As Carroll senior Nick Giusti crossed the finish line Friday night in the Class 5A track regional at Friends, he raised his hands in triumph. He kept running, pausing for a chest bump with Joshua Hornback, then running to another friend for a hug.
And he ran some more, on to the infield, then back on to the track to hug his mother, who stood on the other side of the chain link fence.
Giusti won the 110 meter hurdles in 14.89 seconds, but his joy wasn’t solely due to his win.
“Winning, it was not the emotion of it. Getting the opportunity to run at Cessna Stadium (in the 5A state meet) in front of the thousands of people,” Giusti said. “ Getting the opportunity to run. Yeah, it’s nice having a regional medal, but having the opportunity to run at state, that’s what I’m more excited about.”
Giusti, who also qualified for state in the 300 hurdles, finishing fourth, has long looked for his niche with the Carroll track team. He was cut from baseball his freshman season and went out for track.
He didn’t qualify for City League or regionals in his first two seasons, but he wanted to contribute. He’d ask Carroll coach Cory Swords what he could do for the team, even hauling equipment.
Then in 2013, Swords needed a hurdler; he looked to Giusti, who had already tried the 100, 200, 400, 800, long jump.
Giusti finished seventh at regionals, which motivated him. He competed in winter meets to gain experience and learn how it felt coming out of the blocks and going over the hurdles.
“Ever since regionals last year, every time I’d driven down Kellogg, driving past this stadium, I’ve known this is the meet that I needed to prove myself,” Giusti said. “The meet I’ve been dreaming about for months, a year now. It’s absolutely incredible.
“I’ve laid in bed at night thinking about how it would feel. It feels 100 times better than I thought it would feel.”
Giusti wasn’t the favorite to win the 110 hurdles, but Liberal senior Trenton Hammond, who was expected to contend for a title, was disqualified after a false start.
“It was really disappointing,” Hammond said. “ I wanted to get one last go at it. I was runner-up at state last year.”
Hammond’s false start opened up the field, and it was Giusti who took advantage.
He then dominated the field in the 300 hurdles, winning in 38.24 seconds. He won the 300 hurdles at 5A in 2013.
The champion was senior Jordan Salas, who suffered a severe injury on a warmup throw when she slipped in the rain-soaked ring.
The cut was deep and wide, showing bone and ligament. But Salas refused to go to the hospital until she threw.
“She wanted to throw,” Arkansas City coach Matt Kmiec said. “We taped it up. She didn’t get to spin, but fronted, threw about as well as she’s thrown all year. She ended up winning. It was good.
“She has a lot of guts.”
Salas’ top throw was 100 feet, one inch, nearly five feet better than second.
“I don’t think I could have pulled her away from the discus ring today,” Kmiec said. “It’s really inspirational to see kids who want to fight and compete like that.”
Rather it was pressure to ensure she was continuing to improve.
“I don’t want to come out here and get fourth and fifth after I won because that means I wasn’t improving,” she said. “I’m a person who loves to improve and get better. I feel like my work ethic has gotten better. Now that I’ve had a little taste of what it’s like to be a champion, I hold myself to a higher standard.”
It was a big win for Mares, and she credited Engle, who finished second in the 100 in 12.59 and won the 200 in 26.03. She was also a part of the winning 1600 relay.
“I really enjoy competing with Engle,” Mares said. “She really pushes me to be my best. It was really good to work off of her and a really good accomplishment to beat her, finally.
“Natali is a really good competitor. She’s naturally fast, so it’s really good to find someone that can push you to make you better. Natali is that person for me.”
Mares also qualified in the 400 relay, along with Jaylyn Agnew, who won the high jump (5-foot-7) and finished second in the 200 (26.13).