Twice as nice: Cats conquer repeat questMay 19, 2017
By WYATT L. STAYNER
LEOPOLD — It’s getting harder and harder to surprise Jasper boys track coach Kevin Schipp.
If there’s a downside to winning consecutive track sectional championships, as the Wildcats did on Thursday night at Perry Central High School, that would be it. Schipp might be getting a little too used to celebrative water baths.
“We were hoping we could hide the (jug) this year, but he saw us,” said Jasper senior Elliot Prange, who along with teammate Jacob Small, was in charge of dumping water on Schipp.
Unlike last year when Prange said Schipp “didn’t see it coming,” he quickly joked Thursday night, “Is that water or Gatorade?” after the Cats huddled together to start the initial celebration.
“You signed up for this,” one Wildcat shouted at Schipp minutes before the water dump.
“Kind of shocking, but it’s worth it,” Schipp said of being doused with a full water cooler. “The kids have worked really hard and they’re having fun with this and that’s what we want.”
Jasper athletes danced and played Frisbee with the Gatorade cooler top, and shouts of “Schipp” broke out during the Wildcat celebration. After breaking a 14-year sectional title drought last season, Jasper has repeated as champs, and what was rare is now starting to trend toward the expected.
“Once you get a taste of doing some really good things like in some individual events and some relays in the past few years, it’s built on itself and kids know they can expect to compete on a certain level and do things on a certain level,” Schipp said as the Wildcats ran a celebratory lap around the track. “They have that confidence now and that expectation of themselves and each other.”
The Wildcats left little room for suspense as they won seven of the 16 individual events and racked up 171 points to cruise past second-place Tell City (119). Northeast Dubois (73) finished third, while Heritage Hills (60) and Forest Park (59) were fourth and fifth, respectively, and Southridge (25) placed eighth out of nine teams.
Schipp mentioned talent and hard work have set this group apart on their journey to Jasper’s seventh overall sectional title and the program’s first repeat since the Cats three-peated from 2000 to ’02.
Malik Chatman, who qualified for regional in the 100-meter dash, long jump, high jump and 400 relay, is better at juggling his events this season than last, Schipp explained, and Sam DeWitt has “come along in the hurdles,” showcasing that with his first-place time of 15.27. Jasper senior Noah Mehringer mentioned he’s enjoyed seeing underclassmen like freshman Drew O’Neil (sixth in the 3,200) encroach on the time and territory of older teammates. After all, Mehringer mentioned that a talented young crop of athletes is just as important to Jasper’s success as his senior class.
“I think (repeating) also means this is the best team we’ve had in a long, long time. It’s not because of a few standouts,” Mehringer said. “It’s because of our depth, and I think the seniors leaving next year won’t make a bit of difference, just because of how many guys we got.”
“I know after we leave these guys below us are going to do great things next year, too. I hope they three-peat. That’d be sweet,” added Prange, who led Jasper’s 1-2 finish in the 400, with he and Mehringer both headed to next Thursday’s regional at Evansville Central.
DeWitt also qualified in the 110 hurdles, finishing second, and won the 400 relay along with Small, Chatman and Reece Milligan, with Milligan also headed to regional in the 200 dash with his second-place effort. Cale Kilian ran second in the 3,200, and the Jasper senior’s 9:45.20 in the race would’ve been a sectional record in the 2-mile had Perry Central’s Marcus Graham not burned to a 9:37.32. Will Smith (winner of the 800 run), Corbin Kaiser (second in the 800), and Mehringer, Chris Backer, Milligan and Prange (winners of the 1,600 relay) will also head to regional, where Prange said the mission would be to notch Jasper’s first team regional title. Backer and Raife Milligan, who finished first and second in the 300 hurdles, respectively, add to the Cats’ large regional contingent.
Northeast Dubois senior Bobby Reutman, who just began track last season, tied for first in pole vault by clearing 12 feet along with Small and Nathian Rogier of Perry Central. Reutman sprained his ankle last week and was worried about how that would affect his sectional performance, but as Reutman said, “I got (the ankle) wrapped by my good coach Vic Betz and it sent me over.” Reutman didn’t make any technique changes, instead he “just had a lot of faith and prayed to God.”
“As a senior, it’s just a great feeling, especially when things like this happen, winning pole vault,” Reutman said. “You have this entire journey from the beginning. It’s a great journey to be on.”
In regional, Reutman would like to continue his journey by clearing 14 feet, which would be a large step up from his sectional height, he acknowledged. But as the senior added: “I have a lot of confidence.” Reutman will also race in the 400 relay at regional with teammates Tristen Myers, Logan Dodd and Alex Harder. Alan Kerstiens (third in long jump) and the Jeep 1,600 relay team (Tjidsger Postmus, Eli Betz, Stone Wright and Jeb Knies) also automatically advanced.
Forest Park senior Blake Mohr said he was also in “now or never” mode and rose to the occasion by setting a personal record in the 300 hurdles (41.99) and finishing third. Mohr’s path to regional traced his freshman, sophomore and junior years where “it’s easy to get discouraged when you’re not really placing well, but you’ve just got to stick with it and it’s rewarding now.”
“My main goal was just to advance to regionals,” continued Mohr, who will be joined at regional by Ranger teammates Zach Cline and Garrison Tretter. “That’s what I was asking for and I can’t think of a better time to do it.”
Southridge’s Jaden Hayes is still in that development stage Mohr referenced, but he slid past early struggles and qualified for regional with a third-place toss. Cline, last year’s state qualifier, won the event with a throw of 157 feet, 3 inches (and also won shot put with a heave of 48-3 3⁄4).
“I knew, of course, Cline would beat me,” Hayes said.
Still, a regional appearance just months after taking up track and learning discus gave Hayes a “surreal moment.”
“Now it’s just focusing on the little things and making every improvement I can,” said Hayes, who will be joined by Raider cohort Mitchell Carter (third in shot put) at regional.
Unlike Hayes, Heritage Hills sophomore Mitchell Hopf has reached regional before with the 3,200 relay team last season. Yet Hopf missed cross country regional last fall because of illness, which “kind of left a chip on my shoulder all winter,” he said.
“I left on a bad note,” Hopf said. “That really gave me the extra motivation through the winter to push harder and compete to where I want to get.”
After hustling to third in the 1,600, Hopf and teammate Kamden Buechler (third in high jump) are the Patriot automatic qualifiers. Hopf added that Heritage Hills is making incremental gains as a program.
“I feel like we’ve taken a huge step,” Hopf said. “Last year we were really young. This year, we’ve got two seniors. Over half of our team are underclassmen. I’m a sophomore. We had a huge freshman class last year. We had a big one this year. We’ve got a lot of young guys, and I think this is a program on the rise. It’s just a matter of getting everyone on that same maturity level to where everyone can come out and give their best in practice every day and really put their heart and soul into it every time they step on the track.”
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