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Repping Red on the Blue Oval

May 23, 2019
CJ Eilers - Editor ( , Traer Star-Clipper

As the 2019 track season opened in the final days of March, both North Tama teams came in with a similar mindset every athlete they competed with possessed: continue to improve and qualify for the State Co-ed Track and Field Meet in May. The difference North Tama had from many other schools was the fact the Redhawks had not been to State since 2015, when several girls made the trip to Des Moines representing their school. The boys hadn't gone to State since 2014 themselves. Motivated by recent success in other sports this year, both teams broke their State drought and competed on the Blue Oval from May 16-18 in four different events.

"This was a great ending to a great season all of them," coach Tyson Roberts said. "North Tama hadn't been successful in boys or girls track in recent years, so to get relays down is a great way to end the season. Maybe they didn't all perform with PRs, but they got to experience the Blue Oval and were amazed to run in front of thousands of people."

The first competitor for North Tama came in their shuttle hurdle relay of Cael Even, Tyler Morrison, Gabe Kopriva and Hale Hulme. Even, Morrison and Hulme had run the event last year together, coming up short of making the Blue Oval as Even came down with a foot injury. Regrouping under Roberts, the trio added Gabe to the team and quickly picked up where they left off in 2018.

Article Photos

Tyler Morrison leads off the North Tama shuttle relay at prelims on Thursday, May 16.

"They had sat at third in 1A all year and had a pretty good qualifying time," Roberts said. "They've had a friendly rivalry with BCLUW all season long, competing against them multiple times and building a respect between each other."

The relay against faced off against BCLUW, featuring Iowa State track commit Jack Garber anchoring. Though the Redhawks would not beat the Comets in the preliminaries at State, they would qualify for the finals on Saturday.

"We weren't satisfied with our time, so we wanted to really push it for finals and run our hearts out," Hulme said.

Ryan McLean qualified for shot put by posting the 10th best throw in the Class 1A across the state at a qualifying meet, throwing for 46"-4" at Grundy Center. A product of the football weight room this season, McLean consistently placed in the top three at each meet this season. At State, the junior struggled to throw near his personal best, finishing with a best throw of 44'-4.5" to place 17th overall and did not move on to finals.

"I know Ryan was really upset he didn't throw his best," Roberts said. "The experience is the big thing for him. He was bummed, but he's already looking to next year. You can't ask for anything better than that attitude. I don't have a doubt he'll be back next year and throw better to compete in the finals.

Thursday closed in a big way for the Redhawks as the only girls relay-the 4x800 of Molly Kvidera, Jules Breakenridge, Carlie Gorder and Takoa Kopriva-stepped onto the field and realized a personal goal of Kvidera. She had watched her older sister Anna compete in a relay in 2015, when she was in eighth grade. Four years later and many meets later, Kvidera's senior season presented an opportunity to finally realize her goal.

"I got excited for this event this season because we won some races early on in our 4x800," Kvidera said. "Going into the end of our season, I felt we could do even better. Having Takoa come in was awesome because she shaved off a lot of time."

The 4x800 proved to be a successful relay all season long with Mya Sierra originally in the lineup. One example was taking first place at a meet in Montezuma early in the season and continuing to place highly throughout the season.

"I thought it was really exciting when this relay started getting first at meets," Breakenridge said. "I thought it was going to be really tiring, but once I got the hang of it, this event was nice to catch onto."

Yet as the regular season began to wind down, and the Redhawks drew closer to the State Qualifying Meet at Grundy Center, their time wasn't low enough to compete with the relay they knew would be in attendance, especially against Hudson and Grundy Center. Coaches Katey Holbach and Karisa Kladivo saw that Kvidera, Breakenridge and Gorder were running times around the 2:40 mark, but needed to still cut time where they could to qualify the 4x800 with an at-large bid. Though Kopriva had never run an 800 competitively, her speed drew the staff to ask her to replace Sierra in the relay.

"I was used to running 100s and 200s for track, but then coach asked me to run the 4x800 for Districts and was willing to do anything to help out the team," Kopriva said.

The switch cut down the third leg time by 10 seconds, pushing the Redhawks into a third place at the meet with a time of 10:37. Afterwards, it was a long 12+ hours before qualifiers were announced at the girls were selected as the 21st best time in 1A in the 4x800.

"I felt confident we'd make it because we managed to cut almost 22 seconds off our time with PRs and Takoa coming in," Gorder said. "When we found out, I was excited to run with these girls."

For the days leading up to State, the four practiced at the North Tama Athletic Complex daily, running a variety of distances and working on their handoffs. However, nothing can truly prepare first-time athletes to the big stage that is State track at Drake Stadium, also home to the Drake Relays.

"It's such a different experience and atmosphere running on the Blue Oval than any other track," Holbach said. "Even to be there and just watch is exciting because you get to see the best of the best. It's totally different than any other sport as well because it's individuals on the track and not a team."

Nerves were certainly abound, but also was focus and determination to place higher than seeded, even as the weather on Thursday turned blistering hot by the 5:00 p.m. hour.

"As we watched other events this morning, we were all pretty nervous about running later," Kvidera said. "For me personally, once I got on the Blue Oval and warming up, I felt excited because this had been a goal of mine for a long time."

Under a scorching sun, the Redhawks competed fiercely with the first heat of 4x800 relays across the state, including a familiar rival in Montezuma. Each of the four Redhawks put their best effort forward, knowing this was indeed their last race of the season. As Gorder crossed the finish line as the anchor, 10:40.02 came across the videoboard. Not a PR, but the Redhawks finished in 18th place to indeed finish better than projected.

"I am happy that they placed better than they were seeded, and they ran well," Holbach said. "However, it would have been nice to run a season PR, but with the heat I think they handled it well. There isn't a breeze on the track and they hadn't had to run in that bad of heat yet this season, so they did their best and that is all I can ask for."

Sweaty, exhausted and flushed red, the girls flashed proud smiles at one another, knowing they'd accomplished something this season North Tama's girls track program hadn't in four years: a State relay for their program, themselves, but especially their seniors.

"Molly is a senior, so we all wanted to our best for her because this was her last chance," Gorder said. "I had a really fun season with my favorite track senior."

Friday saw Cael Even take on the 110m hurdles alone, notably participating in the event for the third time in his career after competing at the Iowa Star Conference Meet, the State Qualifying Meet and finally State. Competing against the best hurdlers in 1A, Even saw just how fast the event demanded as he finished in 10th place with a time of 15:45, just two spots outside of moving on to finals.

"I've told Cael it's my fault for not putting him in that event earlier, but only for competing for his third time and to be only .06 seconds away from the finals is pretty amazing," Roberts said. "I knew he was bummed about being close, but everyone who competed at State learned that this isn't just like every other meet. Everyone is so good. You can't just come out and dominate."

The shuttle hurdle team competed one last time together on Saturday against BCLUW, returning champions Central Decatur and Fremont-Mills, running neck and neck with the former two throughout most of the race. It was a tight race to the finish as the Redhawks PRed in the event with a time of 1:01.18 in front of thousands of track fans, including family members from Traer.

"We knew it would be tough here and coming in as an underdog relay," Morrison said. "We weren't a returning champion or highly ranked before this season, but it felt good to come out and compete against the best. It feels good to have people come down to see us because our class has never really succeeded in track. I always wanted to experience this feel at State and I'm proud of our team."

After announcing the disqualification of Fremont-Mills, North Tama officially finished in third place, ending a storyline that had begun last season on a high note.

"We've never up here before and it's great to place in the top three in our first and last go-around," Hulme said. "We were all very determined to get here and jumped hurdles at practice every day. We'd also go up to Hudson on Sundays to work with a coach up there. It's an amazing feeling to get here with all the work we put in."

As the underclassmen on a senior relay, Gabe Kopriva valued the experience his teammates gave him in his first year of high school track and will miss working with them as he looks to forge his own path to State.

"If we can have a shuttle team next year, that would be great, but nothing is going to top this team," Kopriva said.

"They PRed as a team, came away with third and you can't ask more than that," Roberts said. "People go down there and get scared because of all the disqualifications. There's so much riding on them, but our boys were focused. They did amazing."

With four events and one final performance behind them, North Tama ended a 2019 track season Roberts feels was "very successful" for the team as it set the bar for years to come. The boys still have a talented 2020 class with a qualifier in McLean back next season.

"It's going to be tough to get multiple events back without our four seniors next year because of their leadership," Roberts said. "They helped me out as a first-year coach for this varsity team. Each was a great role model for the younger guys and kept them in line. We still have a good mix of upperclassmen and underclassmen talent back next year. Plus some good eighth graders coming up. It wouldn't surprise me to get multiple guys to State just because of the foundation we laid this year."

The girls team will potentially return all of its current athletes next spring with the exception of Kvidera and Elina Aghabekyan graduating. The 4x800 will search for another runner and other events such as the 4x400 will also look to make it to the Blue Oval in 2020.

"Being here is a fun experience and I hope to come back next year for my senior season," Takoa Kopriva said.

Photos from North Tama competing at State Track are available on the Traer Star-Clipper Facebook page through Flickr.



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