RIRIE — Another district track meet, another addition to the trophy cases of Salmon and West Jefferson High Schools.
By early evening Thursday at Ririe High School’s track after an afternoon of everything from sleet, wind and sun to timing equipment malfunctions, it was made official. Salmon compiled 130 points to win its third consecutive 2A District 6 boys track title and West Jefferson, which made history last year at Firth by winning its first ever girls track district title, repeated on the girls side with 125 points.
Huge second-day performances lifted West Jefferson and Salmon to their three-peat and repeat titles. For West Jefferson, it came in the form of 88 points through eight of Thursday’s nine running event finals. Panthers head coach Melinda Schwieder said the idea of winning last year didn’t occur to her at all until it was official that they had won their first district title after coming from behind in day two. This year was a bit more nervewracking.
“For me, it’s not about winning,” Schwieder said. “It’s about the kids performing well and getting them to state. We didn’t have a great day (Tuesday in field event finals). Firth did and Salmon did. From what I’d gathered, we were up nine points after Tuesday. This year, I’d have to say it was definitely more stressful.”
Seniors Jordi Holdaway and McKenzie Sermon noticed that difference from a year ago also.
“It was definitely more competitive (this year),” said Sermon, who won girls long jump and triple jump on Tuesday.
Holdaway and Sermon helped West Jefferson’s cause in a big way Thursday. Holdaway won the girls 100 (13.22), repeated as girls 100 hurdles champion (16.29), anchored the 4x100 to their third consecutive district win and placed second in the 200 between teammates Sage Wood (first in 26.81) and Cambree Hall. Wood, who placed second in Tuesday’s pole vault finals, also anchored the Panthers to a third consecutive 2A District 6 title in the girls 4x200 on Thursday and was part of the winning 4x100 team. Sermon was a member of both the winning 4x100 and 4x200 teams. Hall, a freshman, placed third in the 400 finals and another relay member, Malaika Rogers, placed third in the 100 finals.
Taking the top three spots in the 200 finals helped seal the deal, though, which is what Schwieder said she had hoped for since West Jefferson doesn’t have a 4x400 team.
"We didn't know until we were told to come to the podium," Holdaway said of the 1-2-3 finish.
“I knew there was a good chance of us doing that,” Schwieder said of the 1-2-3 finish. “Our girls performed to a T. Sage did great today. Laika had a big day today, too.”
Salmon collected 30 points Thursday from Andy Gebhardt, who won his third consecutive 1,600 district title, anchored Salmon’s winning 4x400-meter relay team and won the 800 in 2:06 with five Salmon teammates following behind him in succession. Taking second and third in the 800 were sophomore Johnathan Simmons and senior McClay Sommers. Gebhardt also won the 3,200 on Tuesday to match last year’s feat of going 4-for-4 in district event finals.
Gebhardt, a junior, is no stranger to leading teammates to successive finishes. He went 1-2 with teammate Johnathan Simmons in October to help Salmon win the 2A boys cross-country state title and led a 1-2-3-4 finish in last year’s district 1,600 finals. He credited those bonds for Salmon’s progression in both sports in recent years.
“I think a lot of it is the team aspect,” Gebhardt said. “We’re always together in cross-country and then we have track. Track, it does have a bit more of an individual aspect, but you still have big goals as a team.”
Gebhardt collected four silver medals at last year’s 2A state track meet, including in all three distance event finals to then Bear Lake senior Jackson Pratt.
“I’m hoping to do well in the distance events and I’m gonna try to place in the 4x400,” Gebhardt said. “It’s gonna be a competitive meet, especially in the 2-mile.”
Longtime Salmon head track coach Frank Garrett said he has Nick Thomas, one of his former athletes, to thank for joining the coaching staff as distance coach. He also credits luck for having an influx of talent at a small school.
“(Nick’s) done a great job with the kids,” Garrett said. “These boys are probably the best distance group I’ve seen since I’ve been coaching for 23 years. It takes a great group of coaches and we’ve had good luck being able to get talented athletes into our program.”
Salmon’s boys track district three-peat is the first since Firth, which owned 2A District 6 track from 2015 to the late ‘90s. Garrett said district title streaks are difficult to accomplish, particularly in a district as competitive across multiple sports as District 6.
“Year in and year out, the athletes here are a lot of the top athletes in the state,” Garrett said. “To maintain that streak, I think that’s huge in any sport.”
There were plenty of wins to be celebrated Thursday by all five participating teams. North Fremont’s Peyton Litton won the boys 400 in 53.15 and took second behind teammate and fellow senior Garrett Hawkes in the boys 300 hurdles finals, an event he had only competed in twice before.
Hawkes, the two-time defending 2A 110 hurdles state champion who won Thursday’s boys 110 hurdles in 15.16 and the 300 hurdles in 41.00, said he and North Fremont hurdles coach Boyd Millet noticed Litton’s potential and encouraged him to try hurdles.
“Last year, I’d always mess with him because he hates hurdles,” Hawkes said. “I told him, ‘Dude, the way you run the 400, you’d be good in the 300.’ We entered him in a meet and he got second, then we went down to the BYU meet (last weekend) and he got almost a two-second PR. Coach Millet, he sees the potential in you.”
Litton, who said he hopes to bring his 400 times down to the low 50s next week, expressed appreciation for the help of Hawkes and Millet in this new venture.
“They’ve both been great about helping me as a first timer,” Litton said. “They’ve been coaching me up real good.”
Claiming her first individual 2A District 6 title right before sleet started falling Thursday was Ririe sophomore Sara Boone, who raised her arms in elation upon winning the girls 1,600 in 5:40. It was a big personal best for Boone, who moved up from second to first past West Jefferson sophomore Elizabeth Spencer in the bell lap.
“Me and my coach came up with that plan about a week ago to stay with her until the last lap then give it all I had,” said Boone, who reached state last year in the 800 and 1,600. “I’m really happy with getting 5:40 today. I’m gonna try to get 5:30 or so at state.”
Adding to their impressive season was the Firth quartet of junior Kaydee Park, sophomore Cassi Robbins, senior Abby Schiess and senior Jaylyn McKinnon, who repeated as 2A District 6 champions in the 4x400 with a time of 4:11, almost identical to the time they ran to win the event at last year’s state meet. Since state last year, they have won six of seven meets, including several versus larger schools. The lone second-place finish was to Skyline in the Tiger-Grizz Invitational two weeks ago.
Repeat district title in hand, they not only want to repeat as state champions but take down Firth’s school record of 4:06 and the 2A state record of 4:03.76 from 1986.
“We share the same goals,” said Schiess, who placed second in Thursday’s 800 finals.
“Last year, I don’t think we knew we had what it took to win state till the of the year,” said Robbins, who won Thursday’s 400 title in 1:00.28. “This year we’ve already done it. We just know we have to push each other and keep improving.”
West Jefferson and Firth are anticipated to contend with Cole Valley and defending 2A state champion Melba in the 2A state title race next week. Athletes from all four schools have been in the top 10 in 2A on athletic.net rankings in their events all season, and there are a bit of nerves a week away.
“It’s our last meet ever (as seniors),” Holdaway said. “I’m hoping it will be good.”
“I told them, ‘It’s good to have nerves because it means you care,’” Schwieder said. “We’re gonna show up and we’re gonna perform.”
The top three finishers in individual events and first-place relay teams automatically qualified for the 2A track state championships scheduled to begin May 17 at Middleton High School. The 2A District 6 coaches agreed to not post complete results from the meet to athletic.net or release them for publication until this weekend when statewide at-large bids will be determined.
1. Salmon 130; 2. Firth 86; 3. North Fremont 73; 4. Ririe 30; 5. West Jefferson 19
1. West Jefferson 125; 2. Firth 87; 3. North Fremont 58; 4. Ririe 57; 5. Salmon 41