DRAKE RELAYS: Ram boys qualify four events in Des Moines return
By BRANDON HURLEY
Greene County has enjoyed a remarkable revival in the hurdles in the two years since the Drake Relays were last held.
A willingness to improve and a desire to actively partake in one of track and field’s most physically grueling events is key. The progress is staggering, vaulting a talented, yet unproven squad alongside the state’s elite.
The Rams qualified in four events for this year’s 111th running of the Drake Relays, anchored by a pair of lightning-quick hurdle events. For the first time in recent memory, all of Iowa’s high school events will take place in a single day, Thursday, April 22 at Drake Stadium in Des Moines. Events get underway at 9 a.m. with the girls’ sprint medley relay while the day concludes with the boys’ 4-by-400-meter relay around 3:20 p.m.
Greene County junior Jackson Morton is the workhorse of this year’s bunch, qualifying for the 110-meter hurdles while anchoring the 110-meter shuttle hurdle relay along with Bryce Stalder, Nate Black and Jaxon Warnke. Stalder also qualified in the long jump while Black is making his Drake Relays debut in the high jump. The Rams have consistently threatened - and broken - a number of school records all spring long, none more impressive than the dominance of the shuttle hurdle squad.
Greene County had struggled to make noise in the shuttle hurdle relay over the past five years, and some of that can be credited to a lack of hurdling talent minus one or two athletes as well as the required passion. That changed a few years back when this current group of athletes entered the high school ranks and took a liking to the shuttle hurdle. A love quickly grew and continued to blossom even with a lost year due to COVID-19. The passion is what really makes a difference, Greene County head coach Chad Morton said.
“If a kid doesn’t want to hurdle, you’re not going to make a hurdler out of them. They have to have that wanting desire and understand what it takes to run the hurdles and be willing to put the extra time and effort into that,” Morton said. “But, I wasn’t expecting us to be this good. It’s a pleasant surprise. But, (then) it doesn’t surprise me because all those kids that run on (the relay) and even our alternatives are hard workers and are very competitive.”
The Greene County shuttle hurdle record is 1:01.34 set in 2015 by Dylan McConnell, Joe Doran, Daric Whipple and Tyler Beger, which is certainly in danger of being broken this spring.
While the 2021 Rams are still a little behind the pace of six years ago, they currently maintain the quickest shuttle hurdle time in all of 2A, achieving a season-best 1:02.73 April 15 in Adel, more than two seconds faster than second-place Manson-Northwest Webster (1:04.9). Greene County possess the 14th-fastest relay time Iowa, across all four classes. Cedar Rapids Kennedy is first (58.94) followed by Cedar Rapids Prairie (59.22) and Carlisle (59.62).
All more impressive is how prestigious this year’s Drake Relays are. The shuttle hurdle relay event only allowed 16 teams to qualify, dwindling the field fairly significantly.
That willingness, and a laser-focused confidence has piloted Greene County much of the year. The quartet possess little fear, even if they find themselves trailing after a leg or two. A quick, reckless push to recover the deficit can often lead to disaster, either with a knocked hurdle or an injured teammate.
The quartet’s patience has been key, Morton said.
“They don’t panic. They just run the race and let it happen. As a hurdler, if you try and do too much, you can clip a hurdle or a number of things can go wrong real quick,” Morton said. “We stay positive. They understand and respect the hurdles, knowing what the possibility of it is.”
Greene County’s qualifying quartet has trimmed six seconds off its best time back in 2019 (the last time high school action was held outdoors in Iowa prior to this year). The grouping produced a top time of 1:08.62 together two years ago, and have greatly improved since.
Greene County will run in the first of four heats Thursday around 11:02 a.m. The Rams are slotted in lane five along with Lisbon in lane one (1:02.75), Mason City in lane three (1:02.58), and North Polk in lane seven (1:02.93).
Greene County’s hurdle success can also be attributed to volunteer hurdles coach, Scott Johnson and his focus on strength training. He’s able to pinpoint the best hurdle prospects, which eventually became the quartet of Stalder, Black, Warnke and Morton.
“He’s done a great job,” Chad said. “We work on hip mobility. With a lot of our runners, we’ve had tight hips and that has led to some hip issues. So we’ve stretched their hips out to be able to not just strengthen our hips, but get some stretching out of that.
All of our sprinters go through hurdle mobility and Coach Johnson does a great job of recognizing who has good hip mobility and who has some abilities to actually run the hurdles if they want to.”
Morton currently holds the 110-meter hurdle all-time Greene County record (15.11), which he’s already set twice this spring, breaking his older brother’s mark of 15.39 set in 2019, allowing him to make his Drake Relays debut this week. Jackson broke the two-year old record first on April 8 in Van Meter (15.33) then followed it up a week later in Saydel, cruising to a time of 15.11.
Jackson is ranked 11th in Iowa, across all classes while he is second in 2A. Spirit Lake’s Jack Latham (15.09) is atop 2A, which ranks him ninth in Iowa. Cedar Rapids Kennedy’s Drew Barteis has run the fastest 110-meter hurdle race this spring at 14.35 followed by Ankeny Centennial’s Tyler Johnson (14.57) and Cedar Rapids Prairie’s Ceondae Adams (14.75).
Morton will run in the third of four heats Thursday around 1:46 p.m. He’s slotted in lane three along with North Scott’s Will Kruse (15.22), Western Dubuque’s Logan Brosius (15.14), 2A’s top hurdler in Jack Latham, North Polk’s Hunter Mancock (15.09), Clear Creek-Amana’s Harrison Rosenberg (15.13), Prairie’s Adam Longwell (15.14) and Monticello’s Caden Ungs (15.23).
All individual Drake Relays races, including the 110-meter hurdles, will be held as singular timed finals.
RAM DUO ON DISPLAY IN FIELD EVENTS
The Rams shuttle hurdle relay is a versatile bunch.
Bryce Stalder also qualified in the long jump after securing a top leap of 22-00.25 April 6 in Panora. Stalder is just a shade short of the Greene County school record, which is held by Colby Kafer, a Drake Relays and state qualifier, who produced a jump of 22-06.5 in 2019.
Stalder is ranked 15th in Iowa thanks to his career-best jump earlier this month. Barteis, who is also the state’s top hurdler, leads Iowa with a long jump of 23-09.75. He’s followed by Southeast Polk’s Abu Sama (23-05) and Charles City’s Ian Collins (23-00.5). Stalder ranks third in Class 2A behind OA-BCIG’s Cooper Dejean (22-06) and Waukon’s Creed Welch (22-00.75).
Nate Black is one of 25 qualifiers in the boys’ long jump after clearing 6-04 during the Ram Early Bird Relays March 29 in Jefferson. Treynor’s Noah James leads Class 2A with a top jump of 6-09, which ties him with Linn-Mar’s TJ Jackson for the state lead.
The Greene County school high jump record is 6-08, cleared by former Ram Carter Morton, now a UNI track and field athlete.
The 2021 Drake Relays high jump will take place at 1 p.m. Thursday. The boys’ long jump starts at 10 a.m.
The biggest obstacle of a field event during the Drake Relays is the amount of downtime. More athletes means more minutes between each attempt. Coach Morton is encouraging both Black and Stalder to begin their warmups well in advance of the event to help ease into the atmosphere.
Above all, this year’s Drake Relays is a chance for Greene County to drink in the moment, enjoy one of the nation’s most prestigious track and field events and see where they stack up against the competition.
“A lot of these guys have never been down there, period. A lot of them have never ran at the stadium or gone to the Drake Relays before. Jaxon Warnke is the only kid that’s gone down as a relay alternate his sophomore year (in 2019),” Morton said. “Otherwise, for these kids to go down and experience it. I’m excited for them. I can’t wait to see their faces and hear their stories about the competition level and the atmosphere itself.
For me, it’s like a Christmas present. Hopefully they understand when you’re competing at the Drake Relays, it’s against the best of the best in the state.”