DES MOINES — The elation Auriona Kimbrough and her distance medley teammates felt after Mackenzie Michael’s gutsy anchor leg completed a 2018 Class 4A relay state championship run was an emotion they wanted to share.

Knowing they’d all be returning the following season, that title quartet of Michael, Kimbrough, Leah Longnecker and Morgan Sterrett eyed a big team goal.

“We came together and made it our goal to make sure that everyone this season is able to feel what it feels like to win,” Kimbrough said. “That’s our goal this year, to bring home a state trophy.”

Cedar Falls enters this week’s state track and field meet positioned to make a major leap into team medal contention after scoring 37 points and placing sixth in 2018. The Tigers will be competing in 17 of the 19 state events Thursday through Saturday at Drake Stadium. Only a loaded defending 4A championship Waukee team has more potential points based on qualifying marks.

“It’s been good to see them grow each week,” Cedar Falls coach Chris Wood said. “When you’ve got so many athletes that can experience and get exposed to it (state competition), that’s key for setting a foundation.”

The depth Cedar Falls has assembled was on display during Friday’s fourth consecutive team title in a state qualifying meet. Junior Jenneh Gee filled in for an injured Longnecker on qualifying sprint relays, while freshman Paige Wageman came back after qualifying in the 3,000 and anchored the distance medley following a 400-meter PR split from classmate Sydney Stokes that allowed the Tigers to qualify in the state’s fast heat.

Depth extends to the long jump where Emerson Green and Sarah Albaugh could both score points. Michael and Kimbrough are the first and third qualifiers in the 400, with Michael also the top qualifier in the 800. North Liberty freshman standout Ashlyn Keeney is set to push Michael in a rematch of a closely-contested 800-meter race at the Drake relays that the Cedar Falls junior won.

“We know we have flexibility, and with Mackenzie we know we can put her wherever we want and she’s a team player,” Wood said of Michael, who could potentially help Cedar Falls contend in two of the 4x400, sprint medley or distance medley relay options. “She’s going to do what she can do to help our team get to that podium finish.”

Kimbrough, a University of Northern Iowa track and field recruit, is a valuable four-event point scoring option, as well. She’ll be defending her state high jump title in addition to running in the open 400 and on a pair of relays.

“She’s a big time kind of athlete,” Wood said of Kimbrough, who has run in three consecutive 4x400 finals. “She likes the high pressure situations. That’s where she thrives.”

Kimbrough credits increased offseason work as a source of her team’s growth. Instead of being split by gender, the Tigers’ boys and girls teams trained together and held each other accountable with a larger support system.

“It definitely pushed us training with the boys,” Kimbrough said. “It was more intense which is something I think we needed. We weren’t used to that in the past years, so it was good to have a different kind of workout regimen and to switch it up a little bit.”

With multiple newcomers poised for their opportunity on the state stage, Kimbrough wants them to embrace the nerves.

“That’s what pushes me to be my best,” Kimbrough said. “You can never be scared because you don’t have anything to lose. Just go out there and be fearless.”

Wolverines primed for title run

A Dike-New Hartford boys’ team that scored just 9 1/2 points at last year’s state meet may be a favorite to win Class 2A’s crown this week.

Parker Kiewiet is looking to build on his Drake Relays long jump title by securing his first state championship in the event. He joins Grant Bixby, Cade Fuller, Ryan Moore and Derek Kinney as members of relays that have qualified with the second-best times in the 4x200 and 4x400.

Bixby, who missed qualifying for state despite possessing one of 2A’s top times last season, is the top qualifier in the 400 hurdles. He joins Fuller, Ely Sohn and Seth Eden as part of a shuttle hurdle team that recorded the top qualifying time.

The Wolverines have embraced team success, building upon a state runner-up finish in football and a trip to the basketball state tournament.

“We’ve really talked about the team aspect of everything we do,” D-NH coach Will Reingardt said. “Just having fun and outworking people, that’s really been a lot of our growth this year.”

South Central Calhoun, Camanche, Williamsburg and Treynor are among the other projected 2A team contenders. Relays will play a large factor in the number of points Dike-New Hartford ultimately ends up scoring.

“In team meetings we talk about that a lot, you’ve got to want it and do it for the guy that’s next to you,” Reingardt said. “We really like our relays. That’s something we’ve always taken pride in at Dike-New Hartfard.”

All-time great

Waterloo East senior and Purdue track and field recruit Kerris Roberts’ prep career will reach the finish line this week. Roberts has already returned from injuries to each hamstring that sidelined her throughout the majority of last season to win the Drake Relays 100-meter dash.

East’s sprinter is pursing a third state title in the open 200 and second title in the open 100. Roberts has also run on a pair of championship 4x100 relays. Senior Amanee Clark, freshman Valieghja Wright and sophomore Jocelyn Nichols joined her on a 4x100 relay that posted 4A’s fastest qualifying time of 48.52.

Roberts’ fastest times of 11.69 in the 100, and 24.09 in the 200 each rank third among Iowa’s all-time leaders.

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