It is an annual tradition for the Bishop Carroll boys basketball team to gather on the track at the high school early in the morning during the fall before their season begins for conditioning workouts.
Connor Evans was always there. Cory Swords remembers watching from afar as the basketball players shared the track with the cross country team for workouts in those early mornings in August and September.
Sometimes when Evans was tasked with a lap around the track, or a 400-meter dash in the world of track and field, Swords would get out his stopwatch and time him. He remembers timing him as low as 52 seconds without Evans knowing he was racing.
“We saw the potential was there, it was obvious,” said Swords, the track and field coach. “When you have a kid that is that athletic and that is 6-foot-5 and is that strong and that fast, there is a lot of things that he can do.”
So when Evans sought out the track coaches after leading the basketball team to a fourth-place finish in Class 5A in March, Swords was ecstatic.
Surprising to some, but not to Evans, his competitive nature has translated to immediate success on the track. He has won three of his four 400 races with a season-best time of 50.36 seconds, which makes him one of the fastest quarter-milers in the state.
“I just hate losing so much,” Evans said. “That’s why I love the 400 so much. The first 200 meters is a pretty good sprint, but then that final 200 is a full-out man’s race. You give everything you have to win and if there’s someone right next to me, there’s no way I’m going to let them beat me. That’s just how I am.”
The fact that he is already pushing the 50-second barrier, which signifies a runner is ready to compete for a state title, is surprising to Swords only in the sense that it’s come so soon.
“We always knew that this was in him, but maybe it’s a little surprising how quick he’s got there,” Swords said. “We feel like every time he steps on the track he’s learning something new. His growth curve is exponential right now.”
Swords has to resist the urge to put Evans in every event he feels like he could win. The coach doesn’t want him overthinking and worrying about technique, and he especially doesn’t want Evans to risk injury that might affect his future in basketball.
So for now, it’s simple. Evans will run the open 400 and anchor Carroll’s 1600 relay team, and on Friday at the Topeka Seaman Relays, Carroll’s fifth meet of the season, Evans will try the long jump (he jumped nearly 22 feet on his first try in practice) and the 3200 relay team for the first time.
Carroll is a yearly contender as a team at the state meet and Evans has ensured that will happen once again with his ability to score in two individual events and help out in two relays.
“What we are trying to do is find events that he can do where his athleticism can just take over and he can score points from his athleticism alone,” Swords said.
Before this season began, Evans had a decision to make. Either find a job before heading off to college, where he will play basketball at Rockhurst, or compete one more time as a high school athlete.
A job could wait, he decided, and Evans hasn’t regretted the decision since.
“It’s my senior year and this summer will be the first one in a really long time that I’m not playing AAU basketball,” Evans said. “I thought about getting a job, but I’m glad that I came out for track. I’m really enjoying it so far and it’s a nice change of environment.”
Beware of Ware — When Shae Ware was younger, she felt like she was going to win every time she stepped on the track. Because she did, every time in fact when she was in middle school.
But then she arrived at Sedgwick High and the competition expanded, and suddenly she was running against girls four years older. She still won, but not every time.
Last season, as a freshman, Ware collected four medals in Class 3A but none of them were first. She was third in the 400, fourth in the 100, eighth in the 200, and was part of the 400 relay team that took sixth.
“When I was younger, I felt like I could do anything; I could fly if I wanted to,” Ware said. “But then reality kind of set in. I realized there’s always someone faster than you and someone you’re trying to beat.”
Ware is back to her winning ways this season, as she has won three of her four 100 races and all four of her 400 races. Her season-best times in both events (12.48 in the 100 and 1:00.36 in the 400) rank her close to the top of 3A.
Not only is she a year older, which brings with it another year of strength and experience, but Ware has improved her start, which has unlocked a new level of potential in the 100.
“I started putting my weight on my front foot to get a good launch out of the blocks,” Ware said. “I guess that is really simple and common sense, but I never did that before. Ever since I started, my races have been a lot better.”
But her favorite remains the 400, where she is among the 3A title contenders. Ware feels like the race is the perfect distance to compliment her strength and speed and that it always brings out her most competitive side.
“I told myself at the beginning of the year that I was going to sprint it, but I haven’t done that yet,” Ware said. “It’s always been my best race, I feel like. If there is someone in front of me near the end, I’m going to pass them. That’s just how I feel when I’m out there.”
Ware anchors Sedgwick’s 400 relay team, which has become the fastest in 3A after running a time of 50.63 earlier this season. Ware is joined on the team by Quin Noone, Mallory Crockston, and Beth Francis.
Sedgwick will compete at the Hillsboro Invitational at Tabor College on Friday.
Lange chasing 46 — Peri Lange has a number in mind for what it will take to win the girls 300 hurdles title in Class 2A this season.
If you average the winning times of the last three state champions in 2A, you get a time right around 46 seconds flat. That’s what Lange is aiming for in her junior season at Moundridge, where she returns as a two-time medalist in the event.
“I think that’s very possible for me,” Lange said. “I know what I can do and I know I’ve been improving every race this season. I know I’m going to have to go out there and run a 46 or something like that to win, and I believe I can do it.”
Lange finished sixth as a freshman and fifth as a sophomore, and this season she’s running her fastest times of her career in April. She has cracked 48 seconds twice with her season-best time 47.53, which is the second-fast time posted this season in 2A.
“This season I feel like I’m really attacking the first hurdle more and striding out in between the hurdles so I don’t stutter-step coming up to the next hurdle,” Lange said. “I’m just a lot more focused.”
Stucky is also on Moundridge’s 400 and 1600 relay teams, which have both placed at state the last two seasons. The 1600 relay team of Lange, Anna Stucky, Cassidy Siemens, and Ashley Holler all returned after taking third last season and currently has the second-fastest time in 2A at 4:16.68.
Moundridge will compete at the Hillsboro Invitational at Tabor College on Friday.