For many high school track and field athletes, dreams culminate with standing on the podium at the state championships — but those same dreams are also incomplete without an appearance at the Kansas Relays.
The 83rd edition of the event, which features 5,000 athletes and draws prime talent from across the Midwest, begins today in Lawrence.
Place well here, and you're a proven commodity.
But sometimes results take a backseat in the grand scheme of things, as is the case with Wichita North senior Samantha Wyatt. The javelin throw will be less to do with how Wyatt does, and more about the experience.
"I won't be mad if I don't place or anything," Wyatt said. "Just to be up there and seeing all of that for the first time... it's going to be crazy. I'll be proud of myself no matter what."
Competing in the prestigious meet seemed farfetched last season, when Wyatt flirted with the qualification mark of 101 feet, 8 inches in her first year of throwing. But another year of honing her mechanics has made the difference.
This year Wyatt has won the javelin at two meets and had a personal-best throw of 117-0 1/4 at the Southeast Invitational on Apr. 2.
"Last year I was just getting the hang of it," Wyatt said. "It's great knowing I'm one of the top girls (in the City League). It just gives me motivation to keep going to stay up there."
Wyatt said she would be satisfied with a pedestrian finish at KU, where she's seeded 21st of the 24 throwers.
"I feel like I'm beating all the odds," she said. "Some people have been throwing all their high school career, and they haven't been able to do what I've been doing. It's kind of nice being the underdog and knowing I can come out on top."
Along for the ride — Last year, Belle Plaine pole vaulter Chris Vaughn couldn't bend the pole on his take-off. Once he figured out the basics, he's found his distinct way for success.
He has vaulted 13 feet this season and will compete at the KU Relays.
"The first time he bent it, he kind of looked up there when it finally shot him up and you could see that look on his face," Belle Plaine coach Chris Roderick said. "It changed his whole perspective on it."
Vaughn is unique in that he drags the pole down the runway until it locks into the pit. A few tweaks in his technique and Vaughn now has plans of qualifying for the state meet.
"Once we realized he wasn't getting his pole vertical as soon as he should, he just shot up real quick after that," pole vault coach Ronnie Wilford said. "He's just gone from there."
Speed to burn — Independent brothers Chris and Jordan Speed hope to shake their nerves for for the Relays.
Their mentality is if they can achieve success here — Chris will compete in the long jump, Jordan in the 800 meters — then it takes away from the pressure of the state meet next month.
"They're both pressure competitiors," Independent coach Eric Swenson said. "I think both of them, when we get them in that environment, they're really going to step up and do something amazing."