Papillion-La Vista South girls got their season started on the right foot by winning the College of St. Mary invite on Friday, March 17.
Former head coach Jerrid Johansen played host to the Titans as the current Flames head coach, and first-year Papio South head coach Ashleigh Kitrell said it was “a fun meet for sure.”
“Having a meet this early, obviously only having had three weeks of practice, I think myself and my assistants included didn’t expect maybe the result that we received yesterday, but there was a lot of good things in terms of obviously, PRs across the board. I think we had almost 15 athletes who (set) PRs, but there’s lots of room for improvement. So I’m excited for that,” Kitrell said.
“Coach Johansen allowed us to come in for two days, practice at that facility and that was just really beneficial, one, to get the indoor quality work in, and then just to be familiar with that track.”
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“We’re fortunate to have an outstanding indoor facility at College of Saint Mary, and we’re thrilled that high school programs like Papio South can use it,” Johansen wrote. “Obviously, I have a connection to Papio South, but we hosted 24 boys and girls teams in three meets over two days, and we wanted them all to have great experiences on our campus.”
With weather being a constant challenge, especially with the blustery welcome to spring sports, that all coaches face, Kitrell said the management, administrative side of things has been a hurdle eased by “incredible support” from assistant coaches, namely cross country head coach Jeremy Haselhorst.
“Trying to figure out, okay, what do I actually need to do? And by what deadline and creating for myself a list for next year. I’m also a nutrition teacher, so it feels like my first year of teaching again,” Kitrell said. “But I have had incredible support from my assistant coaches. I am an assistant cross country coach under (Haselhorst) during the fall and so it’s been really awesome to now have him as an assistant role, but truly, he’s helped me more than just what his role requires of him. And so I’ve been so grateful for him. I found a lot of Jays on my staff. So Jeremy, Jim, Jamie, Jody; it’s been fun to just have them.”
With many of her assistants carrying more experience and “knowing the reins” Kitrell has been able to find confidence in knowing how to deal with unprecedented situations like scrapping a bus after their meet at Elkhorn South scheduled for Friday was cancelled.
“Ashleigh is outstanding, and she’s going to do great things for the girls, and for the track and field program,” Johansen said. “I’m thrilled she took over the head coaching position and can’t wait to see how she advances the program in the coming years.”
Another key role in easing Kitrell’s transition into the head coaching role has been, of course, the athletes themselves.
Among those athletes, freshman Katie Shafer emerged with a strong opening: winning the 200 meters and 60-meter dash prelims (finished second to Omaha Westside senior Lademi Davies).
“Just in terms of points and being so successful right away, she’s gonna be a big a big piece to Our Lady Titan program as she kind of progresses through her four years here,” Kitrell said.
Senior Bethany Schuhmacher earned a second-place finish in the 400, sophomores Hayden Gigstead and Grace Hovey finished fourth and sixth in the 1600, and junior Kaitlyn Swartz won the 3200. Grace Baum (soph.) and Payton Jorczak (jr.) placed third and fifth.
60-meter hurdlers Breylee Botts, Madeline Krska (both soph.) and Sydney Horn (junior) went 2-3-4 as well and set six PRs between the prelims and final.
“Our hurdle crew, I think, kind of takes the cake with six PRs between the three of them in six races,” Kitrell said. “So that was super fun. Again, a super young group so they haven’t ran the 60 hurdles a lot but I think it gave them all the confidence that they needed, as we have one more indoor season but then as we transition to the 100 hurdles, outdoor.”
Rounding out the track events, the Titans 4x400 team (Karli Swanson, Horn, Amelia Congrove and Schuhmacher) won their relay, while the 4x800 (Marissa Garcia, Kamryn Exner, Mia Cooley and Swanson) finished first ahead of Millard West.
The trio of Titan shot-putters — junior Lauren Medeck, senior Clare Ullery and sophomore Emilie Burki — all threw over 30 feet and went 2-3-4 at CSM.
“Coach Peitz mentioned in his time at Papio South, which I’m not sure how long that’s been, he’s never had all three varsity throwers — and we actually have a fourth in the running for that as well — who would be over 30 feet, so that was a very exciting start.”
In the high jump, junior Morgan Bode placed second while senior Zoe Leggett and Ella Morehouse went back-to-back to round out the top six.
“She (Bode) took a couple jumps a couple of times in our school record of 5-foot-4, so I’m excited. She’s already attempted them the first meet, again just with spotty practices and just working on the basics these past three weeks, so I’m hoping and I know her event coach is hoping to see that record fall in the next couple of weeks.”
With state-record holder Maria Kimpson back from Colorado State and helping run the pole vault, Olivia Broderson placed first with a 10-foot vault.
With athletes like her, Bode, Morehouse, Medeck, Ullery, Horn and others coming from fall sports like volleyball or softball and then basketball or powerlifting in the winter, the benefits are clear.
“Lots of diversity in terms of athletic ability, but the girls who are doing multiple sports are serious about track and the commitment they have too, they’re not gonna just want to come out just to kind of check a box to have track on their resume, but they really are competitors. And we got to see that with all of them almost yesterday, which is super exciting.”
The only challenge, Kitrell said, is getting them to refine their specific track and field skills.
“Depending on their event, obviously, requires a different sort of level of speed or level of endurance. But usually it just comes down to refining those track-and-field-specific skills. And so for them, they have the power, they have the strength, they have the ability there, we just have to, through our awesome coaching staff, kind of unlock that (by) working on just fine tuning those little things that pertain specifically to track.”
Moving forward, Kitrell has been surprised by just how quickly the time has gone to get to the beginning of the season, but is “excited to see” the Titans progression the rest of the way.
Papio South boys top-six results:
60-meter dash: Anthony Jones, fourth.
200: Jones, fourth.
800: Quin Karas, fourth.
1600: Bo Crews, sixth.
3200: John Fiedler, third; Drew Schuler, sixth.
60 hurdles: Matt Valenta, sixth.
4x400 relay: third (Valenta, Michael Stamps, Karas, Santamaria).
4x800: first (Stamps, Victor Garza, Noah Ryan, John Strabala).
Shot put: Caiden Fredrick, first (returning discus state champion); Kael Nauslar, fifth; Henry Supenski, sixth.
High jump: Dade Larsen, third; Tre’von Johnson, sixth.
Saturday, March 18
In Saturday’s competition at CSM, the Papillion-La Vista Monarch boys and girls both finished second place, while Bellevue West boys placed third and girls fifth.
Local event winners: Boys Dae’Vonn Hall, Bellevue West — 60-meter dash
Jesse Malone, Papillion-La Vista — 60m hurdles
Asher Jenkins, Bell. West — 200m
Jenkins, Bell. West — 400m
Nate O’Brien, Bellevue East — 800m
Hall, Bell. West — high jump
Kenyann Hunt, Bell. West
Morgan Glaser, Papio — 60m hurdles
Alexis Chadek, Papio — 800m
Kara Muller, Bell. West — 3200mm
Glaser, Papio — high jump
Other top-3 finishes by school
Bellevue East: O’Brien (second, boys 3200m), Ryan Lenear (second, boys high jump), Avary Rech (second, girls high jump).
Bellevue West: Jermaine Green (third, boys 60m), Hall (second, boys 200; Green fourth), Elly Dow (second) and Muller (third, girls 800m), Muller (second, 1600m), Dani Coyer (second, girls shot put), Ja’Marion Campbell (third, boys shot put), Jason Jeffers (second, boys triple jump), boys 4x400 and 4x800 (both second).
Papillion-La Vista: Chadek (second) and Ciara Williams (third, girls 400m), Lillian Vitera (third, girls high jump), Cooper Curtis (third, boys long jump), Garin Maley (second, boys shot put), Tavien Pirtle (third, boys triple jump), Maya Zoucha (third, girls triple jump).
The Monarchs also piled up 19 additional top-six finishers to rack up the points. Kyla Warden, Caroline Carrico and Dannika Rees went 4-5-6 in the girls shot put. Multi-event top-six placer: Ellie Mancuso (fifth in girls long jump, sixth in triple).
Omaha Gross competed in the Class B invitational at CSM on Friday.