Prep track and field: Pekin hosts area athletes in indoor finale

Mar. 18—PELLA — Not that long ago, the Pekin boys track and field team sent enough athletes to Drake Stadium to bring home a state team championship.

Last year, only Brady McWhirter and JaeDon Wolver were able to represent the Panthers at state. The Pekin girls, meanwhile, finished ninth overall in Class 1A highlighted by a state championship-winning throw by Anna Hadley in the discus marking the second straight year the Panthers claimed a title at state after winning the 4x800 relay crown in 2022.

The Pekin boys are hoping to turn their own fortunes around this season with several hungry young athletes looking to create a resurgence this spring. The Panthers showed glimpses of that potential resurgence in their final indoor meet of the season on Thursday, winning seven different Class A relay races at the H.S. Kuyper Fieldhouse in Pella.

"We're trying to turn the tide. We did it in football. We're trying to do it in track," Will Adam said after helping Pekin win three relays. "All of our guys have said they want to make it as part of a team this year, not just in individual events. We've all got a goal and we know how badly we want to get there."

Adam quarterbacked the Pekin football team to the program's first winning season in five years, qualifying for postseason play just two years after enduring a winless season. Adam and his teammates are hoping to take a step towards bringing the Pekin boys track team back to successful heights this season for a program that claimed the Class 2A state team championship just six years ago.

"I know I want to make a name for myself by contending for a state championship," Adam said. "You see those pictures in the trophy case every day when you walk through the halls at school. It's definitely something to strive for.

"Records are made to be broken. The records at Pekin are pretty steep, but it's definitely something to strive for."

The Panthers showed versatility in the relays they won on Thursday. Pekin scored the longest relay win, taking the 4x800 title, while also earning wins in the shuttle relay and the California Mile with 13 different runners teaming up to help secure the seven races.

"It's kind of fun. It's been a while since we won a relay or two," Pekin head track and field coach Davis Eidahl said. "We've got some young runners. They'll get better each week. Everybody's got the chance to run something different during the indoor season. It gets everyone excited for things to come."

The Pekin girls also had a pair of Class A wins on Thursday to close out the indoor season. Hadley, coming off her state championship-winning season in the discus, won the shot put competition at Central with a throw of 37 feet and 9.5 inches while Lauren Steigleder, Alex Parsons, Audrey Farris and Chloe Glosser races to the win in the distance medley relay in 14:15.

"It's not just having someone on the team that's won a state title like Anna. Chloe's been here. Audrey's been here all four years," Eidahl said. "I think the girls will be strong in different events. We've still got some things we can try out when we get the outdoor season underway."

Relay wins were also on the docket for the Albia Lady Dees at Pekin's indoor meet on Thursday. McKenna Montgomery, Abby George and Serene Thompson teamed up with Millie McAnich to win the Class AA girls 4x800 relay in 10:40.78 before joining Janelle Clark in claiming the Class AA distance medley relay in 13:55.1.

"We were missing one of our regular runners, but we've got some young freshmen that coming up and are doing amazing," Montgomery said. "Winning that 4x800 to start was a big confidence boost. We had some runners that were competing for the first time, so it was a great way to get the season started."

Ryan Little also secured a win for the Albia boys on Thursday, taking the Class AA high jump title. The two-time Drake Relays and state high jump qualifier cleared six feet in the meet.

"I wish I had gone a little higher, but I've been focusing more on getting in a little better shape than I have on jumping going into the season," Little said. "I'm trying to fine-tune my running and jumping at the start of this season. I don't want to peak at the beginning of the season. You start to get mad at yourself when you do that."

The Davis County girls scored a relay win of their own. Augusta Warren, Cassidy Van Laningham, Dani Piper and Isabella Carnahan closed out the meet for the Mustangs winning the Class AA 4x400 relay in 4:22.14.

"It was a good night. Half of our team are freshmen, so it was good to see them get some experience," Davis County head girls track and field coach Derek Robison said. "Hopefully, we'll keep getting better every week. The kids have great attitudes. They're having fun. I think we're on the right track."

One of Davis County's freshmen also secured the Class AA girls long jump win as the Mustangs went 1-2 in the event. Piper edged Paislie Yoder by 1.5 inches for the win with a leap of 14-5.5.

"I've actually never long-jumped before. I just tried to get my steps down and threw my body as far as I could," Piper said. "I wasn't sure where I would wind up, but I'm pretty happy to have won it.

"I really like having other long jumpers in there to push me," Yoder added. "Last year, we had (Kallie Greiner) who finished first in every meet we were at. It's nice having someone that you can compete with every day."

Alec Rachford picked up a win for the Cardinal boys, nearly reaching 50 feet with a toss of 49-1.75 to win the Class AA title. The future Indian Hills thrower is hoping to get well beyond the 50-foot mark this season.

"Once I hit 50 feet, I want to go for 52," Rachford said. "My goal in discus is to hit 160 feet and break the school record. It'll take a couple of meets to get into the groove during the outdoor season. I'd like to place in the top five of both throws this year at state."

Kasey Davis scored the lone individual win on the track for the Pekin boys, taking the Class A 60-meter hurdles in 8.81 seconds while Yoder claimed the Class AA girls title in the same race in 9.99. Russell McCrea posted the fastest time of any runner in the event, taking the Class AA boys title as the Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont senior crossed the finish line in 8.5 seconds.

"I was actually kind of sick going into it," McCrea said. "I was just looking to beat my teammate, Conner (Arnold), so I knew I was going to have to run a good time to do that."

— Scott Jackson can be reached at Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.