By Jim Cotter
After not having any kind of a season in 2020, the St. Joseph-Ogden boys track and field team is once again poised to make a statement at the IHSA State Finals in Charleston later this week.
The Spartans will be well represented at the state meet, sending athletes in twelve out of the eighteen contested events.
The format for the state meet will look different this year, as all the preliminary heats and finals are run on the same day, as opposed to in past years where the prelims were run on Thursday with finals contested on Friday.
“All told, between the alternates on the relays, we will have between 16 and 18 people representing SJO at state. The unique thing about the relays is that we change the lineups almost every week and everyone listed in a particular relay is more than capable of being in that group. We want to make sure that we get the best four out there, so if someone has an event close to the one that they are normally in, we may substitute someone else into the lineup to get the fastest lineup that we can,” SJO track and field coach Jason Retz said earlier this week on the science of getting the best possible combination out there.
Besides the relays, several SJO athletes will be competing in more than one event. Brady Buss, who transitioned from football right into track, will run the 100 and 200 meters, plus running a leg on the 4 x 100 and 4 x 200 relay teams. Buss admits that it was hard to compete with both sports at the same time but cherishes the opportunity to do both.
“I was just happy that we were able to have both seasons and going back and forth from each practice was a little difficult because of the demands that each one presented. Luckily, the coaches from both sports were very understanding about the time needed with each team. With everything shut down last year, we all stayed positive even though there was no track season, and it makes this year so fulfilling that we can have a season,” Buss said about juggling two sports seasons at once and his reaction to them having a season this year for track.
Hayden Knott, who has been a frequent state qualifier during his high school years at SJO, will be going to state in both the shot and discus. Knott, who went to state as a freshman in the discus competition and the shot put as a sophomore, will be doing both events this time around.
“This year will be a little different because both the prelims and finals are on the same day. In the past, they were on separate days, and you had a chance if the wind was different on both days. Now, you will have to just take what is given to you and roll with it,” Knott remarked about the singular day of competition this year.
Brandon Mattsey, who has been biding his time learning and watching those that have came before him, will be making his first trip to state in both the open 800-meter run, in addition to the 4 x 400 and 4 x 800 relay teams. Mattsey credits being able to train on his own as a huge contributor to the success he has had this season.
“Basically, all we need as runners to get out the front door is a pair of shoes and the motivation, and since my parents wanted me to not be around many other kids during the height of the pandemic, I trained a lot on my own and was able to get to where I’m at now,” Mattsey said about how he trained during the time when everything was shut down and since things have resumed.
Retz noted that the events that his team has competed in this year have been smaller than what they are normally used to, but they have adjusted to the changes that have been made.
“We’re used to having many more teams compete with us, but our guys don’t pay attention to that because they are committed to winning their events and meets, it’s just we may not have seen all the competition in those events until we get to sectionals and the state meet,” Retz added about what having smaller meets has done for the preparation of his team for the state tournament.
Retz thinks that his boys team has a good chance to take home some hardware this year, and even though the girls’ team, who finished fifth in Class 1A last week in Charleston, if things fall the right way, they could be on the medal stand at the end of competition.
“It’s really hard to win a trophy at the state meet and we’ve been really lucky the past few times when we have been able to bring one home, but I do believe if we get the right people in events, we have a good shot of bringing some hardware back to St. Joseph and continuing the tradition of the past.
That scenario would be a fitting end for all that these athletes have been through for the past year and a half as they have had a lot taken away from them.