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11 Solon girls On to state

Five relays, six individuals in girls’ Class 3A track & field
Solon’s Bryce Hinkel lets fly with her best attempt in the shot put in the state qualifying meet, May 11 in Marion. Hinkel did not qualify in the shot, but made the state Class 3A field in the discus, with a personal best 112-0 fling. (photo by Joe Wilkinson)

MARION– “Are we in?”
As regional high school track meets close across Iowa, that question is voiced countless times by athletes and coaches, moms and dads. Many spend a restless night checking screens, wondering who made it to the state meet, beyond the automatic qualifiers. For Solon’s girls and those in 63 other Class 3A schools, only first and second place guarantee a ticket to state, May 18-20 at Drake Stadium in Des Moines.
From there, the final eight 3A slots are at-large, with the next best times, jumps or throws across all eight May 11 regional meets qualifying. And those third through sixth places are important. Any points they might yield at state can help push a team over the top, whether for the championship, a move up in the team standings or recognition for a girl’s hard work through winter and spring. Each of the state’s four enrollment classes fields 24 entries in the 19 events.
As qualifiers were finally posted, Solon’s girls had locked in 11 entries in 10 events, at a state qualifier meet in Marion. Girls in five individual events, including a bonus double-place in the 400-meter hurdles, as well as in five relays made it.
“We knew we were sitting pretty good in the 4x200 (for an at-large nod), the 4x100 relay; we were pretty good with that. The rest of the (on the bubble) events were spread out pretty well,” said Solon Head Coach Brent Sands.
A third-place regional finish (1:47.76) in the 4x200 for Taylor Ryan, Bryn Hanrahan, Abby Smith and Khaylor Fleck meant a night of waiting... yet eventually, the fifth-fastest time going to state. Hanrahan, Duckett, Alexis Sands and Erin Kerkhoff ran on the regional 4x100 team, with 51.05 good for an at-large 12 seed at state.
Solon pushed through five of its seven relay entries. With Ryan, Smith, Sophie Nicol and Kerkhoff in the 4x400, Solon notched a second-place qualifier. It goes in as the third-fastest time in the 3A field. Three of the top five Class 3A 4x400 times came out of Marion. Likewise, Hanrahan, Alexis Sands, Kerkhoff and Ryan teamed up at regional (1:51.52) in the 800 sprint medley relay. In the shuttle hurdle relay, Rachael Nelson, Molly Duckett, Peyton and Alexis Sands posted a 1:07.76, also good for a state at-large slot.
In individual events, Kerkhoff grabbed a 58.81 win in the open 400 at Solon’s regional meet. Alexis Sands qualified, with 16.18 in the 100-meter hurdles. Gabbi Bullard’s 1:07.65 second-place finish in the 400-meter hurdles was automatic. Sophie Nicol, though, had to wait it out before learning her 1:08.36 third-place finish moved her on, too. “Sophie ran great again (also with an earlier 4x800 leg) at Marion. Gabbi had two great 800s (in relays), hitting 2:26, 2:27,” said Sands, noting they would have more recovery time across the three days of the state meet for those grueling events.
From the field events, Josie Durr’s 5-2 high jump topped the regional lineup for an automatic spot. Bryce Hinkel’s third place discus toss of 112 feet even made the grade. “Bryce’s throw was her best ever,” noted Sands.

Still there were others that were close, but didn’t make the cut.
“Jessica Heick’s (15’8 3/4) long jump… her best of the year… good for fourth at Marion, would have won a couple regional meets, but just missed qualifying at-large,” pointed out Sands. “Khaylor Fleck (fourth in the 200) and Caylee Annis (third in the 400) just missed it, too. Jeannie Jedlicka had a great run in the 200 (sixth) for a place… but didn’t make it, either.”

With a lineup injury, you have to gamble
Sometimes, an on-the-spot decision and the right substitute pays dividends. Solon junior Sophie Nicol already had run in the 4x800 meter relay, a 400 leg in the distance medley relay and the 400 hurdles in Marion on May 11 when she got the call to sub in the last event… the 4x400 relay. A teammate had been dinged up a little in her earlier event.
Lineup adjustments and substitutions are part of the game. However, for the regional qualifier, you can’t just plug in anybody. A coach must declare each event’s entries, as well as two specific substitutes on each relay, before the meet. And those names remain through state.
“Coach did not need me to run a crazy fast time—just to keep close; to go out and run my best,” explained Nicol. “It had been a busy night for me (but) I just wanted to help qualify my team.”
After a scorching sub-60 second leadoff from Taylor Ryan and a 1:02 split from Abby Smith, Nichol’s 1:03 kept Solon close. With the baton in hand, anchor Erin Kerkhoff could see the gap she needed to attack.
But she couldn’t panic.
“Right away, I wanted to run my race; not waste it all on the backstretch,” reviewed Kerkhoff, as the gap narrowed. “Coming off the (last) curve, I began my sprint. I could tell I would not catch the first girl. I knew I had to get second at that point.”
Mission accomplished in the last 20 meters, as she leaned past the Mount Vernon anchor. Kerkhoff crossed in 4:05.04 for the second place qualifying spot, a second behind winner Dubuque Wahlert. As the state field was posted, Solon’s time was the third fastest in Class 3A.
By then, a lot of team members were along for the three-day ride in Des Moines; billed as the largest state high school meet in the nation.