For the 19 local athletes who competed at the 99th running of the Drake Relays Friday, the experience was a memorable - if somewhat frustrating - one.
For the Storm Lake boys, it was a long drive to finish without a recorded time. On the first exchange of their 4x100 meter preliminary, the baton pass went just outside the box, and officials disqualified the team.
The boys kept running, and despite the bobble turned in what would have been a 44.80 time, according to SLHS Coach Paul Matthew, enough to have put them in the top 25 is the massive 80-team field.
Patrick Higgins watched his teammates run, leaning on his crutches.
The night before, he had gone down hard in the final feet of a 100 meter dash during the Storm Lake Invitational, damaging a hamstring in the unseasonably cold conditions.
He had run on the 4x100 team most of the season, and had been competing with Eric Smith for the final spot in the foursome, which also included Matt Ung, Chom Thammavongsa and Zach Miller.
Matthew said they hope to have him back for Districts, and potentially as an alternate for State.
"It was really crazy conditions for this time of year. It was so cold that we didn't even stick around to see how our event had come out," Matthew said.
While the athletes were disappointed with their DQ, their performance was right up to par with their recent times, and they are looking forward to competing for conference and district honors. Their time would have edged Bishop Heelan, the highest area finisher in the event.
The four Storm Lake girls who qualified for Drake represent a core of the SLHS team and each participate in numerous events, so they had planned to compete in the Storm Lake Invitational meet Thursday night and leave directly from their final events.
However, a downpour ended that meet early, and delayed the plans.
"Everybody was soaking wet and freezing cold, and we knew we had to get those girls warmed up. So we ran them up to the high school so they could get hot showers while the coaches grabbed uniforms and went to the stadium to get them in a dryer so they could wear them the next day," coach John Brostad said.
By the time the team arrived in Des Moines, they had time for only about four hours of sleep before reporting to the Relays track.
The boys shot put was conducted with athletes standing in water Friday morning, and the shot would sink half to two-thirds into the soggy turf with a splatter.
Michaela Brungardt got a bad break in the Friday morning discus. The first flight went off in pleasant, 60 degree weather, but she was assigned to the second group, which saw a 15-20 degree plunge in temperature and a cold wind whip up. The ring was slippery, as meet officials had tried to use a leaf blower to clear the water. She placed tenth - with a best of 114'2" that was not bad for the conditions, but not up to her standards. Another 21" would have put her in the finals with three more throws, and her coaches said that her tosses so far this season indicate that she could possibly have been competitive for the top six spots.
On the way home, Michaela told the other girls that she had overheard competitors saying that she was too small to throw the discus.
"They said the same thing last year about Morgan Darrow, and she ended up second at State for us," Brostad said. "Many coaches have commented that you don't see a fine discus thrower like Michaela being able to run fantastic times in a 400 as well."
It was a long wait for the Tornadoes' other appearance, in the 4x100, where Brungardt, Maleia Miller, Katie Blum and Slone Masters finished 19th out of 80 teams running in prelims, with their season best time of 51.79. Due to an error in reporting times, the same foursome missed its chance to run a second relay event.
Storm Lake was just over two seconds behind the winning Cedar Falls team and only three seconds off the Drake record.
Running in the first heat with most of the faster big 4A schools, and in the undesireable lane one, the Tornadoes were disheartened to finish at the back of the pack. Only later did they find out that their time would have won in most of the other nine heats.
Although Heelan did not compete at Drake, they have a slightly faster 4x100 best time this season, and the Storm Lake girls will be working to hone their performance in anticipation of a showdown with the Crusaders at the District meet.
The area coaches felt that their athletes all performed well in the hectic and cold condtions. All found it difficult to warm up, in a stadium so packed that it's challenging to find a few open feel of space to stretch, let alone do accel drills.
"There were many athletes, both high school and college, who went down during the races because it was difficult to get warmed up properly," Brostad said.