After not making the finals of the 800-meter run individually at the first day of the Section 8AA meet, Sebastian Sowada lost a bit of confidence.
He picked a good time to rediscover it.
In a five-team scramble for two spots in the state meet up for grabs in the final day of section competition in Thief River Falls, May 31, the Little Falls senior anchor of the boys 4×800 relay team stepped up.
And now, Sowada, senior Mathew Massmann, freshman Tyler Moore and eighth-grader Hunter Zupko are heading to state after a runner-up performance of 8:05.93.
Sowada gained the baton in second place, good enough to move on … if he could avoid getting passed.
“Well, when you go into a championship race you never want to expect it to play out one way because then you can get caught off guard,” Massmann said. “The team definitely felt like we should have had a bigger lead going into the last leg of the race. At one point I was even ready to through in the towel, but then Sebastian ran just an incredible anchor leg to get us to the state meet.”
That leg did include getting passed, not once but twice.
Fortunately, Sowada was able to catch back up.
“After not making the finals for the 800 on Wednesday, I lost a lot of confidence and figured I needed at least a 20-meter lead to hold off the other teams’ anchors,” Sowada said. “Unfortunately, the other teams had run great legs, leaving me to get the handoff in second place before getting passed on the first turn shortly after.
“However, my teammates ran great splits so I was fortunate to even be in position to have a chance,” he said. “After 300 meters, the same runner passed me who passed me at the prelims on Wednesday. Instead of letting him leave me in the dust like he did before, I decided to stick on him and let him do all the work.”
The pair ended up passing two other runners, putting Sowada and the Flyers in second place heading into the final 200.
“I kept telling myself not to let my teammates down,” Sowada said. “Their phenomenal legs left me with no choice but to give it my all or die trying. From then, I used the adrenaline from the screaming crowd to carry me to the finish line.
“I just can’t believe a small school like Little Falls can have a 4×800 that beats schools three times our size,” he said. “And to have a freshman and eighth-grader on the team makes it even more unbelievable.”
Indeed, Sowada wasn’t quite sure the Flyers had actually moved on upon finishing.
But Little Falls’ time was a few seconds clear of a mad dash for the final spot ahead of Bemidji (8:08.7), St. Cloud Tech (8:08.76) and Detroit Lakes (8:09.97).
“I did not know how to react when I crossed the finish line,” Sowada said. “At first I wasn’t sure we even made it because I just could not believe it was happening. I started second-guessing myself as to how many teams actually qualify for the state meet.
“Then I saw my teammates’ expressions and knew we accomplished our goal: qualifying for state,” he said. “It was a surreal moment and a lifelong dream fulfilled. To make it even sweeter, we broke the school record by six seconds.”
The Flyers will now head on to state, where they will try to reach the medal stand and shave a few more seconds off of their new school record, perhaps eclipsing the eight-minute mark.
With each athlete allowed to run two distance events (800 and longer), the team was able to come together by Sowada and Massmann choosing to forgo an extra shot at advancing individually as seniors.
“After the Granite Ridge Conference meet we were looking at individual 800 times and noticed that the boys had an excellent chance to break the school record,” Little Falls assistant coach Justin Connor said. “The decision was made to run the guys together for the next two meets and see what happened.
“During these two meets the boys came within just a few seconds of breaking the school record and also posted one of the fastest 4×800 times in the state,” he said. “Everyone was excited about what they accomplished and they were ready to run the 4×800 at sections.”
“The come from behind underdog victory would not have been able to happen with out the support of the rest of the team and the coaching staff,” Massmann said. “Josh Kapsner and Dan Palmer, who were the alternates, helped tremendously with cheering us on and never letting us fall to the rest of the pack. The team was very emotional with missing out on a state cross country meet – we wanted to make a statement.”
Senior Tim Infinger reached the finals in two events, placing sixth in the 400 (51.71) and seventh in the 200 (23.42).
In the discus, senior Tom Tabatt earned sixth place (140-feet) and freshman Nick Maslowski took seventh (138-feet, 3-inches).
Massmann also was eighth in the 800 (2:05.06) and Zupko took eighth in the 1,600 (4:42.41).
LeBlanc advances again in pole vault for LF girls
It isn’t actually easy.
But senior Rachelle Le-Blanc has made it look that way throughout her career when it comes section time, advancing to state in the pole vault for the fifth year in a row with a first-place height of 10-feet, 1-inch.
“Rachelle is accustomed to winning. She doesn’t accept any other outcome,” Little Falls girls head coach Tara Schlagel said. “Watching her compete meet after meet, year after year, she is always focused on a goal.
“Obviously, in the section meet the goal is to advance. She knew what height she had to clear, and she did that. She has a competitive spirit to go along with her incredible athletic ability,” she said. “To beat the field by a half foot indicates her dominance in the pole vault event. She is an extraordinary pole vaulter that others look up to and respect. She will be going to the state meet this weekend with high expectations for herself and it will be fun to watch her vault one last time.”
The Flyers had a pair of other seniors also come close to advancing to state.
Senior Maria Hauer took fourth in the 800 (2:20.37) and fifth in the 1,600 (5:21.78), while senior Katie Yorek finished fifth in the shot put (36-feet, 6-inches). Sophomore Melanie Dorn added a fifth-place finish in the 400 (1:01.35).
“Maria and Katie were both close to advancing to the state meet,” Schlagel said. “This comes as no surprise after the phenomenal season both of them had. The teams in our section are very competitive in the distance races and in the throwing events.
“Katie has only been a member of the track and field team for two years, which makes it even more incredible how much of a standout she was in the shot put. This says a lot about her as a pure athlete. Maria dominated every 800-meter and 1600-meter race all season. She was a consistent and dependable scorer all season,” Schlagel said.
“All three of these seniors led the team in different events. Filling their roles next season will be next to impossible,” she said. “They have left their individual legacy as members of the Flyer track and field team. They will be greatly missed, not only for their athletic achievements and contributions, but also for the quality of their character.”
The state meet was scheduled to be held Friday – Saturday, June 6 – 7 at Hamline University in St. Paul.
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