Surprise: Twists keep Jasper on top

Photos by Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Jasper senior Tara Cassidy took a team selfie as the Wildcats celebrated winning Tuesday’s girls track sectional title at Perry Central. The Wildcats won seven individual events, with Cassidy accounting for three as the senior defended her sectional titles in the 800 meters and 1,600 and anchored the victorious 3,200 relay squad. For more photos from the sectional, click here.


LEOPOLD — At the end of a night full of surprises, there was one more in store for Jasper’s 1,600-meter relay team. As Hannah Nixon, Tara Cassidy, Alyssa Skorge and Olivia Ruckriegel were preparing for the final race of the meet, they did so with a different baton.


“The baton we had tonight was one we’ve never had,” Nixon said. “We’ve never had that baton. That’s the baton that’s dented and we usually like the smooth one, but tonight we had to use that. I think having a new one, I think that kind of helped us, too.”

Whether it helped is up for debate, but the Wildcat relay team did manage to snag third place and the final qualifying spot for next Tuesday’s regional in Evansville, and helped secure what ended up being a runaway seventh straight sectional title for the Wildcats. Jasper coach Dean Jerger said he expected the meet to come down to a matter of a few points, but after seven first-place finishes, combined with a slew of personal records, the Wildcats accumulated 147 1⁄2 points to distance themselves from Heritage Hills (114) and Southridge (92). Forest Park (66 1⁄2) swiped fourth, while Northeast Dubois (35 1⁄2) nabbed eighth in the nine-team field.

“If not their best, probably their second-best times of the season,” Jerger said. “The exciting thing is, and I try to preach this a lot, first-place finishes are great, but girls who are PR-ing in fourth place and fifth place, those points rack up and make a difference.”

Jasper’s Hannah Nixon, left, scooted to first place in the 300-meter hurdles Tuesday as part of the Wildcats’ defense of their team sectional title at Perry Central. Forest Park’s Brandee Johannemann, second from left, earned second in the event. For more photos from the sectional, click here.

The list of surprising performances run long from Tuesday, but the highlights for Jasper’s 20th sectional crown include Kayla Mehne and Erin Lyons winning the shot put and discus, respectively, Leah Schnell shaving 10 seconds off her personal best to win the 3,200, Nixon edging out a close title in the 300 hurdles and Cassidy repeating with titles in the 800 and 1,600 despite not being favored to win either this year. Cassidy also joined Schnell, Alyssa Skorge and Kate Weaver to claim first in the 3,200 relay.

“We had room for improvement and our girls did amazing,” Jerger said.

Southridge freshman Anna Altstadt charged to first place in the 400, edging defending champ Kerragan Mulzer of Heritage Hills. For more photos from the sectional, click here.

Among the night’s other standout performances, Forest Park’s Hannah Gehlhausen and Kylie Hasenour claimed first and second in the pole vault, Heritage Hills’ Jenna Burns sprinted to titles in the 100 and 200, and a group of young Southridge runners boosted the Raiders to their best sectional finish since 2012.

Not all surprises can be positive, as Jasper’s 400 relay team was disqualified for a baton handoff occurring outside the exchange zone, derailing a team that had state finals aspirations. But in a twist Jerger said he has a hard time putting into words, the Wildcats seemingly started running faster after the setback.

“I feel like it motivated all of us,” Schnell said. “We were like, ‘We need these points,’ so the entire team just rallied together. We get through the hard times together.”

The surprises didn’t stop there, with Southridge’s Kenzie Neukam, Sidney Bartelt, Grace Meece and Alexis Brady emerging to win the 400 relay and nearly setting a school record in the process. In their 51.15 finish, that Raider quartet that features two freshmen and a sophomore plugged past Heritage Hills and South Spencer, both of whom topped the Raiders in last week’s Pocket Athletic Conference meet.

“Tonight we really came out and I felt like the difference was we weren’t as intimidated as in the past,” Raider coach Ted O’Brien said. “We owned it a bit more and came out and competed, when in the past with some of our younger and more inexperienced girls we waited in the shadows a little bit.”

Freshman Anna Altstadt rebounded from what O’Brien saidwas a disappointing showing at the PAC meet to swipe the title in the 400, while fellow rookie Grace Sickbert leaped to second in the high jump and sprinted to third in the 100 hurdles.

“For our girls it’s been an exceptional season,” said O’Brien, whose team has lost only to Jasper and Heritage Hills this year. “We’ve continued to get better and have a lot of young girls who are learning as they go and it’s been a lot of fun.”

Kerragan Mulzer logged second place in the 200 dash behind first-place teammate Jenna Burns, who also won the 100. For more photos from the sectional, click here.

Altstadt said she wasn’t surprised with the rest of her team’s performance or the 400, but that she wasn’t entirely confident her top-seeded time would hold up. That’s because she’s lost before to Heritage Hills’ Kerragan Mulzer, last year’s sectional champ in the event who finished a close second Tuesday. They have a rematch set for next week’s regional, and with a different slate of races, Mulzer thinks she has a better shot this time around. Tuesday, Mulzer raced in the 400 relay, 1,600 relay, and the open 200 and 400, which is as grueling as it sounds.

“It’s pretty tiring, especially with adding the 4-by-1 (relay) last week,” Mulzer said. “I have to run that and turn around and run the 400 in the next race. That’s not fun, but Coach believes that I can handle it and I do.”

Mulzer combined with Burns, Kayla Blake and Sifra Kuiper to win the 1,600 relay, and placed in the top three in the other events. She plans to drop the 200 to better focus on the 1,600 relay and the 400, events she believes can be her ticket to a state finals appearance.

 Northeast Dubois’ Heidi Sander took third in the long jump. For more photos from the sectional, click here.

Those results, combined with Burns’ pair of individual wins, were more or less expected for Heritage Hills. Patriot coach Dawn Mix said her team didn’t lose many points they were supposed to win, with Kuiper ending as her biggest surprise when the exchange student from the Netherlands raced to fourth in the 400 after entering as the eighth seed.

Northeast Dubois coach Tammy Schulthies wasn’t so much surprised with Heidi Sander, since there weren’t any real expectations for her. After injuring her hip at the end of April, the sectional was Sander’s first meet back. The sophomore sprang to third in the long jump with a distance (15 feet, 103⁄4 inches) farther than she was jumping before the injury.

“I was worried about her hip being hurt, but she said she really wanted to long jump,” Schulthies said.

For Forest Park coach Emily Hauser, the biggest surprise came with a non-regional qualifying result, as the Ranger 3,200 relay team of Josie Berg, Claire Mehling, Sarah Pund and Ali Pund sliced 16 seconds off their best time of the year for fourth place. Brandee Johannemann finished a close second in the 300 hurdles in her first sectional. Hauser said the performance was well within Johannemann’s potential, and she could even top Nixon next week. But at a sectional, there’s no telling what might happen.

“In the back of my mind I knew she had the potential to do it, but to watch her and see her do it did surprise me,” Hauser said. “You just never know what’s going to happen at the sectional. You never know what a freshman’s going to do.”

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