GRINNELL Despite a stellar spring that brought a conference championship, the South Tama girls track and field team had limited chances to qualify for the state meet at Thursday's Class 3A district meet.
The Lady Trojans were sent south to compete in arguably the toughest district in the entire state. They battled in every event against some of the state's best, hoping for a top two finish that would automatically qualify them for state, but knowing a third or fourth place finish might be enough to earn an at-large bid.
"I've talked to a lot of other coaches about the caliber of athletes and talent that was at our district and I think by far it was the toughest in 3A," coach George Corum said. "They are going down to fourth, fifth and sixth places and times. That was basically our state, because we were running against tremendous teams. We knew going in that we only had a few options to get to state."
South Tama junior Samantha Holtz qualified for the state meet in the discus for a second-straight year. She also qualified in the shot put this year.
When the Lady Trojans left Grinnell on Thursday night, they had only one automatic qualifier junior Samantha Holtz in the discus. Holtz finished second in the event as she defeated third place by one inch. Her throw of 117 feet, 10 inches was barely enough to send her back to state in discus for the second-straight year.
"It feels really good to go back to state," Holtz said. "it was a little too close. I was in a slump, so it feels good to come out of that. I think I can do better. I feel more controlled in the ring."
While the discus was the only sure-fire qualifier, the Lady Trojans had several events that could qualify, but they had to wait until Friday afternoon to see who made it. Once the final state qualifiers were released, the Lady Trojans qualified in two more events shot put and distance medley.
Holtz will be throwing at both events this week at Drake Stadium. She threw 37-3.5 in the shot put and placed fourth at the district meet. Yet, it was good enough to qualify her for the state meet.
STC's coach knows Holtz will need to have a big throw in each event at state, but he knows she's capable of such a performance. He also hopes her experience at state a year ago and the Drake Relays this year will give her confidence, knowing she's thrown at the Drake Stadium.
"At the district meet, Sam had a tremendous throw on her first throw in the shot put," Corum said. "It would have been past her PR, but she scratches. It was huge. Then you look at what's she thrown in the discus at one time and you look at the top throws in our class, she has potential to place there. With everything said, she has to perform that day. It would be a great time to do it."
South Tama's final event headed to state is the distance medley relay. STC finished fourth in the race in a time of 4:29.3, narrowly beating Pella's squad, who ran 4:29.92. That time was good enough for the No. 22 time headed to state with Pella also qualifying in the event. The STC relay members were senior Shelby Bradley, senior Jade Rohach, freshman Belle Tyynismaa and senior Kelsey Kupka.
"I would like them to go down there, enjoy being there and give it their best shot," Corum said. "I want it to be memorable for them, regardless of what happens. They've earned that right to be there."
Like every district meet, there were heartbreaks for those who didn't qualify. Kupka didn't return to state in the 800-meter run or 1,500-meter run, despite running a time that was faster than runners who automatically qualified at other districts. The same goes for junior Taylor Ellenbecker in the 3,000-meter run. She dropped more than 20 seconds off of her personal-best time and ran 11:20.93 on Thursday. That would be the No. 19 time headed to state, but six automatic qualifiers will be headed to state with a slower district time.
"I was pretty optimistic," Corum said. "The sad part is Kelsey Kupka's time in the 1,500 and Taylor Ellenbecker's time in the 3,000 were fast enough to qualify. The problem is the ones and twos automatically qualify. Where their times fell, there were only ones and twos below them so they couldn't knock anybody out. That was a bummer. It's just the way the system is and I don't know what the true answer is."
South Tama finished eighth as a team Thursday with 54 points. Solon wrapped up the team title with 157 points - 20 ahead of Pella, while Oskaloosa (97), Benton Community (86) and Grinnell (84.5) battled for the next three spots. Williamsburg (66.5) and Union LaPorte City (57) completed the field.
Despite only qualifying girls in three events and finishing last, Corum knows the tough district meet can't take away the accomplishments of this year's Lady Trojans squad, which includes the North Iowa Cedar League West crown.
"It doesn't take away from what we've done all year," Corum said. "I'm happy for Kelsey, Jade and Shelby to participate at the state meet as seniors. What we've done this year has been fun. I would have liked to send more to the state meet, but it's the nature of the beast."
Holtz will start the state meet for STC. She throws the discus at 2 p.m. Thursday. Holtz will throw the shot put at 2 p.m. Friday. The STC distance medley is scheduled to run at 2:40 p.m. Friday.