BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Three of five of the Fort Madison Bloodhounds participating in the Iowa girls and boys high school state track meet are looking to improve on last year’s performance.
Seniors Elijah Barnes, Caleb Gehle, and Brett Schneider will all be looking to land in the medals for the Bloodhounds this year in the meet that starts today.
Barnes qualified for state this year in the discus as well as the shotput where he threw 44′-9″ last year, 24th of 25 in a performance that he said was frustrating for him.
“Last year they disqualified my shot,” Barnes said on Tuesday during an after school workout.
But this year, with the help of first-year throwing coach Andrew Troxel, he said his timing is a bit better and he’s having more success. That could be the understatement of the year as Barnes has found an extra eight feet in throws this year over last.
“Switching up what I did like my form and my technique and I went to a rotation and that helped me gain some feet just off that because you gain more momentum through it. That’s what a lot of olympians are doing now,” Barnes said.
I was hesitant at first because it’s tough to learn. There’s a lot of points you have to hit. I’m just hoping to go in there and place in the top 9. I’m sitting ranked 9th now. Up there it doesn’t matter about distances prior to that meet. I’m hoping the adrenaline helps me place.”
He said he didn’t spend much time with discus, but once he started getting his form down the distances started to come. He said Troxel pushed him hard to compete in discus, too.
“He was a glider last year and there were some flaws with his mechanics. We started in February and worked on a lot of the little things and, once we perfected those, we started putting things together, Troxel said. “Once those things clicked, that’s where he’s getting the extra distance.
Barnes will be throwing discus on Thursday at 4:30 and then the shotput event will be held at Friday at 4:30.
Brett Schneider is returning to state for two events again this year. She will be running the 400-hurdles, which she ran last year, and will also be running the 800-meter run. In 2017 she ran as part of the Bloodhounds Distance Medley team. She finished 16th last year in the 400-hurdles with a time of 1:08.76 but said she’s had very good times this year.
“I’ve had both PRs going into state this year and I look better than I did last year,” she said. “I’m ranked 10th in the 400-hurdles right now so that will put me in the second fastest heat, but I will get a good lane assignment so that will help.”
Schneider got off to a slow start to the year and had to delay indoor running due to an ankle injury sustained during basketball season. She qualified for Drake for the third time during high school and competed in the state cross country meet last fall.
She’ll run the 400 hurdles at 5:20 p.m. on Friday and then at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday she’ll compete in the 800-meter run. She’s currently ranked No. 4 in the state in girls 800 and will run in the fastest heat of the event. She said she’s hoping for a bit cooler temps, but the forecast calls for heat and thunderstorms.
“I like a little bit of rain when I’m running, but it sucks when it’s really cold. My freshman year it was freezing and last year it was wet and cool, and compared to what we’ve been running lately…that works.”
Caleb Gehle is competing in four different events including three wheelchair races, the 100-, 200-, and 400-meter dashes as well as the wheelchair shotput. This is his fourth year at state.
Gehle threw 14′-5.25″ last year for third place in the wheelchair shotput and has been throwing over 17′ in meets this year. He placed sixth in the 100- and 200-meter dashes in 2017.
“Throwing-wise I’m not where I want to be, but I’ve made progress either way. I’ve cut down quite a bit of time off my racing. I’ve cut nine seconds off the 400. People at clinics have told me to drive from 1 o’clock to 6 o’clock if you think of the wheel like a clock. and that should give me a bit more distance on each turn,” Gehle said.
He said some adjustments have been made to his racing chair that should permit tighter steering and lane control. Gehle said he’s just trying to show personal growth as he heads toward a trip to Spain later this year to compete in the Cerebral Palsy World Games in Barcelona.
“As weird as this is to say, I just want to show personal growth and know that I did the best I could,” Gehle said.
He also said he’s put in more time in the gym this year building his upper body and creating strength for the throws and wheelchair races. All Gehle’s events take place on Saturday kicked off by the wheelchair shotput at 10 a.m.
The HTC sophomore is making his first trip to the state track meet as a full participant. In 2017 he went as a runner up on the boys distance medley team as a freshman.
Hellige also ran as a sophomore at the state cross country meet in Fort Dodge this fall.
He said he wanted to try to get a personal record on the blue oval.
“I’d like to try to place in the top 15 if I can. I think that would be a good goal,” Hellige said. “My personal record before districts was a 10:27 and then at district’s I ran a 10:17 so I beat it by ten seconds.
He said this year with the addition of Hyrum Scruggs, as well as Mike Schneider and Chad Hannum, there’s been more of a chance to get individual instruction.
“Last year it was just coach (Erin) Benner and she couldn’t do everything and this year we’ve had the help of the others. Last year I was running with the middle distance runners but this year I was able to focus on the longer runs.”
Hellige will take to the oval at 3:50 p.m. on Thursday.
What was originally a last-minute decision to compete, has turned into a banner year for senior Leigh Johnson throwing for the Bloodhound girls team. Johnson, a top-notch setter with the Hounds volleyball team this fall, decided in the first week of track season that she wanted to throw again. She threw in her freshman and sophomore years.
Johnson will compete in the girls shotput at 2 p.m. on Friday.
“Leigh came out the first week and just wanted to throw,” Troxel said. “She threw as a freshman and sophomore. She has tremendous strength. A lot of that is attributed to Coach (Derek) Doherty’s Athletic Enhancement program. She was throwing low 30s in the beginning of the season, but once it got nice in the outdoor season she started putting one thing together after another and now these throws are coming out of nowhere. The last two weeks have just been tremendous for her,” Troxel said.
Johnson said this is her first year throwing the shot as she focused on discus her freshman and sophomore years and then played soccer as a junior as she worked through volleyball clubs in the same season.
“Well it’s my first year throwing shotput. My freshman and sophomore year I threw disc. I didn’t think I was going to go to state. I just came out and worked hard. I needed something to do. I decided halfway through the season, I wanted it so I just came out and worked hard.”
She’s currently ranked 17th out of 24 and said she hopes to place in the top 10.
“I’m hoping to maybe get top 10. That may be a little unrealistic, but I’m going to try,” she said.