There is always a countdown on Greg Smarsh’s phone telling him how many days until the Kansas state track and field meet.
On the first day of track and field practice in Andale this March, Smarsh was already referencing the countdown. 88 days until state. Every day at the end of a practice, Smarsh reminded the team how many days.
He’s been doing this for nearly a decade. Smarsh inherited a competitive program and found a way to take it to the next level. Now Andale is the standard for Class 4A track and field in Kansas.
Last Saturday was Andale’s finest performance at the state track and field meet, as the girls and boys both took home the team championships. It was the fourth title in the last five years for the boys program, while it was the first title for the girls program since 1995. It was also the first time a program had swept the team titles in 4A since Buhler did it in 2004.
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The Andale boys have won 12 straight league championships and six straight regional titles, while the girls have won 13 straight league championships and nine straight regional titles.
"The way I see it is if we start the season with the end in mind, then all of the other stuff will fall into place," said Smarsh, who was awarded the Kansas Coach of the Year. "Since we are talking about winning a state title as a team 88 days before the state meet, I think that probably impresses upon them the importance of being a team. As long as they keep team scores and hand out trophies, we are going to keep stressing the importance of being a team."
Very few programs emphasize the team aspect of track and field as much as Smarsh does in Andale. The team aspect is engrained in Andale athletes once they join the program. When they achieve a personal-best time or mark, they aren’t just excited for themselves – they’re excited for how it will help the team.
"Everyone knows what we’re about and that’s the big picture," Andale sophomore Sawyer Simon said. "Some may think track is an individual sport, but to us it’s all about winning as a team in the end."
Smarsh’s philosophy doesn’t rely on Andale pumping out multiple state champions on an annual basis. This spring Andale had one champion on its boys team and one champion on its girls team.
Every spring more than 100 athletes join the Andale track and field team, giving Smarsh and his coaching staff enough numbers to find breakout prospects that can score at the state meet. Smarsh has always said that team titles aren’t won by first-place winners, they’re won by third, fourth, and fifth place finishes combined.
"The more milk you have, the more cream you’ll have rise to the top," Smarsh is known to say.
And he has assembled a coaching staff capable of turning those athletes into point-scorers at the state meet. Smarsh figures Andale has the largest coaching staff in 4A and possibly the state with Dylan Schmidt (jumps), Mark Schmidt (pole vault), Lance Reid (sprints, relays), Ted Anderson (distance), Robbie Spexarth (javelin), Paul Schmidt (discus), and Mike Blasi (shot put).
"I guarantee you I’ve got the best coaching staff in the state and I bet a lot of colleges don’t even have the quality of coaching I have here in Andale," Smarsh said. "We really are blessed to have so many experienced coaches on the staff and I think the kids really benefit from that. It definitely makes a difference."
Many projections had Andale in the mix for the boys title, but not the pre-meet favorite.
During a weekend full of surprises and personal-bests, the defending performance came from senior Tristen Dagenais in the high jump. He entered with medal hopes, but left with the championship after improving his personal-best by four inches and clearing the bar at 6-8.
"That was probably the most spectacular state track meet performance that I think I’ve ever seen from one of my kids," Smarsh said. "That’s a great example of a senior stepping up and doing it for his team."
"Tristen gave us that first spark," Simon said. "When we saw him do that, it just gave all of us the confidence."
Simon followed by cutting two seconds off his personal-best time at the state meet in the 300 hurdles, breaking the 40-second barrier and finishing runner-up in 4A in 39.76 seconds. Senior Derek Hemmen out-performed his pre-meet ranking, taking third in the 110 hurdles in a season-best time of 15.08. Mason Fairchild delivered a season-best throw of 51-7 in the shot put to snag sixth place and score points.
Davon Spexarth (second in javelin), Jacob Horsch (fourth in pole vault), Canyon Liby (fifth in pole vault), Aidan Camp (sixth in discus), and Andrew Mohr (sixth in long jump) all scored points for Andale, while it took fourth place with its 1600 and 3200 relays.
Andale finished with 59.5 points, just ahead of Maize South with 54.
"All day, all weekend long we had kids stepping up and getting their season-best performance left and right," Smarsh said. "That’s what you want to see as a coach. You want to see them peak at the state meet. We were probably underdogs going in, but our kids came through at the right time."
The girls title was a special one for Smarsh, as his daughter, Abby, became a state champion in the 300 hurdles to help lead the Indians to their first girls team title in more than two decades. After finishing runner-up to Baldwin for so many years, Andale’s team was finally able to finish on top.
"You’ve got to take those moments when you can," Smarsh said. "I remember she asked me as a freshman what she needed to do to be on top. We talked about all the work she’s got to put in. It really is a year-round commitment. It’s about dieting and weight-lifting. You’ve got to be the complete the package and she did everything she needed to do to win and I’m so proud as a parent to see her be rewarded like that. I couldn’t imagine anything better."
Just like the boys, the girls relied on a team effort in scoring 72 points and winning the title by 11 points over Maize South. Kasidee Eck ran a personal-best time in the 200 finals to take third and added a fifth-place finish in the 100. Abby Smarsh added a third-place finish in the 100 hurdles, while Shelby Cox took eighth. The 400 relay team took fourth. Jaden Eck (third), Jewel Eck (fourth), and Taylor Smith (eighth) scored in the pole vault. Then the throwers scored 28 points with Jacy Anderson (second in discus), Julie Archer (second in javelin), Katy Commons (third in javelin, sixth in shot put), and Morgan Geist (sixth in discus).
Smarsh’s dream became reality at the conclusion of the meet on Saturday night, as he watched all 40 of his state qualifiers celebrating a pair of titles.
On this day, everyone in Andale was a champion.
"It was one of the greatest experiences on my life," Simon said. "It was just unbelievable to be down on that field and have both teams celebrating championships. That’s something that doesn’t happen very often."
"It was an amazing feeling that I don’t think any of us are going to forget," Jewel Eck said. "That was something we had been striving for and hadn’t been able to reach. We just kept pushing forward, kept moving forward and to be able to win that my senior year was so special."