May 25—SIOUX FALLS — It will be a three-day track and field festival, with champions to be crowned all over Howard Wood Field this week at the 117th annual South Dakota state high school track and field meet.
Aside from the format of the meet changing, with the entire meet taking place in one location and being spread over three days, there are a bevy of captivating storylines in place. Nearly 2,800 athletes will be in action in Sioux Falls, so here's a look at what to watch for at the state meet:
There is once again star power in the South Dakota state track and field meet, mainly in those who have broken records already this season.
Rapid City Stevens distance runner Simeon Birnbaum might take the cake. He enters as the favorite in the distance races, starting with the 800-meter run, where he seems likely to threaten the state meet record of 1:52.38. Birnbaum's season-best in the race is 1:52.28. The reigning boys South Dakota Gatorade cross country runner of the year broke the state mile record in April in California in 4:07.88 and broke the Dakota Relays record in May in the 3,200-mile race in a time of 8:55.22. The 3,200-meter race is the one he stands as the heaviest favorite in, with the best time in the class by 35 seconds. Spearfish's Keenan Urdiales will be close competition in the 800 and 1,600-meter races.
In the 1,600-meter run, he has a chance to take down a nearly 40-year record for the Class AA state meet race, held by Huron native Rod DeHaven, the former Olympian who now coaches cross country and track at South Dakota State.
In a shorter race, Brandon Valley's Julian Watson blazed away in the 400-meter race earlier this year in Pierre, snapping the state record with a time of 47.46, nearly beating everyone else on the track by three seconds. Watson and Aberdeen Central's Sam Rohlfs, who broke the state record in the boys long jump earlier this year by going over 24 feet, did not compete in the Dakota Relays in an effort to stay healthy, so track and field fans will be eager to see both this weekend. Rohlfs is the favorite in the long jump and triple jump, with a chance to take down the Class AA meet record in the long jump.
The Class AA state meet distance records are also in danger in the 1,600 and 3,200 meter races with O'Gorman senior Alea Hardie, whose best mark of the year in the 1,600 (4:44.25) and the 3,200 (10:10.83) are in line to take down those previous bests. She ranks in the top-10 nationally in both races and narrowly missed out on the 1,600-meter state record last week in Brandon.
There's usually not much separating the top field athletes at the state championships, and the Class B girls shot put could be one of those events that comes down to mere inches. Sully Buttes' Lydia Hill is the top-seeded athlete with the only 40-foot throw of the season, a top mark of 40 feet, 1.5 inches. A number of other throwers are within a few feet of that, including second-seeded Danielle Hawley, of Estelline/Hendricks (39-10), Raygen Diede, of Menno (38-7.5), Delanie VanDriel, of Scotland (38 feet).
Another event to watch in Class B is the high jump. Lyman's Skyler Volmer is the favorite with a jump of 5-5 this season but seven additional jumpers in the field have cleared 5-2. A career day for one of them could provide a state meet surprise.
One of the boys field events to keep an eye on is the boys shot put in Class A, where Hanson's Colton Dillon has the top throw of the season in the class at 52 feet, 11.75 inches. Sioux Falls Christian's Jaden Witte (52-1.5) and Tri-Valley's Connor Christensen (51-1.75) are right there as championship contenders as well. The top five throwers in the event are all seniors, so expect experience to show through in the throwing ring.
In Class B, Menno's Owen Eitemiller is seeking to win a second straight boys pole vault title and likely will settle a season-long battle between his top foe from the same region in Gayville-Volin's Andrew Gustad. Both have top marks of 13 feet this season.
A great part of the state meet has been the dramatic team finishes in recent seasons. The Class B boys title was decided in 2021 by the 4x400 relay, with Hanson winning by one point over Viborg-Hurley. The Class AA title on the girls side was split, with O'Gorman and Brandon Valley finishing as co-champions after each scoring 124 points.
Where will the close finish come from this year? Perhaps in Class A from the girls, where a number of teams bring strong groups of performers to the competition this year, including West Central, Sioux Falls Christian, Mount Vernon/Plankinton and Custer.