The final image from Saturday's 1A co-ed district meet at Russ Kraai Field was not one of jubilation by the title-winning Southern Cal Lake City boys or Ar-We-Va Westside girls.
It was a giant Schaller-Crestland goosebump.
It was Justin Ronk fending off So Cal anchor Colby Davis and lunging across the line in the 4x400 as the S-C crowd at long last let out its breath.
Cody Galvin gave the Wildcats their lead in the meet's final race, Ben Currie and Matt Tielbur blew it wide open, and Ronk endured Davis's desperate kick as Schaller-Crestland took first place in 1600 meters of fury by less than three tenths of a second, clocking in at 3:32.54.
One month and one day after tragedy struck their school and their team, the Wildcats placed third out of 13 teams, winning six events and sending seven athletes in seven events to the state meet at Drake Stadium in Des Moines this Thursday through Saturday.
"I really believe we were helped by three angels sitting up in heaven looking down on the meet," said S-C boys coach Randy Galvin, in his 28th year of coaching track.
Cody Claussen and Tony Clark, both juniors, and freshman Sam Collier were killed April 11 in a snowy car accident on their way to lift weights at Schaller-Crestland High. Claussen and Clark were on the track squad while Collier participated in golf.
"I thought we really pulled it together (after April 11)," said Wildcats senior Cody Galvin, who qualified in four events Saturday. "It makes you more focused, realizing that life could just go any day, so you work your hardest."
Cody Galvin said he became more emotional early in the meet while anchoring the winning 4x800, an event in which Clark would have run.
"I usually think of Tony before every race almost, especially the 4x800," he said.
"Tony's dream was to run on that relay at state; even though the Good Lord had other plans for Tony, his teammates on that team were determined to make sure his dreams were accomplished," said Randy Galvin.
The top two boys in each event earned state trips Saturday. Only the first-place girls finishers qualified automatically, with the rest determined the following day by the next 12 best times from the remaining districts throughout the state.
In addition to leading off the 4x400, Galvin won the 400 hurdles in 57.31 seconds. He ran second in the 4x200 (Ronk, Galvin, Currie, Tielbur) that went 1:33.79 and placed second; the 4x800 he anchored to victory (along with Currie, Ray Wedeking and Kyle Newell) finished at 8:31.31.
Galvin is making return trips in all events but the 4x800; he ran with Ronk on last year's state 4x100 and 4x200 units.
Saturday, Ronk claimed the 200 (23.34), giving him three state events.
Kiley Murra returns in the discus and shot put, where he's seeded third and fourth, respectively, in 1A. He won both events, going 149-1 in the discus and 50-3.5 in the shot.
The Alta boys team, which placed second, was in top form, qualifying in six events, and double qualifying in the 100.
Quentin Thomas made state in four events, winning the high jump, 400 and 800, and leading off the winning 4x200.
Teammate Mike Huseman became the school's first runner to go under 11 seconds in the 100 with his winning time of 10.99 in the event.
"(Thomas) had another huge day, winning three individual events and leading off the 4x200 to first place only 10 minutes after winning the 400," said Alta boys coach Wendell Larson. "All our events going down to state are ranked quite high; we're hoping to make some noise down in Des Moines."
Jack Mills also made it in the 100 and was in the 4x100 team (Mills, Cody Nesbitt, Chris Schmitz, Huseman) and the 4x200 team (Thomas, Mills, Nesbitt, Huseman) that qualified.
Aurelia has a pair of entries. Jared Bruce won the 3200 (10:11.43) and the distance medley team of Kyle Doherty, Mike White, Jacob Bruce and Jared Bruce took first in 3:44.62.
Newell-Fonda had third places from Garrett Bruner in the 400, Luke Sarchet in the shot, and the distance medley team of Nathan Miller, Josh Hopper, Bruner and David Hopper.
St. Mary's failed to make a splash with its low numbers, but the Panthers' efforts didn't go unnoticed by coach Angie Reinert.
"This year was a challenging year for me as a coach and these boys as athletes. Unfortunately our numbers don't allow for a lot of team points and relay events to be run but we did our best," Reinert said. "Marco Barahona did well this year placing in both the shot and discus at a lot of meets and throwing his personal best. The distance medley has had challenges but did better that time by the end of the season.
"The shuttle hurdle group also did well considering two of them run the 3200 and then run the shuttle hurdle right after. Paul Yak also bettered his time in the 3200 and did well at districts."
Schaller-Crestland and Alta had the top area girls scores, taking fourth and fifth place, respectively.
They also possess the only No. 1-seeded Pilot-Tribune-area entries in the state meet: S-C's Molly Sippel in the 100 (12.25) and Alta's sprint medley (Jahde Hammer, Megan Suhr, Susanne Jaeckel, Dee Hinkeldey, 1:52.81).
Hinkeldey also qualified in the 400 and 400 hurdles. Alta's Kelsie Peterson made it in the discus, as did Suhr in the 100.
Peterson threw the discus a school record 112-7.
Cyclones coach Mark Shea had praise for his entire team and was thrilled to get five events in, but he said they're not satisfied with just making it there.
"We hope to get down there and do really well," he said. "All but one of our qualifiers are seniors so this is their last chance to compete at state, and they hope to make it their most memorable meet yet."
That includes Hinkeldey, who could win a third 400 title and a second 400 hurdles title.
S-C's Sippel will also run in the 200 and anchor the sprint medley (Becky Willer, Jill Wedeking, Alyssa Ringgenberg, Sippel), while teammate Sydney Shell earned a trip in the shot put.
Newell-Fonda, which placed seventh, saw its 4x800 team of Rachel Culp, Sarah Culp, Lauren Devereaux and Alisa Christensen race to state and go 10:20.69, breaking their own school record by 18 seconds.
In the distance medley, Katelyn Laursen, Karina Overgaard, Rachel Culp and Christensen ran 4:30.02 to break their school record by eight seconds. They missed the cutoff by just .14 seconds.
Ellen Gruntorad, Nikki Baak, Laursen and Kayla Miller teamed to run a 1:11.06 clocking in the shuttle, which also set a new school record.
Shelby Dierenfield won the high jump, going 4-10, to provide Aurelia with an entry.
"It's great to have Shelby be the district champion in the high jump and advance to state," said Bulldogs coach Jolene Hultgren, whose shuttle hurdle team (Jessica Cougill, Kristine Munden, Katee Dean, Priscilla Otto, 1:09.27) placed third en route to a new school record. "We were hoping to get a couple relays in but that didn't happen. As coaches we asked the team for season and personal bests for the district and the girls came through."
St. Mary's Jessica Lussman gave the Panthers an entry by placing second in the discus (101-0).
"Jess has been working hard on (the discus) for four years and what a way to finish out the year," said Reinert. "She also set a new school record this year, breaking her old record. She is a worker and will continue to work hard this week and we will see what she can do on Friday."
Reinert said she was pleased with the season, despite the fact Abby Richardson missed most of it to injury, and despite not being able to run the shuttle hurdle.
"Most of all I am proud of our distance medley (Melanie Snyder, Richardson, Becky Lenhart, Christine Becker). We have been running it all season and they knocked 12 seconds off their best time on Saturday. Unfortunately they missed qualifying by one second but they can be very proud of what they have accomplished," said Reinert. "The three seniors, Abby, Becky, and Jess, will be very much missed next year. The three of them score a lot of points for our team, are great leaders, and have made many trips to Des Moines to be very proud of.
"I personally will miss this group of girls as I have coached them all four years of their high school track career. They mean the world to me and to what the St Mary's girls track program is today."
BOYS TEAM SCORES: 1. Souther Cal 109, 2. Alta 87, 3. Schaller-Crestland 78, 4. Galva-Holstein 77, 5. SE Webster-Grand, 39, 6. Ar-We-Va 37, 7. Aurelia 35, 8. Odebolt-Arthur 29, 9. Newell-Fonda 26, 10. Rockwell City-Lytton 18, 11. Pomeroy-Palmer 15, 12. SE Webster Burnside 6, 13. Paton-Churdan 2
AREA BOYS QUALIFIERS
100-1. Mike Huseman, 10.99; 2. Jack Mills, 11.10
400-1. Quentin Thomas, 50.0
800-1. Thomas, 2:01.43
4x100-1. Mills, Cody Nesbitt, Chris Schmitz, Huseman, 44.16
4x200-1. Thomas, Mills, Nesbitt, Huseman, 1:33.58
High jump-1. Thomas, 6-2
200-1. Justin Ronk, 23.34
400 hurdles-1. Cody Galvin, 57.31
4x200-2. Ronk, Galvin, Ben Currie, Matt Tielbur, 1:33.79
4x400-1. Galvin, Currie, Tielbur, Ronk, 3:32.54
4x800-1. Currie, Ray Wedeking, Kyle Newell, Galvin, 8:31.31
Shot put-1. Kiley Murra, 50-3.5
Discus-1. Murra, 149-1
3200-1. Jared Bruce, 10:11.43
Distance medley-1. Kyle Doherty, Mike White, Jacob Bruce, Jared Bruce, 3:44.62
GIRLS TEAM SCORES: 1. Ar-We-Va 97, 2. Southern Cal 89, 3. SE Webster-Grand 83, 4. Schaller-Crestland 65, 5. Alta 63, 6. Galva-Holstein 48, 7. Newell-Fonda 40, 8. Aurelia 39, 9. Storm Lake St. Mary's 34, 10. Rockwell City-Lytton 26, 11. (tie) Odebolt-Arthur and Pomeroy-Palmer 1
AREA GIRLS QUALIFIERS
Discus-2. Jessica Lussman, 101-0
100-2. Megan Suhr, 12.96
400-1. Dee Hinkeldey, 58.34
400 hurdles-1. Hinkeldey, 1:07.07
Discus-1. Kelsie Peterson, 112-7
Sprint medley-1. Jahde Hammer, Suhr, Susanne Jaeckel, Hinkeldey, 1:52.81
100-1. Molly Sippel, 12.25
200-2. Sippel, 26.72
Shot put-2. Sydney Shell, 34-2.25
Sprint medley-2. Becky Willer, Jill Wedeking, Alyssa Ringgenberg, Sippel, 1:53.82
High jump-1. Shelby Dierenfield, 4-8
4x800-2. Rachel Culp, Sarah Culp, Lauren Devereaux, Alisa Christensen, 10:20.69