While some of their peers are gearing up for graduations right around the corner, track athletes at the University of South Dakota are far from done with their season.
And one of the traditional highlights of that season begins today (Friday) and continues Saturday at the Howard Wood Dakota Relays in Sioux Falls — where college and high school athletes combine for one of the largest meets in the area.
“We’ve been telling our kids, ‘It’s this time of the year where every other college kid is ending their school year, and we’re amping it up,’” USD women’s head coach Lucky Huber said week.
“We’re just glad we’re not traveling. That’s probably the biggest advantage, that we can call this a kind of a home meet.”
Another of the highlights of the Relays? Poor weather.
Last year, for example, the meet was marked by rain, which eventually canceled the evening session Saturday.
The weather forecast for the weekend, however, calls for temperatures in the low 60’s with gusting winds and a 10 percent chance of rain both days.
“We’ve actually been pretty fortunate this spring; had some nice meets,” Huber said.
Sandwiched between the prestigous Drake Relays (last weekend) and the Summit League Outdoor Championships (May 15-17), the Howard Wood Relays are a welcomed “breath” for the Coyotes, according to Huber.
“Our kids have been off traveling to California and Drake, but that’s the grind of our season,” he said. “It’s a nice weekend to get back into a routine.”
The only other Division I schools that will send athletes are Nebraska-Omaha, North Dakota State and South Dakota State, yet those are three of the better teams in the Summit League — particularly on the women’s side.
“Both schools are a good challenge to us,” Huber said. “We’re in a tough spot, because we’re probably not as good as we’d like to be.
“But we’ll go in there and do the best we can, and I feel like we’ll be pushed pretty well.”
And while the “lowkey” meet is still light on D-I athletes, there’s still plenty on the line for the Coyotes, Huber said.
Among the projected highlights for the Coyotes will be in field events, particularly in men’s throws.
USD’s Cody Snyder has the top time in the discus as an unattached thrower (he is redshirting), while the Coyotes have the next two best marks — Dustin Valind and Kyle McKelvey.
McKelvey also has the top qualifying mark in the shot put, and Denton Stephens has the third-best mark in the hammer throw.
Also for the Coyote men, Mubarik Musa has the top qualifying time in the 1,500-meter run, while USD is seeded 1-2 in the 5,000-meter run — Jeff Mettler in first and Brant Haase second.
The USD women have the top three marks in the pole vault, led by Madison Mills — who won the event at last week’s Drake Relays. Standouts Bethany Firsick and Emily Grove will not compete.
Yankton High School will have athletes competing in two events today (Friday), but will then have only the Howard Wood Relays on Saturday.
In all, the Bucks and Gazelles will send 22 athletes — with more set for relays — to Howard Wood. Yankton athletes will also compete today at the Sioux Falls O’Gorman Invitational.
Field events figure to be key for the Bucks.
J.J. Hejna is tied for the top mark in the high jump at 6-foot-7, and is seeded fifth in the long jump (21-4.5) and sixth in the triple jump (43-6.75).
Lee Rose is seeded fourth in the long jump (21-5) and Casey Skillingstad comes in tied for the fifth-best mark in the pole vault (13-0).
In area boys’ action, Parker’s Zack Anderson has the second-best mark in the high jump (6-6) and Vermillion’s Nick Jensen has the fourth-best mark in the shot put (53-0).
Parker’s Michael Olson is an alternate in the 800-meter run special event on Friday night.
The Yankton Gazelles will also have a number of athletes at Howard Wood, and boast a number of standouts who figure to earn top-10 finishes.
Savannah Woods has the third-best qualifying time in the 3200-meter run at 11:29.0, while Hailey Luken has the seventh-best time in the 100 hurdles (15.4).
Lauren Sokolowski of Irene-Wakonda boasts the top time in the 100 hurdles at 14.6 — well ahead of two athletes in second at 15.0.
Parker’s Brittany Olson will compete in the 200-meter dash special event on Friday night.