Weather or not: 58th Relays slated for Friday

FAIRMONT – When Lyle Domek created the Sentinel Relays track and field meet back in 1956, the sports editor probably never thought the largest outstate regular-season meet would survive for nearly six decades.

The legendary journalist also likely figured by selecting the first Friday in May as the Relays’ traditional annual time slot, snow would not be an issue.

Unfortunately, unseasonable snowfall on Wednesday in Fairmont and a forecast for rain and colder-than-normal temperatures could force Friday’s 32-team track and field competition at Cardinal Track to be cancelled for a second consecutive year.

“Our first priority is the safety and well-being of the athletes, coaches, workers and fans,” said Fairmont activities administrator Mat Mahoney. “It’s been a frustrating spring (season) so far and we definitely want to compete, but obviously, we’ll have to re-evaluate the (weather) conditions on Friday.”

Unfortunately, tornadic activity along the I-90 corridor generated heavy rains and high winds to force the cancellation of the Relays in 2012.

But severe weather is not the only factor to reshape the rich history of the premier meet’s format as recent school consolidations, along with sharing and pairing agreements, have created a new-look Relays field.

If the 58th running of the Relays hits Cardinal Track at 4:15 p.m. Friday in Fairmont, hometown Cardinal mentor Bob Bonk’s boys lineup will look to defend its 2011 Class AA championship, while the coaching legend’s girls roster will attempt to dethrone Blue Earth Area head coach Tom Plocker’s Bucs after the Cardinals earn runner-up Class AA accolades two years ago.

In the Class A field, 2011 Relays boys champion Jackson County Central moved to the event’s AA bracket this season, while Class A Relays winner Mountain Lake/Butterfield-Odin formed a new alliance during the offseason to be known as Mountain Lake Area.

Madelia/Truman mentor Pete Goeringer’s roster joined forces with Granada-Huntley-East Chain/Martin Luther this season and will make the jump to Class AA in this year’s Relays. In turn, Goeringer and the Jayhawks’ move created a void in the Class A field, allowing the Relays committee to extend an invitation to the North Union Warriors to compete in Class A on Friday.

North Union is comprised of the former Iowa school districts of Armstrong-Ringsted, North Kossuth and Sentral. Armstrong-Ringsted competed in the Relays until the mid-1990s when the meet conflicted with its postseason.

Minneapolis Edison becomes a first-time competitor in the Relays this spring, filling the void created by Maple River’s departure in 2012. Edison assistant coach Ernest North, a former Minneapolis North sprinter and assistant, played an integral role in Edison’s decision to compete in the Relays.

“I always enjoyed traveling to Fairmont, both as an athlete and a coach, and when an opening occurred, we (Edison coaching staff) were happy to fill it,” said North.

While Edison proves a newcomer to the Relays, Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial/Nicollet rounded out the teams making a transition within the Fairmont-based meet’s two classes.

Ironically, Fairmont fended off LCWM/Nicollet to capture the Relays’ Class AA boys team crown two years ago, but the KnightRaiders will not represent a challenge on Friday as the program moved to Class A due to having a lower enrollment than half of the entrants.

Bonk will turn to a pair of senior standouts – Justin Barnes and Mark Fruechte – in order to make a legitimate run at defending the hometown Cardinals’ Relays crown.

Fruechte, who represents the lone leg returning from Fairmont’s third-place state 4×400-meter relay squad, has achieved honor-roll status in the open 400, in addition to anchoring both the red-and-white’s Mercurial 4×200 and 4×400 relay teams this spring.

While Fruechte has generated points on the paved surface, Barnes is a proven multi-tasker after having reached the honor roll in the high jump, in addition to producing top showings in both hurdles races to complement solid scoring in the long and triple jumps this campaign.

The first-year combination of Madelia/Truman/ Granada-Huntley-East Chain/Martin Luther could represent a stiff challenge to Fairmont in the AA boys meet after the Jayhawks exited with the 2012 Class A 4×800-meter state gold medals draped around their collective necks. Goeringer’s squad returns two of the four legs in Cade Ekstrom and Adam Cooling, while Ekstrom also earned a fourth-place medal in the 1,600-meter run at the Minnesota State High School League’s state meet a year ago.

Ekstrom and Cooling also rejoin standout sprinter and jumper DaMarko Thomas in the 4×400 relay after the trio engineered a fourth-place state showing in 2012.

Blue Earth Area sprinter Nick Beattie, JCC sprinter Jason Vongsavanh, Redwood Valley all-purpose multi-tasker Randy Juell and distance standout Ryan Phillips will represent stellar individual performers to watch on Friday.

Beattie, who qualified for last year’s MSHSL Class A state 100-meter preliminaries, captured sixth place in his specialty during last Friday’s Hamline Elite Meet in St. Paul. Vongsavanh will literally give Beattie a run for the gold medal after claiming eighth place in the open 100 at state in 2012.

Juell exited the Twin Cities with a second-place medal in the pole vault, a sixth-place medal in the long jump and a tie for 10th place in the high jump to generate points for Redwood Valley in the Class A state meet last June.

Phillips, who ran a leg on Redwood Valley’s 11th-place 4×800 relay at state, captured ninth place at state in the 800-meter run a year ago. Phillips will trade handoffs again with Wes Peyerl and Aiden Dirhlam in the longest-distance relay race.

LCWM/Nicollet’s Kyle Holbeck and Evan Guffey represent the final two state boys qualifiers returning to the Relays on Friday. Holbeck and Guffey helped steer the KnightRaiders’ 4×100 to a seventh-place state showing.

In the girls’ competition, Blue Earth Area will turn to senior sensation Krista Hassing to help fend off three hard-charging 2012 state qualifiers – sophomore Sierra Schultz, senior Paige Bearson and sophomore Sasha Riley – from Fairmont.

Hassing, who produced a silver medal in the 800 at the MSHSL state meet, traded handoffs with Taylor Grandgenett, Anne Franta and Karli Olsen to net second-place state accolades in the 4×400.

The intact Blue Earth Area 4×4 squad looks in stellar form after capturing third place during last Friday’s Hamline Elite Meet, while Hassing delivered a solid sixth-place finish in the open 800.

Fairmont will turn to Schultz and Bearson – who claimed 10th in both the long and triple jumps at state – in both horizontal leap events, while Riley is gradually returning to the form that earned her a fifth-place state medal in the open 400 as a freshman.

Schultz, who placed ninth in the state meet’s triple jump in 2012, also has evolved into a force in the hurdles, so the sophomore phenom will look to produce points on the track to help counter Redwood Valley’s potent 1-2 punch of Kayla Huhnerkoch and Beckycia Bowers.

Bowers earned a fifth-place medal in the state long jump competition and a sixth-place medal in the triple jump, while Huhnerkoch displayed her long-distance running prowess with a seventh-place state showing at 3,200 meters to go with a state runner-up finish in the 1,600 run.

United South Central/ Alden-Conger junior sensation Emily Mantor rounds out the Relays’ Class AA individuals competing on the heels of qualifying for last spring’s MSHSL state meet. Mantor pocketed a fifth-place state medal in the 2-mile run, and is always a threat if she sets her sights on the mile, too.

Martin County West sprinter Haley Jensen and the Mavericks will battle with St. Clair thrower Katelyn Weber in the Relays’ Class A girls division after earning state hardware a year ago.

Jensen, who captured fifth place in the open 100 at state in 2012, is coming off a fifth-place showing in her sprint race at last Friday’s Hamline Elite Meet. The sophomore standout also ran a leg on the Mavericks’ 4×100 relay team – Hailey Holtz, Taryn Tumbleson and Libbie Lange – that netted sixth at Hamline a week ago.

Meanwhile, Weber returns to the Relays after posting a pair of seventh-place distances in both the discus and shot at last year’s MSHSL state meet. The Cyclone standout is fresh off of two fifth-place showings in her field specialties at the Hamline Elite Meet.