Varsity Kansas

Track: Buhler’s Pope battles to stay on top

Buhler’s Andrew Pope thought it was hard enough winning the Class 4A championship last year in the pole vault.

It only becomes harder, he’s finding out in his senior year.

“I’ve talked to some former state champs and they’ve all said the same thing that it’s harder to win it the second time,” Pope said. “Of course I put pressure on myself because I want to succeed, but there is definitely some more pressure now that people want me to win again.”

Last year he won on jumps after clearing the bar at 14 feet. He’s surpassed that mark three times this season, including setting a personal-best at 14-6 last week in Salina.

“That feeling you get when you get over that bar, especially when it’s a new school record, is just an adrenaline rush,” said Pope, who will vault at Hutchinson Community College next season. “Once you know you’ve got it, it’s such a good feeling.”

Pope also is a member of Buhler’s 400-meter and 1600-meter relay teams, which figure to contend for state titles as well.

Wichita’s finest — The City League has always held the reputation of having some of the fastest sprinters in Kansas. But this season might be the league’s finest.

Northwest has Deron Thompson, Zach Franklin and Jake Carter, Heights has Skylarr Gatson and Aaron Johnson and Southeast has Steven Calloway, Bradan Smith and Tyrone Wright.

Those are just from the traditional powers; Carroll’s Keddy Hart and Matt Denning, East’s Calil Burnett and Jesus Le and South’s Davontae Harris hope to shake up that hierarchy.

“I’ve been in this a long time and I’d say this is one of the best years we’ve ever had,” Southeast coach Mark Lamb said. “There has been a lot of good years, but I think this year is probably the best as far as overall sprinters in the City.”

The races this Friday at the City League meet at Northwest will be competitive, but friendly. The majority of the elite sprinters are seniors and have run against each other so much they’ve developed a bond.

“I wouldn’t really consider it intense,” Calloway said. “We all have a really cool relationship. When we step on the track, we’re competing against each other. But when we step off of it, we’re all great friends.”

That extends to the state meet, where one hopes to bring home the City’s first sprinting state title in almost a decade.

“I honestly think when we get to state, we’re going to take the top 5 in the finals,” Gatson said. “I think we are going to represent Wichita very well. And if I can’t win one, then I’d still be happy if someone from the City League won. I think we’d all be happy for them.”

One last shot — Arkansas City’s Rakiyah Taylor has always been one of the fastest sprinters in the state. But she has gone without the recognition because of circumstances that have kept her from competing at regionals the last two seasons.

Taylor, whose season-best times are 12.52 in the 100 and 26.20 in the 200, is planning on changing that in her senior season.

“I feel like this is my last year to prove myself,” Taylor said. “I think the last two years not competing at the state meet, my name has kind of gone under the radar.”

Taylor, who has signed to run at Cowley College, said she is regaining the feeling had as a freshman season when she qualified for state.

“I’ve put in a lot of work this season and I’m going to see if I can keep moving up the rankings,” Taylor said. “I want to be higher than just the top 7, I want to be higher up on that stand.”