By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
The high school portion of the 108th Drake Relays opens with an abbreviated schedule on Thursday at Drake Stadium in Des Moines.
Only six of 32 high school events are scheduled for Thursday, three boys and three girls events with the 3,000 and 3,200 the only opening-day events on the track.
The light schedule doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of action on Thursday.
Here are five things to watch as the high school action gets underway.
Shot Put Showdown
One of the most anticipated events on this year’s high school slate comes early as a loaded boys shot put field expects to put on a show to start the weekend.
Five of the top 12 shot put efforts all time have come from members of the Drake Relays field that features six athletes to top 60 feet this season and ranks as one of the deepest ever in the event.
Defending Drake champ Tristan Wirfs of Mount Vernon and Kingsley-Pierson/Woodbury Central junior Nick Phelps lead the way each with throws of 65-10 ½, tied for third best all-time.
Regina senior and 2016 Drake runner-up Jared Brinkman unloaded the 11th best throw in state history at 63-6 earlier this season and will again be in the title mix again.
The top six finishers from last year return to a field that includes 60-foot throwers William Blaser of Western Dubuque (64-6), Jackson Coker of Cedar Rapids Kennedy (63-4) and Marshalltown’s Maddux Richardson (60-4).
Solon junior Tyler Linderbaum has 15th best qualifying mark at 55-4 ¼ while West High senior Alex Kleinow enters with the 22nd best toss at 53-4.
Welch’s Tries to Go Back-to-Back
Already regarded as one of the top performers in the program history, West High senior Valerie Welch can put herself in rare company with a long jump title on Thursday.
Welch is one of only five defending Drake Relays champions this week and can become the fifth athlete in West High history to win multiple individual Drake Relays titles.
She joins Kerris Roberts of Waterloo East (100) and Greene County’s Megan Durbin (high jump) as girls return Drake Relays champs after winning the long jump title a year ago.
Welch enters with the second best jump this season at 18-10 ¼ trailing only Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln sophomore Darby Thomas who has the state’s best jump this year of 19-1 ¼.
Last year Welch edged Thomas by two inches for the first Drake Relays title of her career.
Welch’s West High teammate Kitra Bell enters with the fifth best jump this season at 18-1 and finished 10th at Drake last season as a sophomore at Waterloo West.
Dusterhoft Seeking Break Through
Leah Dusterhoft might be the best thrower in the state that people haven’t heard about.
That could change in a big way on Thursday if Dusterhoft turns in a strong performance in the discus.
Dusterhoft is capable of pushing for a Drake Relays title.
The West High senior was seventh last season in the event and enters with the eighth best throw in the state this year at 130-1.
Indianola’s Anna Hoyman has the top throw at 144-11 but Dusterhoft has yet to be beaten in the discus in a meet this season.
City High senior Luci Murphy will make her Drake Relays debut and enters with the 20th best throw at 122-7.
West High’s Greiner Makes Debut
Jaw surgery kept Kolby Greiner off the track for his freshman season.
The West High distance ace has done his best to make up for lost time this spring.
Greiner will make his Drake Relays debut on Thursday in the 3,200 and enters with the fifth best time this year at 9:30.95.
Teammate Ali Ali returns to the 3,200 field after finishing 21st last year and will be joined by City High senior Michael Berg.
Ali enters with the 12th best qualifying time while Berg is 13th.
Cedar Falls senior Sam Schillinger was runner-up in the event last year and enters with the top time by more than four seconds at 9:18.11.
Nock Planning to Move Up
Bailey Nock was 21st in the 3,000 at last year’s Drake Relays.
The West High junior has no plans of a similar finish this season.
Nock begins her busy Drake Relays week with another shot at the 3,000 and enters with the fourth best time at 10:22.24.
Mid-Prairie sisters Marie (10:03.2) and Anna Hostetler (10:06.08) hold the top two times in the state and are the only two in the 3,200 field at Drake with a faster time than Nock this season.
West High teammate Gabby Skopec brings the eighth fastest time in the race after placing 19th last season.