Jasper’s fast four know faster awaits

Tegan Johnston/The Herald
Jasper’s Tristan Backer, left, and Will Smith compose half of Jasper’s 3,200-meter relay team that broke a regional record last week and now have a lofty state finals seed to go with it. The Wildcat quartet, which also features Cale Kilian and Corbin Kaiser, is seeded fourth for the state meet that will kick off a 3 p.m. Friday at the Robert C. Haugh Track and Field Complex in Bloomington.


There’s southwest Indiana fast, and then there’s state of Indiana fast.

Just ask Cale Kilian about how fast the runners are at Friday’s state finals in Bloomington.

“Pretty dang fast,” Kilian said with a laugh.

But hold up. That was the old way of thinking.


Traditionally, making the state meet might bring a happy-to-be-there cause for celebration, but after Jasper’s 3,200-meter relay team registered a school and regional record time of 7:53.75 at last week’s regional, the Wildcats possess much bigger goals than just a token appearance. That regional time netted the 3,200 relay team of Corbin Kaiser, Kilian, Tristan Backer and Will Smith a fourth-place seed for the state meet. Last season, the 3,200 team, which had senior Henry Love alongside Smith, Kaiser and Kilian, secured a 12th-place seed and finished 22nd overall.

This time around, the goal is a top-five time, Kilian and Kasier agreed. And if you ask the pair of seniors whether they think winning it all is a possibility, they’ll quickly answer with an affirmative. After all, “they’re pretty dang fast, but they’re not that much faster than us,” Kaiser added.

“It’s usually the Indy schools who are getting all those big seeds,” Kaiser said. “For us to beat out Avon and Westfield and schools like that who have 5,000 kids, it’s really crazy.”

“To have the fourth-fastest time in the state and you’re talking single class, 400-plus schools, that’s a real big deal,” Jasper coach Kevin Schipp added. “Not that we’re a small school around here, but in the big picture, there’s schools in that event that are four and five times bigger than us.”

Carmel (7:50.24) is seeded first with Zionsville second and Fishers third, just six-hundredths of a second ahead of the Wildcats. Jasper’s 1,600 relay quartet of Noah Mehringer, Chris Backer, Reece Milligan and Elliot Prange is slotted as the 23rd seed, while Forest Park senior thrower Zach Cline earned the second-highest seed of any local athlete, at eighth in discus. Ranger teammate Andrew Schuler has the 25th seed in the shot put after his regional championship in the event. Jasper’s Sam DeWitt, who didn’t automatically qualify for state but received a callback, is seeded 17th in the 110 hurdles. 

Schipp said this also happens to be one of the biggest groups he’s taken to state, with nine total Wildcats in three different events after being in two events a year ago. Smith, who ran at state last season, admitted to being somewhat overwhelmed at first and noted the state meet is “when people show their true colors.” Times dip sometimes by two to three extra seconds from regional, which is quite a cut in the realm of running.

“It steps up a lot from our regional and our sectional,” Smith said. “At regional, some people probably run like 70 percent of their speed.”

Jasper runners have witnessed an increase in the team’s internal competition the last few years, the quartet said. That’s in part due to the talent level, and also because of how committed this group is, Schipp noted. In the offseason, the relay team puts in about 20 to 30 miles a week, and that’s bumped up to 30 to 40 miles during the season, Kaiser said. Schipp mentioned he’s sometimes greeted by a gang of Wildcat runners when they stop by his house on the weekend while cranking out 6 to 7 miles on their own time.

“You have four quality kids there who have ability, but also want to achieve that high level,” Schipp said. “A lot of times you say you want to, but they work for it. They work hard every day. They work hard on weekends on their own. That’s the things that make you better is when you’re always committed to what you want to accomplish.”

To break up the monotony of running, Kilian, Kaiser, Backer and Smith will talk about all kinds of random stuff, and the group is pretty close friends as well. They know each other well enough now to the point that “you’re not afraid to yell at them if they aren’t working hard enough,” Backer said. While the ultimate dream might be winning the 3,200 relay, Schipp acknowledged that’s a tough ask.

“You never know what can happen, but the approach has to be you have to stay calm and run your best and get out there and compete in the race and see what happens,” Schipp said. “If you focus on the outcome, you won’t have that same performance. You might be tight. But they still go into this as an underdog. There’s still people that even though they had the fourth-fastest time don’t see them as being the fourth-best team in that relay.”

Some of the bigger schools that choose from a larger pool might not have necessarily had their A-team running in sectional or regional, Schipp added. And Kaiser added that even though Jasper has snagged a high seed, “it’s about how you finish.” So far, the 3,200 team has strengthened as the competition stiffened. At regional, their final time was nearly 30 seconds faster than their seed time.

Come Friday, the group hopes it has a few more gains remaining.

“They’re just used to being in those big meets,” Kaiser said of teams from the Indianapolis area. “We’re in like a weaker area, you could say, and so we’re just used to winning all the time and those guys are used to getting pushed all the time. We just haven’t even really gotten pushed. Even at regional we won by five seconds. That’s just crazy. There’s no one you’re running with. We’re just running off of ourselves, and it’s really hard to do that. I’m excited to see what we can do when we have competition, someone in front of us to chase.”

Bound for Bloomington

Eleven local athletes will wrap up their seasons on the state’s biggest state at Friday’s state finals on the campus of Indiana University:

• Jasper 3,200 relay (Tristan Backer, Corbin Kaiser, Cale Kilian, Will Smith)

Jasper 1,600 relay (Noah Mehringer, Chris Backer, Reece Milligan, Elliot Prange)

Sam DeWitt, Jasper (110 hurdles)

Zach Cline, Forest Park (discus)

Andrew Schuler, Forest Park (shot put)

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