The mission was clear, and so was the focus as Hopkins boys track and field came through with the AA state team championship.
The Royals’ all-senior team of Sam Leervig, Jaylen Champion, Wyatt Lubarski and Ben O’Black rounded the track in 3 minutes, 19.37 seconds to beat second-place Mounds View by more than a second. The clutch performance gave Hopkins the team championship over Rosemount by a 78-76 margin. Rosemount did not have an entry in the final relay of the day.
“I just told them, ‘If you win this race, we win the meet,’” Hopkins head coach Nick Lovas said. “Like a basketball player who dreams about winning the state championship on a last second shot, runners dream of being in position to win the state championship. It was the last race of their high school careers, and they were ready to bring home the state title.”
Leervig, one of Hopkins’ captains, took the early initiative, and the Royals held sway for much of the race.
Teammates were cheering them on as they weren’t about to let a state championship slip away.
“Rosemount clicked on all of its events, so we had to click as a team,” Lovas said.
Hopkins had a DQ in the 4x100 relay Friday, which put the Royals in a hole in the team standings, but they were able to fight back on Saturday.
“You always have disappointments – sometimes they’re big, sometimes they’re small,” Lovas said. “It’s how you respond that determines the outcome.”
In races prior to the 4x400 on Saturday, Hopkins’ athletes did their jobs.
Captains Eli Hoeft and Joe Fahnbulleh posted big wins.
Hoeft had to pass Austin Streit of Mounds View in the last 25 meters to win the 1,600 with a career-best time of 4:12.67.
Fahnbulleh blew the competition away in the 200-meter dash, taking gold with a time of 21.21 seconds. He continues to hold the state record in the 200.
“Winning the state team championship means the world to me,” Hoeft said. “It shows the depth of our team.”
Hoeft was asked if he wanted to sub in for the last relay, and all he said was that his teammates would handle it, which of course they did.
“We all trust one another,” Fahnbulleh said. “We had a big mishap yesterday, but that didn’t faze us today.”
Hopkins easily won the 4x200 relay on Saturday, erasing memories of the 4x100 disqualification on Friday.
Fahnbulleh anchored that relay to victory, as the foursome posted a new state-record time of 1:25.58. Before Fahnbulleh got the baton pass, Champion, Wyatt Lubarski and Leervig all did their jobs.
“Sam [Leervig] does the most work of all of us,” Fahnbulleh said. “We have had great chemistry since our freshman year, and that translates to success.”
Hopkins had several other key performances on Saturday on its way to the state team title.
Senior Yakob Ekoue had his career best discus toss of 176-5 to finish second behind Rosemount’s Max Otterdahl.
Sophomore standout George Jackson earned key team points by placing third in the 110-meter high hurdles, seventh in the 300-meter hurdles and seventh in the long jump. On Friday morning, Fahnbulleh placed fourth in state in the triple jump.
This year, there was a big separation between the top four teams in state and everyone else. The Royals’ two-point win over Rosemount was not the only challenge, as Wayzata finished only 10 points out of first place and Mounds View was 19 out of first.