COVID-19 wiped out the 2020 track and field season, but the 2021 Clarkson/Leigh girl sprinters picked up where they left off two years ago.
The Patriots had the area's best 4x100 relay team in 2019. That tandem of Emily Loseke, Halee Steffensmeier, McKenna Stodola and Kaegan Held tore up the track at the state meet with a time of 50.51 seconds, which was good for sixth place in Class C.
Two members of that squad — Stodola and Loseke — are back for their junior and senior seasons, respectively, in 2021 and, along with new teammates Chloe Hanel and Tanyn Larson, are once again setting the standard for sprint relay quartets in Northeast and North Central Nebraska.
This year's team also epitomizes the synergy between Clarkson and Leigh as Stodola and Hanel hail from Clarkson while Larson and Loseke call Leigh their hometown.
"Every year the team's going to be different when you have different girls," Clarkson/Leigh coach Briana Wietfeld said. "But I will say they are consistent in how they work together and connect together because they all take pride in our program and they've all really invested in what we've implemented here.
"Our biggest thing is trying to get them to buy in. Sprinting is nice because it really helps our girls for their other sports like volleyball and basketball and softball. We're trying to get them better for all of those, too."
With so many fast girls in the Platte and Colfax county communities, some of the best competition the Patriot sprinters run into all year is at practice. "Being a Clarkson/Leigh sprinter, all of us are kind of at the same type of level, so it's always good to have them to try to want to beat all the time," Larson said.
As of Monday, the Patriot relay team had the area's top mark. Meanwhile, Loseke had the second-fastest times in the 100 and 200. Hanel sat No. 2 in both the 100- and 300-meter hurdles and was third in the high jump, while Larson was No. 8 in the 100.
As good as the 2019 Patriot relay team was, the 2021 version could be even better. It posted a season-best time of 50.55 at last week's Norfolk Track Classic — just four-hundredths of a second off the 2019 team's best mark.
In fact, the girls 4x100 was one of the more anticipated races at the Classic with the showdown looming between Clarkson/Leigh and last week's leader, O'Neill. The Eagles led after the first three legs, but Loseke roared down the home stretch to give the Patriots the win by .36 of a second.
"There was great competition there and it's just an exciting atmosphere there at the Classic so we could push ourselves even farther and get even more excited," Loseke said.
Wietfeld said there is still a lot of the track season left, but she feels the 2021 4x100 team is more than capable of equaling or surpassing the 2019 team as state medalists.
"We've got some really fast girls and right now, that's where we're strong," she said.
A combination of decent weather and top-flight competition in the Norfolk Classic and conference meets provided excellent opportunities for area athletes to set new season- best performances this past week, and they did not disappoint.
On the girls side, marks improved in 12 of the 17 events starting with the triple jump where season-long leader Renee Brummels of Battle Creek won the Classic with an effort of 37 feet, 7 ½ inches — an inch and a half better than her mark.
Norfolk's Nealy Brummond also used the Classic to improve her top mark in the pole vault from 10-6 to 10-8.
On the track, O'Neill's Zelie Sorensen came from out of nowhere to take over the top spot in the 200-meter dash with a time of 25.59. Clarkson/Leigh's Loseke won the East Husker in 25.72 and is in second while last week's leader, Alexandra Eisenhauer of Bloomfield — who defeated Loseke in the Classic — is third at 25.89.
The 400-meter dash has a new leader in Emily Ostrand of Pender. The Pendragon won the East Husker Conference title with a mark of 59.28. Last week's leader, Allison Weidner of Humphrey St. Francis, improved from 59.77 to 59.60 at the Goldenrod Conference meet and is second while Jordan Metzler of Wakefield — who defeated both Ostrand and Weidner at the Classic — is third.
Laney Kathol of Hartington Cedar Catholic is the new leader in the 800. The Trojan star won the Classic race in a time of 2:24.27, about 2½ seconds better than her previous best and five-hundredths of a second ahead of last week's leader, Jordyn Arens of Crofton.
Arens did not compete in the 800 in the Classic so she could concentrate on the 1,600 and 3,200, nor did she compete in any event in Saturday's Mid-State Conference meet in Pierce.
She did use the Classic to improve her times in the longer distance races, from 5:29.68 to 5:18.32 in the 1,600 and from 11:32.24 to 11:26.83 in the 3,200, which was a new meet record.
Wisner-Pilger's Kayla Svoboda is the queen of the hurdles this week. In the 100-meter event, the Gator finished a disappointing third in the Classic but rebounded on Saturday to win the East Husker title in 15.22, barely ahead of Clarkson/Leigh's Hanel, who won the Classic in 15.23.
Svoboda became the only area girl to break 47 seconds in the 300-meter hurdle race this season when she won the Classic in 46.82.
All three of the top relay marks improved from last week as well.
Clarkson/Leigh had the second-fastest 4x100 time last week, then defeated last week's leader, O'Neill, head-to-head at the Classic.
Pierce and Wynot had an epic head-to-head battle in the Classic's 4x400-meter relay. The Bluejays came from behind to nip the Blue Devils at the wire. The two teams' times of 4:09.87 and 4:10.40 are the best in the area so far this year. Last week's leader, North Bend Central, is now fifth.
And Humphrey St. Francis is the new leader in the 4x800-meter relay. The Flyers' come-from-behind victory over Norfolk High is what makes the Classic so special as one of the area's smallest schools competed on the same track with the biggest.
In the end, the Flyers' anchor leg, Weidner, made up a huge chunk of ground and then some in helping her team claim the top spot this week with a mark of 10:08.34, more than three seconds ahead of the second-place Panthers.