COLUMBIA — Their times placed them among the best runners in the Midwest, good enough to qualify for the prestigious Kansas Relays.
But there’s a catch: Some runners on the Rock Bridge track and field team have never competed before in the events in which they will run this weekend in Lawrence, Kan. Still, the Bruins will send two 4 x 1-mile relay teams and enter two runners in the steeplechase at the event.
So how did they qualify?
Rock Bridge coach Neal Blackburn added the four fastest times among both his girls and boys milers for 4 x 1-mile team totals. Times recorded during the past year are eligible, and once coaches submit times to a panel, each score is ranked. The girls relay Blackburn chose ranked sixth of the 18 teams that qualified. His boys team had the ninth best score of the 11 qualifying teams.
“It’s a new event, but I’m used to running the mile,” girls miler Sam Garrett said. “We’ll go into this race with the same mentality as any other mile race. It’s a longer distance for a relay and I’ll have a baton in my hand, but a mile is a mile.”
Garrett combined with fellow sophomore Emily Wright, freshman Megan Schulte and junior Callie Floyd for a 22:50 time. Sophomores Caleb Wilfong and Jordan Cook along with seniors Chris Cornell and AJ Miller combined for a time of 18:40 for the boys relay.
“The individual scores added together were good enough to qualify them for the 4x1-mile relay,” Blackburn said.
Cornell also qualified for the steeplechase along with junior Griffin Humphreys. The pair trained over the summer in the event, and Blackburn took some of their workout times for qualifying.
“The steeplechase calculations were more complicated," Blackburn said. "I plugged their scores into a mathematical formula and submitted them to the panel.”
The panel and meet director compile lists organized by event of all of the submitted times and choose anywhere between the top 24 and 36 scores, depending on the event. Cornell's steeplechase score is ranked sixth and Humphreys' seventh among the 13 individuals who qualified for the 2,000-meter steeplechase event.
“Since it’s not an event they will come across in Missouri, I just want them to focus on being good runners,” Blackburn said. “We’ll do some hurdle work in practice so they have confidence in going over the barriers. The focus is to run solid between the barriers.”
Kansas schools and other schools within 500 miles of the Kansas border are eligible to compete in the meet, but only the most competitive runners participate. Rock Bridge is sending 16 athletes to compete this weekend.
Bruins who have had previous exposure to their events include junior Nick Sublett in the shot put, senior Lauren Flaker in the 100-meter dash and freshman Mallory Short in the 100-meter hurdles. Senior Chris Walton will compete in the boys 100-meter dash. Senior teammate Quinn Gray will join him in the 400-meter dash, and both will compete in the 4x400-meter relay with sophomore teammate Collin Sees and junior teammate Myles Cade.
Garret will run in the 3200-meter run and the 1600-meter run. Cook qualified for the 1600-meter run as well.
“It’s a surreal environment,” Blackburn said. “College athletes will be competing, and Olympic athletes will be performing. The main concern is not to get overwhelmed. Some all-district and all-state caliber athletes won’t compete because up to this point their marks weren’t good enough. We’re hoping for top-10 performances in the miles. If we can do that, I’d say we’ve done fairly well.”
The Bruins will start their events Friday morning and continue through Saturday evening.