Raiders carry 'killer instinct' into state finalsJune 1, 2018
By HENDRIX MAGLEY
Southridge girls track and field head coach Ted O’Brien admits that he gets a little nervous, maybe even more so than the girls in the events, when watching his team compete in big meets such as the sectional and regional meets the past two weeks.
But as the season went on for the Raiders girls track team, O’Brien began to notice a growing confidence as more and more individuals were placing first in their events and setting personal records. After winning the Pocket Athletic Conference title for the second consecutive year and taking home their first sectional trophy since 1982 (just the second in school history), O’Brien tends to call that confidence something a little different now.
“These girls have a killer instinct and it’s been a blast to see these past three weeks,” said O’Brien, as the Raiders are now sending at least one person to the state finals for the 14th consecutive year. “It’s been really nice to see the team grow and I think their biggest growth has been on the mental side. They were just as talented last year but think they were just a little unsure of themselves but now they’re knocking on the door of school records and winning championships and I think that’s what happen when you have a total buy-in.”
Southridge will be sending seven girls to today’s IHSAA State Finals at Indiana University to compete in eight different events — Tori Tretter in the discus, Karli Meyer in the shot put, Alexis Brady in the 100m dash, Grace Sickbert in the 100m hurdles, Kenzie Neukam in the 200m dash, Anna Altstadt in the 400m dash and the 4x100m relay team of Neukam, Brady, Sidney Bartelt and Monica Steckler. Other area girls competing in today’s state meet are Jasper’s 4x100m relay team of Haley Love, Hannah Love, Zoe Biggs and Aliyah Schwenk and Heritage Hills’ Jenna Burns in the 200m dash.
On the boys side, area participants in Saturday’s state finals at IU are Malik Chatman (Jasper, long jump), Sam DeWitt (Jasper, 110m hurdles), Jasper’s 4x800m relay team of Chris Backer, Tristan Backer, Reece Milligan and Will Smith, Jaden Hayes (Southridge, discus), Andrew Schuler (Forest Park, shot put), Noah Hufnagel (Heritage Hills, 3200m run) and Jacob Luebbehusen (Heritage Hills, pole vault).
While Tretter, Meyer, Neukam, Brady and Bartelt all have state finals experience after qualifying in their respective events last year, for the others the state meet is a completely new animal.
“Last year, I think we were more afraid but now that we’ve experienced competing against faster and older girls it’s definitely made us realize that we aren’t anything like we were in eighth grade,” said Altstadt, a sophomore. “Last year, I got fourth at regional which made me kind of work harder and not be content with what I was doing.”
Sickbert, a fellow sophomore, added, “At the beginning of the year we were a little skittish and nervous because we weren’t sure how we were going to compete but since we’re so young, now we’re getting this early experience of going to the state finals so in the future we’ll know what’s coming for us.”
Southridge’s 4x100m relay team qualified for the state finals last year and while Neukam, Brady and Bartelt were all members of the group last year, the Raiders added a new member to the relay squad.
Freshman Monica Steckler was tabbed as the newcomer of the group and admits that it took a lot of reps working with Bartelt and Brady to get the timing off the handoff down but as the group adjusted to one another, the success started to come in bunches for the relay team.
“We’ve worked really hard and we’ve focused on our handoffs a lot,” Neukam said. “We’ve had to change some of our steps to get it perfect — we’ve had some ups and downs with it but it’s all turned out good.”
Brady added, “I think since we’re all close in age, we’ve all really bonded and been able to talk with each other about things if we ever mess anything up. We know how to talk with each other without being mean and we’re really just friendly with one another which has helped our group.”
A belief around the group is that part of the reason the Raiders have been so successful this season is that they have formed a bond as one big team — not just individuals in separate events.
“In the past we usually just had individual goals but this year we added some team goals because we felt like we had the pieces to compete and it’s been great to see the growth from these girls not only individually but as a team,” O’Brien said. “They’ve gotten really close and they’ve done a lot of things outside of practices and meets such as team meals to going and watch some of the baseball games together. They just have that investment, not only in each other but also in the program.”
While the girls know that it’s not likely they’ll place at the state finals, all of them have set some individual goals to try and achieve — ranging from breaking personal records to potentially leaving their mark in the Southridge history books with a new school record.
But no matter what happens tonight, the Raiders know they’ve improved tremendously and have made their presence felt around southern Indiana. The lessons they’ve learned this season will help them to grow even stronger in the future.
“Our coaches have helped me to remove the word ‘can’t’ from my vocabulary,” Sickbert said. “At the beginning of the year I was always saying how I can’t do this or that but they’ve helped me realize that ‘I can’ instead of ‘I can’t’.”
O’Brien added, “Wherever we finish is kind of secondary at this point and we know that. We just want to continue to better our times and distances as well as chase school records. I think the success (they’ve had) has built up their confidence but I also think their work ethic has changed tremendously and they’re realizing the conditioning and training is paying off.”
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