Packers aiming for finals at state track meet

(From the Austin Daily Herald, by Rocky Hulne)

austinstateThe Austin boys track and field team is hoping for a solid showing as seven of its athletes will compete in the Class ‘AA’ state track and field meet on Friday and Saturday at Hamline University in St. Paul.

The Packers are sending three individuals and two relay teams to state, after sending just one relay team last season. Of the qualifiers just one — 4 x 800-meter relay team member Kyle Dammen — is a senior. The rest are juniors.

“We’ve got a good group of juniors right now,” Austin head coach Tony Einertson said. “We’re hoping to improve guys to get them to the finals (by finishing in the top nine in the preliminaries) and get them on the podium (by finishing in the top eight overall). Some of our qualifying times are deceiving because we had a windy day at the section meet.”

Tim Erickson, who qualified in the 800-meter run, will also run for the 4 x 800-meter relay and the 4 x 400-meter relay. He is the first Austin runner to qualify for state in three events since Blake Wagnen did it three years ago.

“It’s exciting to go in all my main events,” said Erickson. “I guess it really hasn’t sunk in quite yet that I’m going in three events. Hopefully I can do well in all of them.”

In the 800-meter run, which has its preliminary Friday at 12:14 p.m., Erickson has a qualifying time of 2:02.26, which is the 15th fastest time of 16 runners. He has run the race as fast as two minutes in the past.

“There are a lot of good 800 runners up there,” he said. “The state record holder will be there, so hopefully I’ll get to run against him. I didn’t do great when I ran at the Hamline (Elite Meet), but hopefully I can do better this time.”

Will Darling is making a return trip to the state meet in the 300-meter hurdles — which has a preliminary race Friday at 11:50 a.m. He is coming off a section meet where he didn’t have his best race and had to finish strong just to get to state,

“I don’t want to go in with too much confidence,” Will Darling said. “I want to go in feeling I have to run my best race. I think (the section meet) kind of made me realize I can’t just go into every race and do amazing. I really have to work for it.”

While his qualifying time of 40.46 seconds is the 12th fastest time, Will Darling ran a career-best time of 40.2 at the Big Nine Meet recently.

“I’m going to try and make it to finals, but there’s more extreme times this year,” said Will Darling, who took 10th in the preliminaries last year. “I might still make finals, but we’ll just have to see.”

Henry Darling is making his first individual trip to the state meet — he was on the 4 x 400 relay team last year that went to state. This year, he’ll run in the 400-meter dash — which has a preliminary race Friday at 11:30 a.m.

After soccer season wrapped up, Henry Darling has put in a lot of time of in the weight room and he began hard running workouts in January to prepare for this season.

“It feels a lot better now that I actually made it. That hard work wasn’t for nothing,” he said.

In the Section 1AA meet, he took first despite being the third-seeded runner.

“It was pretty close at the Big Nine meet between me and (Albert Lea’s Matt) Tiegs, he started really close to me and I didn’t see him coming and that’s why he beat me,” Henry Darling said. “In sections, I got to see where he was and caught him at the end.”

Henry Darling’s qualifying time of 51 seconds is the 12th fastest out of the 16 runners in his preliminary.

The 4 x 400-meter relay team, which consist of Erickson, both Darlings, and Jacob Bentley is hoping to make it to Saturday after missing the finals last year. The preliminaries will be held Friday at 1:15 p.m.

Austin ran the race in 3:26.56 at the Big Nine meet, but their qualifying time of 3:29.65 is the slowest qualifying time of all 10 teams. However, the team was a bit fatigued and it was running with strong winds on Saturday.

“There’s no reason we shouldn’t be going to at least try to win and at least make finals this year,” Bentley, who was an alternate on the team last year, said.

The 4 x 800-meter relay team — which consists of Erickson, Dammen, Christian Folken, and Jacob Larson, came a long way this year as it ran a season’s best time of 8:07.24 to get to state. That time is the sixth fastest of the nine qualifying teams and the Packers will race in the finals Saturday at 9:13 a.m.

“I think there was definitely a surprise (to make it to state) but we did know we had a shot at it,” Dammen said.

Folken is hoping for a strong performance from a team that has only one runner with state experience (Erickson).

“We just want to make a big showing,” he said. “We know we have a lot of talent on this relay team, so hopefully we can give it our all and finish in the top half.”

The journey to state has been a long one for relay team that has had to run in the shadows of the 4 x 400-meter team.

“At the beginning of the year, our expectations weren’t exactly sky high,” Larson said. “Our team has never been characterized by an amazing 4 x 8 team. All of us banded together and improved our times and it’s amazing to see how far we’ve come this season.”

Einertson was recently announced as Section 1AA track and field coach of the year. It’s an honor, he quickly credits to his team.

“It’s a nice honor from the coaches. The kids have had a fantastic season and it’s really their award. I just get to be the one that accepts it for them,” he said.

The Austin boys finished second in the Big Nine and fourth in the Section 1AA meet.