Your Prep Sports
High school track and field returned to Iowa last month after a year without competition.
On Thursday one of the premier track and field events in the country welcomes back high school competitors.
The Drake Relays resumes this week at Drake Stadium in Des Moines after last year’s event was cancelled by the global coronavirus pandemic.
In a revised 2021 schedule the high school portion of the Drake Relays will all take place on Thursday starting at 9 a.m. with the running of the girls sprint medley relay.
Before competition gets underway on Thursday here are five things to watch at the Blue Oval involving high school athletes from the Your Prep Sports area.
State Preview for Solon
While the Drake Relays offer a certain level of prestige and an opportunity to compete against the best in the state regardless of class it will also serve as a state preview of sorts for Solon.
With Solon qualifying nine entries across eight events consider Thursday as a Drake Stadium dress rehearsal for the Spartans with the encore performance expected to come next month at the Class 3A state meet.
A deep and balanced lineup figures to make Solon a state title contender next month and will be on display Thursday as the Spartans compete in five of six relays.
Keep an eye on the Solon 4×400 relay team of Ashley Stinocher, Kaia Holtkamp, Emma Bock and Makinley Levin which enters with the seventh fastest time in the state at 4:06.08.
Keeney’s Long Awaited Drake Encore
Liberty High distance ace Ashley Keeney dazzled in her Drake Relays debut winning the 3,000 in a blazing time of 9:36.64 two years ago as a freshman.
After a year without track Keeney returns to the Blue Oval looking to add to her Drake Relays title count.
Keeney will defend her title in the 3,000 and enters with the seventh fastest time in the state this season but is among the favorites to add a 1,500 title to her collection.
The junior ran her fastest time of the season in the 1,500 in her last race at the Forwald Relays last Thursday, clocking a 4:41.74 which second in the state this spring and just .12 off the time of state-leader Shewaye Johnson of Ballard.
Small School Hurdle Power
The top five shuttle hurdle relay times all belong to Class 4A squads led by heavy favorite Waukee which has been more than four seconds faster than anyone else this season with its state-leading time of 1:02.53.
However, the next eight fastest teams in the event all come from schools outside of Class 4A a list that includes Regina which enters with the 10th fastest time at 1:09.28.
Anchored by senior and three-time Drake Relays qualifier Annie Gahan, the Regals already own the school record in the shuttle hurdle relay.
The Regina foursome of sisters Abby and Alli Clark, Peyton Naeve and Gahan join Cascade and Osage as 2A teams with top-10 qualifying times in the 16-team Drake Relays field.
Liberty High Sets Its Sight on 800 Meter Domination
In its third season of competition Liberty High has put together its most complete varsity lineup and has the largest Drake Relays haul in program history.
Leading the way for the Lightning is a loaded group of 800 meter runners.
Liberty High makes up nearly 20 percent of the field in the open 800 with three Lightning runners all entering with top-10 qualifying times.
Senior Bowen Gryp has the second fastest time in the state this season and owns the top time among Drake Relays 800 meter participants at 1:55.36.
Senior Jack Kinzer has the fifth fastest time this spring at 1:57.79 while junior Gavin Keeney is ninth with a time of 1:58.54.
Throw in West High’s Caden Noeller who enters with the 10th fastest time in the state at 1:59.15 and the 800 has a chance to have some serious Iowa City flare.
With that list of 800 meter runners it is no surprise that Liberty High is among the favorites in the 4×800 relay.
The Liberty High foursome of Keeney, Kinzer, Gryp and Schillinger own the third fastest time in the state at 7:58.19.
City High Makes a Run at the Relays
City High sends a pair of individual qualifiers to the Drake Relays but the Little Hawks are loaded up in the relays.
The Little Hawks qualified in all six relay events and boast top-five qualifying times in the distance medley, 4×800 and shuttle hurdle relays.
City High showed it is ready to emerge as a player in 4A with a resounding win at the Forwald Relays last week.
Now the Little Hawks get a chance to show how far they have come on the big stage.
Two-time state champion wrestler Ben Kueter was a member of the City High 4×400 team that clocked a 3:27.63 earlier this season and is back in the fold on Thursday before heading off to compete in Cadet World wrestling world trails this weekend.
Kueter is also a member of the Little Hawks’ medley relay team that enters with the fifth fastest time and features sprint special Isaac Rohret and Ammon Smith on the 800-meter anchor leg.