Part 1: Cambridge-Isanti senior Char Morke sets Section 7AA meet record

Char Morke entered the Class 2A Section 7 meet with an ambitious to-do list.

“My first goal was to get the standard and qualify for state,” the Cambridge-Isanti senior said. “My second goal was to be the section champ, and my third goal was to beat the section record, which was 12-2¼. My fourth goal was to get a PR, which meant beating 12-6. I didn’t get that, but it was a successful day. I’m not complaining.”

That’s because Morke spent most of Saturday, June 1, checking items off her list as she won the section title in the pole vault held at Chisago Lakes High School.

Morke said she was nervous entering the meet: Her friend Julia Fixsen, the two-time defending state champ in the event, will not compete in the pole vault at this year’s state meet after failing to clear the bar at the opening height in her section tournament.

But Morke overcame the jitters and eventually won her section crown by clearing 12-3, going more than a foot higher than any other vaulter.

“[Not qualifying] crossed my mind,” she admitted. “On my first two vaults I was really nervous, but then I qualified. I just tried to take one step at a time; when I made it, I was both relieved and excited. I’m going to miss Julia at state; she’s such an amazing vaulter.”

So is Morke, who finished fourth in that event at last year’s state meet and was third as a sophomore. Cambridge-Isanti pole vault coach Stacey Nelson said Morke, who will compete at the U.S. Naval Academy after graduation, has a perfect combination of talent and grit.

“She showed she had natural gymnastics talent, the ability to control her body in the air,” Nelson said of Morke. “But she also works hard, especially in the off-season. And the harder we worked her, the more she responded.”

But Nelson said Morke’s contributions to the program go beyond her jumps and her places in meets.

“Sometimes everyone will be standing in the middle of the runway when they’re supposed to be doing a drill, and [when I try to interrupt] she’ll say, ‘Coach, I’m in middle of a story,’” Nelson said with a smile. “I’m there trying to run a practice, but everyone wants to hear her story. She has a magnetic smile, a magnetic laugh. Having that type of personality makes practice fun.”

Sophomore Kaylee Clement and the Bluejackets’ 4x200 relay joined Morke in the winner’s circle at the section meet, with Clement taking first in the 100 and qualifying for state in three events.

“I was nervous, because even though I was seeded No. 1, anything could go wrong,” Clement said of her win in the 100. “So I was happy to win; and 12.60 was a PR, so I was happy with that because this is the time you want to be peaking.”

Clement also ran the opening leg in the winning 4x200 relay. She and juniors Jacqueline Olander and Chloe Nelson along with freshman Aiyana Knight won with a 1:44.18 clocking.

C-I’s 4x100 relay will compete in the state meet, which will be run at Hamline University, after placing second with a time of 50.07.

“Kaylee Clement opening, followed up by Aiyana Knight, gave us a very nice one-two punch to start,” head coach Michael Galligan said. “The relays were finished off by what is essentially a double anchor leg three in Jackie Olander. Then Chloe Nelson in the 4x200 and Char Morke in the 4x100 run with incredible will to hold or take leads.”

Junior AnnaGrace Nelson qualified for the state meet in two events. She placed second in the high jump by clearing 5-2, and her 35-10¾ leap in her final triple-jump attempt placed her just in front of sophomore Emily Jones for second.

“AnnaGrace pursues perfection in everything she does, and it showed up this week in the high jump and triple jump,” Galligan said. “That’s a well-earned double qualification to state for a multi-talented athlete. And Emily Jones gave it quite a run this season with constant improvement in the triple jump, coming in just ¾-inch behind AnnaGrace with a PR by well over a foot.”

Galligan said he also was happy for several other outstanding performances in the meet.

“Jess Illg had a great 400, breaking her own school record [with a time of 59.62] and finishing in fifth place,” he said. “Anika Larson came on like a bolt of lightning in the 200 late in the season, and the eighth-grader made a statement by placing at sections. Shelby VanHeel had a big day at the shot put with a PR throw by 3 feet. She’s been working hard through a midseason injury and had a huge comeback with that throw.

“And the 4x400 relay ran absolutely out of their minds to drop six seconds off their season-best time to beat the Forest Lake relay team by eight-hundreths of a second to give our team the section title. Words cannot express how excited we are for these athletes to take home the section championship,” he added.

Part 2: C-I boys sweep top 3 pole vault spots in Section 7AA

At first glance, it appeared there was nowhere to go but down for the Cambridge-Isanti boys pole vaulters.

Senior Joe Stauffer, junior Amadeus McElrath and sophomore Ethan Hintermeister were the top three seeds in that event at the Class 2A Section 7 tournament hosted by Chisago Lakes High School. So unless that trio swept the top three spots on Wednesday, May 29, the meet seemed certain to end in disappointment.

But there was nothing but joy for the Bluejackets as all three rose to the occasion, taking the top three places in the event – with all three qualifying for the state meet to be held this week at Hamline University.

“Seeing guys reach their potential, and doing it in such a big meet, was pretty amazing,” pole vault coach Stacey Nelson said. “There are so many variables that need to come together to be successful, and to have them all come together for all three guys at such a pinnacle moment, well, when I sat at home afterwards and thought about it, the word that came to my mind was contentment.”

All three vaulters said their focus for the meet was strictly on clearing 13-8, the qualifying height to earn a berth in the state meet.

“I thought it would be great if all three guys could go to state,” Stauffer said. “I wasn’t thinking about places.”

But no other vaulter besides those three cleared a height greater than 12-6. Soon Hintermeister and McElrath cleared 13-8 to punch their ticket to state, but Stauffer missed on his first two attempts at that height.

“When I got to my last attempt, I just thought about how hard I had worked [to qualify],” Stauffer said. “And I made it on my last attempt.”

When Stauffer cleared the state qualifying height, “The place just erupted,” Nelson said.

Then the senior cleared 14-0 on his second attempt to win the section crown.

“We all just want to do well; we all want to make our best height,” Hintermeister said. “We don’t think about beating each other.”

Nelson said he was pleased to see Stauffer rewarded for the hard work he has invested in the sport.

“To my knowledge, in four years Joe has not missed a practice,” Nelson said. “Any time the pit is open, he’s there. This year, he’s started coaching, talking with the younger kids, and that has helped him taking vaulting to another level. When he and I talk now, we’re talking coach to coach. He’s willing to give back to the sport and cares about his teammates.”

Nelson said Hintermeister is new to the sport but has adapted very quickly.

“He’s snowboarder, so he likes to be upside-down in the air,” Nelson said of Hintermeister. “The first time he jumped, his eyes were as big as quarters, and he said, ‘I’ve got to do that again!’ He’s an amazing athlete in the air. And he adapts very quickly to coaching.”

Nelson also appreciates the effort McElrath has put into mastering the sport.

“For several years he has just worked hard, and this year has stepped into an opportunity,” Nelson said of McElrath. “The thing he worked on was his speed: He found another gear, and suddenly he PR’ed three times in one week – and now he’s going to the state meet.”

While the top three sweep of the pole vault was impressive, it was far from the only big news made by the Bluejackets at the event. C-I won three events and had a total of nine qualifiers for the state meet.

“The thing I am most proud of with this group is how consistent they have been this season,” coach Kent Viesselman said. “They have been really good in every meet this season, and that was the case again in the section meet.”

Senior Blaze Krueger won the shot put with a best toss of 55-10, more than 5 feet better than the next-best competitor, and also qualified for the state meet in the discus by finishing second with a 155.1 throw.

Sophomore Gaven Ziebarth also qualified for the state meet in three different events. He won the 100 with a time of 11.02, then helped the 4x100 and 4x200 relays both finish second and advance.

“In the 100, I just wanted to run as hard as I could,” Ziebarth said. “I felt I was going to win it, so I was focused on my time. I’m excited to get to the state meet; that’s going to be a fun event.”

Senior Dylan Jones also qualified to run in the state meet, finishing second in the 200 with a 22.46 clocking.

But Viesselman said he was proud of a number of strong performances by his team, especially by a number of seniors.

“Ryley Nelson finished third in the discus [with a throw of 146-11] and was fourth in the shot put [47-11], and he was throwing with a cast on his non-throwing hand,” Viesselman said. “And Brandon Westberg was sixth in the shot put [45-10½]. Both of those guys would be the top thrower on most teams.

“Josh Anderla has been dealing with a heel injury, and he competed well in the triple jump and the long jump. Nick Koshenina was high jumping even though he has an injury to his plant foot. And we weren’t sure Jack Hennen would be able to run, and he ended up missing the finals in the 110 high hurdles by just two-hundredths of a second [15.61]. And Levi Wilson took medals in the long jump, the 4x400 relay and in both hurdles. Kids like Levi — and all the seniors — really are going to be hard to replace next year,” he added.

Part 3: Bauer clears qualifying height

After too many “almost, but not quite” section meet moments in both gymnastics and track over the past few seasons, North Branch pole vaulter Paige Bauer is finally going to state. The sophomore cleared the automatic qualifying height of 11 feet, 1 inch in the event, later won by C-I’s Char Morke, at the Section 7AA meet, confirming her spot at the Class AA state meet this Saturday, June 8. (Bauer ended up placing second overall, which also would have sent her to state, but her place was not yet certain when she cleared the vital height).

Bauer will be the Vikings’ lone representative at state. Earlier in the meet, she nearly qualified in the 4x200 relay. Bauer, seniors Emily Kristo and Savanah Hoard, and freshman Lilly Johnson finished third, one place out of a state trip, in 1:49.19.

Other Vikings who placed well at the section meet included senior Jose Flor, who finished fourth in the boys pole vault with a best height of 12-6. Seniors Matt Stuber and Joe Nihart finished side-by-side in third and fourth place in the 1600 meters, running new personal best times of 4:33.51 and 4:33.78.

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