Nine all-state performances, six school records and two individual titles added up to a history-making first-ever team championship for the Andover boys track and field team during the Class AAA State Championships at St. Michael-Albertville June 9-11.
Leading the way for the Huskies was senior Blake Nyenati, who sprinted away from the field in the 110-meter hurdles finals in 13.83 seconds, then surged into the lead down the final stretch to win the 300 hurdles in 37.38.
“We knew when Blake was in ninth grade he was going to be special,” Andover head coach Eric Johnson said. “It was a combination of focus and getting better and faster each week that led to his success. The hurdles are so technical and he was good at finding ways to improve in his events. He is very talented physically, but he is also so good at the cognitive part of being a hurdler.”
“I feel my two hurdles went well,” Nyenati said. “I think that my 110 race was the smoothest it’s been all year, but I still don’t feel like it was perfect. I accomplished my goal of running below 13.88, but it’s a little disappointing that it was .1 off being a wind legal record. I think that the 300s was different because I’ve never had competition like that all year. Aside from Hamline, I always got in the lead in the beginning, but here at state I was behind until the closing 100, in both prelims and finals. After my 110 victory, and seeing that I ran a time that I was aiming for, I was happy, but I couldn’t really celebrate because my job wasn’t finished."
After the 110 final, Nyenati helped the Huskies rack up more team points in their third-place 4x200 relay. Then, it was back to hurdles in the 300 finals.
“In the 4x2, me and my teammates were aiming for the win, but we knew we’d have to run faster than ever before, and the competition was stacked this year,” Nyenati said. “We ended up taking third, but we ran a time that we never expected at the beginning for the year, and it was still an amazing experience. Now, I had about an hour to spare before my final race, the 300s, my most competitive individual race of the day. My biggest competitor of the year was Ryan Gregory of Owatonna. He took me by surprise at Hamline and beat me, then at True Team Sections I ran a faster time than him, even though we were in different heats, and going into finals his seed time was only 0.2 behind me. From prelims and Hamline, I knew I had to get out faster than before, and then my strong finish will lead me to victory. I was pushed by more than just Gregory, but I inevitably came out with the victory. After that win, I was planning on relaxing, but the meet wasn’t over yet, because our team was apparently in the lead, and it was all coming down to the 4x4."
The Huskies held a slim, yet not insurmountable lead going into the final event of the meet, the 4x400 relay. Second-place Rosemount needed to outpace the leading Huskies by at least four spots, but could not, with the Andover quartet of Gus Giddings, Cameron Heppner, Gabriel Birkmeier and Caden Wheeler sprinting to third overall in 3:20.16 to seal the team title.
“We had known that going into the 4x400 that we had to have a good race and not let Rosemount beat us by more than four places,” Birkmeier said. “I had ran the third leg in the 4x400, so when I handed the baton off in third, I knew that we had a good shot of wining the team title. After we had won the team title, I was surprised that we had pulled it off when going for the team title was not on our mind until right before the 4x400. It was an amazing season with all of the other seniors and a good way to finish our high school track and field careers.”
“I was in disbelief,” Benjamin Audette said. “Coach Johnson gave me a big hug before we went out to get the award. That was a really special moment for me. I was so happy for him and the rest of my teammates. It was the perfect ending to an already great season!”
"Our 4x4 did what they needed to do, and for the first time ever, the Andover Huskies won the State Track Meet," Nyenati said. "It was an incredible season, and I couldn’t have asked for better teammates and coaches!”
“We had athletes in nine of the 18 events going into state,” Johnson said. “I thought we could be a top-five finisher, and I was really hoping to better our fourth-place finish in 2009. We had a solid prelim day, qualified everyone to finals, and I knew we were in a good position to score points. After the 800 we knew we were down 0.8 to Moorhead and 6.2 points ahead of Rosemount. Moorhead did not have a 4x4 in finals, but Rosemount did. Just like sections, it came down to the 4x400 relay and those four guys knew they had to execute like they did at sections to win the title. When we finished third and Rosemount finished second, we knew we had the title. Even then I still couldn’t believe it.”
Also earning all-state for the Huskies were the 4x200 relay team of Nyenati, Oberhiri Eyafe, Audette and Wheeler earning third (1:27.72), Wheeler earning third in the 400 (48.77), Heppner earning third in the 800 (1:55.42), Giddings earning sixth in the 110 hurdles (14.84), Birkmeier earning eighth in the 1,600 (4:15.93) and Levi Moore earning ninth in the high jump (6-0).
Every state entrant for the Huskies achieved all-state status, showing off not just high-end talent, but the team’s depth.
“This year’s team was special because most of the team making it to state was seniors, making the state meet our last high school meet,” Birkmeier said. “The team did great at state because every athlete got all-state, showing that our team had some of the top talents in the state this year in multiple events.”
“I think this team was so special because of how close we all were,” Audette said. “It made me want to do my best because I knew it was going to help the team. We had so much fun every day working at practice and I couldn’t be more proud of the outcome. I think the team did amazing at state. We came in and outperformed even our own expectations.”
“We have stressed all year going out and performing,” Johnson said. “We set six school records on finals day. It’s safe to say they performed.”
Also earning all-state with top-nine finishes from the area were:
Coon Rapids girls in Class AAA: Kennedy Martinson was the runner-up in the pole vault (11-9) and earned third in the 100 hurdles (14.30) and 300 hurdles (43.74), and Grace Kehr earned seventh in the pole vault (11-3).
Coon Rapids boys in Class AAA: MJ Galimah earned fifth in the long jump (21-9.75) and sixth in the high jump (6-2).
Anoka girls in Class AAA: Sofia Condon was the state champion in the pole vault (12-0), the 4x100 relay team of Mary Keleekai, Elange Seibure, Danielle Urey and Allison Hookom earned fourth (48.33), and Hookom earned eighth in the 400 (57.30).
Anoka boys in Class AAA: the 4x800 relay team of Lucas Fernandez, Lucas LiaBraaten, Danny Ness and Tyler Nosko earned fourth (8:00.52).
Andover girls in Class AAA: Ali Dehnicke earned ninth in the high jump (5-2).
St. Francis girls in Class AA: Reese Jorgenson earned fourth in the discus (116-10).
St. Francis boys in Class AA: Philip Conant earned third in the discus (153-5) and eighth in the shot put (49-3.75).
Legacy girls in Class A: Cecily Fager was the state champion in the pole vault (11-3), Reanna Cruz earned third in the 800 (2:17.95), the 4x200 relay team of Erica Padilla, Addisyn Kimmel, Sydney Posey and Cruz earned eighth (1:48.35), and the 4x400 relay team of Padilla, Kimmel, Fager and Cruz earned eighth (4:09.29).
Legacy boys in Class A: Jack Domeyer earned fifth in the 400 (50.87).