Varsity Track and Field

Hard work and a Bear: How Andale and Garden Plain won team track titles

Andale High School boys and girls track and field teams
Andale High School boys and girls track and field teams The Wichita Eagle

Renwick is one of the smaller districts in the state, yet Andale and Garden Plain managed to combine for three team state championships at the Kansas high school track and field meet at Cessna Stadium.

For the second time in three years, Andale swept the team titles in Class 4A, with the girls winning their third consecutive title, while Garden Plain won the program’s sixth girls team title and first since 2013. It is believed to be the first time one school district has won three state team titles in the same season.

The neighboring towns took significantly different routes to their state championships. Andale boasts the largest track and field team in 4A, complete with eight assistant coaches, while Garden Plain’s girls team won a team title with just 12 athletes.

But there is more in common between the athletes from Andale and Garden Plain than just winning.

“Andale, Garden Plain, St. Marks, Colwich, they’re just great people who have a strong work ethic and that’s relayed down onto their kids,” Andale coach Tyler Ryan said. “We have a lot of talent in the area, you have to have talent to win, but what’s more impressive is their work ethic.”

At Garden Plain, that work ethic has translated into a historic season for the girls. In the fall, the Owls completed a 35-10 season and won the 2A volleyball championship. Four months later, many of those volleyball girls hit the basketball court and capped off a 21-4 season with a 2A basketball championship in March.

Two months later, Garden Plain won the girls team state title with 71.5 points — 14.5 more than runner-up Bennington — to cap off three state titles in three seasons. To boot, the Andale-Garden Plain softball team played for the 4A title but lost 5-2 to Augusta.

garden plain high school girls track and field team
Garden Plain High School girls track and field team Hayden Barber The Wichita Eagle

“It’s been incredible to win all three this year,” said Garden Plain senior Nikole Puetz, who was on the volleyball, basketball and scored in the 400-meter dash on the track team. “What stands out to me is that everybody is so supportive of each other. Everyone here wants it for each other, they don’t want it for themselves. That’s why we work so hard.”

That’s not just something they hear during track practice. That kind of team-first mentality is ingrained into the athletes at both Andale and Garden Plain.

“We’re told every single day in practice that we’re never going to win as an individual,” Garden Plain junior Claire Clark said. “It’s always about things being a team sport. You can’t win a volleyball game with just one good player, just like you can’t win a track meet if you only have one good runner.”

That was what drove Garden Plain sophomore Allison Catlin in her offseason conditioning, as she started plyometrics training (a form of high-intensity jump training) in pursuit of a state title. In fact, she had a sign taped on her bedroom door that read, “Plyo will make you a state champ.”

Catlin turned that sign into reality on Saturday, as she completed her transformation from barely making the podium (she finished seventh at state last year) to standing on top as the state champion with a time of 15.78 to win the 2A title in the 100 hurdles.

“That training really pushed me to my limits,” Catlin said. “It was really hard to stay motivated, but I pulled through and it paid off. It was a pretty unreal feeling to be on top of the podium. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.”

Freshman teammate Brooke Hammond won a pair of state titles, sweeping the sprints with 2A titles in the 100 (12.48) and the 200 (26.05) on top of anchoring the title-winning 400 relay team along with Clark, Macy Catlin and Puetz in a time of 50.05.

At Andale, the Indians relied on 11 different girls and 10 different boys to earn state medals en route to their championships. The boys team only featured one individual champion in Ty McPhail (pole vault), while the girls team had three, in Jaden Eck (pole vault), Jacy Anderson (discus) and Katelyn Fairchild (javelin).

While the team scored in several events, the bread and butter of the program has been pole vault and throwing events. The girls team swept the top three in the pole vault (with Eck, Jayden Cates and Aspen Liby), then had dual medalists in the discus (Anderson first, Fairchild fourth) and javelin (Fairchild first, Samantha Marx second). The boys team had the top two in pole vault (McPhail and Braden Meyer), plus dual medalists in the javelin (Mason Fairchild, third and Devin Marx, fourth) and discus (Carson Fair, fourth and Cooper VenJohn, fifth).

“You always know when an Andale kid is doing good because the crowd is going crazy,” Ryan said. “It was so much fun seeing kids cheer on other kids as we inched toward that state title. We had everyone here (Sunday) morning to cheer on our pole vaulters and we always have great support from our parents and the community.”

For Andale, the title sweep was even more special because the team had dedicated this season to long-time coach Paul “Bear” Schmidt, who died at 86 last year. The state track shirts for Andale all featured a bear on the back to honor him.

In his later years, Bear coached Andale’s throwers and was a beloved figure in the Andale community.

“Everyone loved him because he was always willing to work with you,” said Andale senior thrower Jacy Anderson. “I still crack up at all of his references he used to help me out. One time, he pulled a fidget spinner from his pocket and was talking about it being the flight of the discus — and honestly, it made sense. That’s what was so great about him.”

Bear had taken a special liking to Anderson, who had been motivated to work harder in the discus after finishing runner-up in agonizing fashion the last two years at state.

On Saturday, Anderson finally had her breakthrough moment and won the 4A title with a throw of 131-3.

“I could feel him there with me,” Anderson said, smiling. “I always wanted to do it for him and I finally did. I knew he was watching down on me and that makes it so much better knowing that I did it for Bear.”

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