in the event this year with a top toss of 140-4, while Dathon Elmore hit a personal record in the pole vault when he cleared 12-3, which was good for seventh place.
Two other relays placed for the Wildcats, as the medley relay team of Kyle Kobza, Logan Block, Youngblood and Oesterling placed fourth in a time of 3:45.34, and the same four runners finishing fourth in the 1600 relay at 3:35.22.
St. Thomas More won the state team championship with 109.5 points, well ahead of second place Sioux Falls Christian with 80 points. Custer finished sixth with 40 points.
Other girls to place included Leah Zacher, who finished sixth in the discus with a top throw of 111-11 and Cassie Bawdon, who placed seventh in the shot put with a personal best throw of 35-7 1/4. Josey Wahlstrom placed eighth in the pole vault with a top height of 8-6 while also running a personal record time in the 200 of 26.94 although it wasn’t quite fast enough to earn a medal.
The 1600 relay team of Wahlstrom, Glazier, Anna Lewis and Tayler Carlson finished fifth at 4:13.18, while the 3200 team of Ramsey Karim, Kenzie Becker, Mallory Delmont and Glazier placed sixth at 10:07.91.
St. Thomas More made it a sweep of the team titles by also winning the girls championship with 82 points. Belle Fourche finished second at 52. Custer placed seventh with 38.5 points.
“Like any state track meet, we had our ups and downs,” Black said. “I think overall there were big plusses. We had some great work from the kids all the way around.”
Black, who retired from the school district, and subsequently, coaching, at the conclusion of the school year, said he was proud of the effort given by his athletes.
“The things the seniors put on the back of the shirts this year for the team was ‘Heart is the difference between those who attempt and those who achieve,’” he said. “I didn’t see anyone give anything but all heart all weekend. Just because you didn’t achieve what you thought you should achieve doesn’t mean you didn’t give it your all.”
Black retires having been Custer’s head coach for 16 years and coaching 25 years in total. He won two state championships along the way (the boys teams in 2013 and 2014) and coached five runner-up teams. He credits the athletes, parents and assistant coaches for helping him out along the way.
“I’m really appreciative and I’ve really enjoyed it,” he said. “There’s never going to be an easy or fun time to walk away from it. I’m just excited to see how they continue as a track team. Mrs. Black and I will be in the stands cheering.”