Experience should play a big role as Rolla track athletes gear up for the Class 4 State Championships this Friday and Saturday, May 25-26. Rolla will send four athletes in five events and three of those athletes have made the trip down before.
The most experienced competitors are Nick Janke and Olivia Holmes, who are each making their third trip to State this weekend. For the second consecutive year, Janke will be high jumping for the Bulldogs, while Holmes will run the 400m dash for the third straight season as a junior. Janke finished fourth last season at the State Meet and while Holmes didn't medal in 2017, she finished fifth as a freshman in 2016.
"I think their experience will help them," said head coach Don Knapp. "They have preformed in the whole month of May, the late part of the season. I think they're ready to have a great State Meet."
Holmes wasn't entirely sure she qualified when she finished the 400m dash at Sectionals on Saturday, but once the placement was announced she was thrilled to know she's continuing her streak of qualifying for State.
"Well actually I didn't know I got fourth place," said Holmes. "It was .04 seconds and I didn't know who got fourth place and I was like 'if I make it to State, I make it to State, if not next year is senior year so I'll go all out.' But it feels really cool knowing this is my third time, I know how to do it, I know what State is all about so I'm really not nervous. I'm ready to go."
Janke has spent the last two seasons peaking at the right time. At Sectionals this season and in 2017, Janke matched his PR of jumping 6'4". He matched that height at State last season, but he'll be pushing to set a new mark this weekend. After medaling last season, Janke isn't trying to put too much pressure on his final trip to State, he just wants to do the best he can and see what happens.
"There's not too much pressure. I think it helps that I already have medaled and it kinda takes a little weight off," said Janke. "I've already kind of proved it. I think it'll be more relaxed this year than it has in the past."
Janke won't be the only Rolla high jumper this year either. Courtney Colench qualified for the girls after clearing 4'11" at Sectionals. While she fell an inch short of qualifying last season, she made it to State as a sophomore two years ago. After failing to qualify as a junior, Colench was inspired to push herself all offseason to make sure she qualified as a senior.
"It set a vengeance. I made a plan for revenge," said Colench with a chuckle. "This winter I did a little indoor jumping to get ready and then I came in with an injury for the first three weeks of the season and I'm slowly making it back but I'm very happy."
This will be a new experience for Janke and Colench, as they'll have a whole week to prepare together. The two will compete on different days, as Colench will jump first thing in the morning on Friday and Janke will do the same on Saturday, but the work they can put in together this week should prove to be extremely valuable.
"It'll be really nice to have a teammate at practices with me keeping each other positive," said Colench. "Nick's just overall very calm, he doesn't get worked up for anything so I think that will help too."
Janke added, "It's definitely nice. We kinda help coach each other in practice, especially during the regular season when there's not many people around. It definitely helps having someone else feedback there to help me throughout the week practicing."
The newbie of the group is Nnamezie Orizu. He's got the fullest schedule for Rolla, as he qualified in both the 110m and 300m hurdles. Orizu isn't necessarily focused on finding himself on the medal stand, he just wants to make sure he's running his best races.
"I just hope I can do really good so I can break my personal record," said Orizu. "Most of the top guys, they run 14s (seconds in the 110m hurdles) and I'm close to breaking 15, so I think if I break 15 there and go beyond that. I usually go like 15.84 or 90-something and if I got 15.6 then I'll be on the board to advance to finals the next day."
Ozizu is trying to spend this week focusing on his races and not the pressure that comes with competing at State for the first time.
"I'm trying not to be worried," said the Rolla hurdler. "I just try to focus on what I can do, what God can do for me and be less stressed. He helped me a lot this season."
Coach Knapp has been proud of the work Orizu has put in this season to really take the next step this season.
"(He has) Tremendous desire and really competitive. He wants to get better every day he walks out here," said the Rolla head coach. "They all want to work hard to get better and that's one of Mezie's strengths. What I can I do to get better? What can I do to get faster? He told me that today, "I wanna be faster.'"
All four athletes had similar thoughts about what excites them the most about heading to State. All of them, whether it's running, jumping or a combination of the two, are just looking forward to getting out and doing their best in their events.
"I'm really excited just to cross the finish line," said Holmes. "It's a really long season and I've enjoyed all of it, but there's something about crossing the finish line and knowing I did my best and now I'm done and either you're done and have to go tomorrow or you just know you did your best. I like that feeling."
Of course, this trip to State has a bittersweet feeling to it. This will be coach Knapp's final trip to State as a head coach, though he admits he'll almost certainly head down as a spectator in the future. He wants the attention to be on the kids, but he's looking forward to experiencing the meet as a coach one last time.
"It'll be enjoyable, I couldn't have asked for a better group of kids to finish the season with and the career with," said coach Knapp. "These kids have given everything they have all season, I'm excited and pleased for them and I'm looking forward to how well they can do up there and I want the best for them of course. I'm just going to enjoy the meet, help them all we can and it'll be enjoyable."