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Spartan track team state bound

Superior High School track athletes that will be participating in the WIAA Track & Field State Meet in LaCrosse on Friday and Saturday pose for a photo at the Wessman Track on Tuesday are from bottom, Ashlee Knight, Leah Holmes, Natalie Kintop, Jenna Martin, Nicole Olson, Raya Kosey, Christa Diedrich, Matt Swanson, Brandon Westmoreland, Mason Ford, Kevin Olson, Shane Holmes, Zach Wohlwend and Zach Colvin. (Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

Leah Holmes knows how to finish a race, and when she finishes, she usually comes in first.

At the start of the season, Superior High School track coach Phil Roe raved about the freshman's kick at the end of a race. He said she may have the best finishing speed of any distance runner he has coached.

Holmes began drawing statewide attention early in the year and now, with the regular season over and the state championships approaching, the Spartan runner has dashed to the front of the pack in the 1,600-meter run.

"I just try to get out and get a good start," Holmes said. "I just hang right behind the leader, if not lead, if it's too crowded. Then the last lap I kick it at like the 200 and give it all I've got."

So far, Holmes hasn't had many athletes challenge her. Race after race, the freshman starts off at an easy run, and in the final laps, blazes past the rest of the field to finish seconds ahead of the next closest athlete.

She was the undisputed favorite in the 1,600 for most meets and only "lost" one race at that distance all year. Holmes' loss came at the regional competition in River Falls. She took second place in that race, finishing three-hundredths of a second behind the winner, but Holmes still refers to the event as a loss.

At the very next meet, Holmes returned to winning form. She set a facility record at the Wausau East sectional track meet, finishing the 1,600 in 5:11.07 to win the sectional title and advance to state. Her time was nearly eight seconds better than in her previous run.

Heading into the state meet, held today and tomorrow at Veterans Memorial Stadium at UW-La Crosse, Holmes has the ninth fastest time in the 1,600. She is one of only two freshmen running in the 25-person field.

"There are two heats run Saturday for D1 girls; one slower heat of 13 and one fast heat of 12," Roe said. "Leah is the only ninth-grader in the fast heat."

To reach the No. 1 seeded runner in the 1,600 at state, Holmes would have to shave about 11 seconds from her qualifying time.

"I could still drop some time, but I have no idea," Holmes said.

It will be Holmes' first time running in a state track meet, but she has prior state competition experience to help her. In the fall, Holmes represented Superior in the WIAA state cross country meet.

"I know it's going to be big and crazy," Holmes said. "For cross country I had no idea what to expect."

Girls 4x400 relay

For three straight years now, the SHS girls have advanced to the state track and field meet in the 4x400 relay. Seniors Nicole Olson and Christa Diedrich, members of this year's squad, could give you the details from each year.

Both Olson and Diedrich have been on the team twice before, Olson as a sophomore and Diedrich as a junior. In the years each girl did not compete on the team, she still attended the state meet as an alternate.

"We took turns. Now this is the first year we get to run together," Diedrich said.

Joining the seniors on the relay team are two freshmen, Natalie Kintop and Holmes.

Kintop was energetic and confident as the team practiced Tuesday. She said her goal for state is to see the relay team earn a place on the podium (the top six earn a spot). The two seniors team said they would be happy just making it into the finals but added that breaking the school record is also on their to-do list. If the Spartans do top the current time, it would be the third year in a row the record was broken.

"I'm just excited," Kintop said. "Both of our birthdays are going to be down there, so it's going to be the best birthday." Kintop and Holmes have birthdays one day apart, on June 4 and 5.

Each girls has her role on the team. Olson is good at cutting in, Holmes is the anchor with a strong kick, Kintop excels at holding off opponents to maintain a led, and Diedrich gets good blocks.

"There's just enough spots that work with our skills I guess, that it's perfect," Diedrich said.

Olson said the team hasn't run together much this season, but all of the girls have their strengths and know how to work together to finish a race.

"And I know we can all count on Leah to finish it," she joked.

Girls 400

One member of last year's 4x400 relay team who will be cheering on the Spartans at state is Raya Kosey.

The sophomore qualified for both the girls 400 and the 4x400 relay last season, but this year she will compete only in the individual 400 event.

This weekend's state meet will probably be the first time this season Kosey has not been asked to compete in multiple events. She said she likes to stay busy all the time, but she'll happily take the opportunity to watch her teammates in action.

"I'm really glad that I can watch the 4x400 this time," Kosey said. "I'd like to be competing, but I'm really glad I can watch them, especially the seniors because it will be their last time running."

Kosey is seeded near the middle of the field in the 400, but she thinks she should be able to drop about two seconds from her time.

"Hopefully, I'll drop that and I'll get on the podium," she said. "That's one of my big goals this year."

Boys change luck

In 2009, the Spartan boys track and field team had high hopes for the state meet. Superior athletes were expected to advance in multiple events, but instead, the Spartan boys found themselves shut out of the meet.

For the Spartan boys, everything that could go wrong did.

Zach Colvin came up just short in two sprint races and the long jump, while Shane Holmes was just behind the qualifying time in the 1,600. Kevin Olson was forced to drop out of the pole vault when his knee began to bother him. And worst of all, the SHS boys would have qualified in the 4x800 relay but were disqualified.

"Last year, I know I was ranked for the 400 pretty good to go to state in that, and I missed out by a place or two; and the same thing happened in the long jump," Colvin said. "Then the 4x800 got disqualified, so we pretty much all had a grudge with everything that happened last we. We wanted to come back this year and actually advance to state instead of being let down by ourselves again."

The Spartan boys stayed clear of bad luck this year, advancing to state in the 4x400 relay and four individual events. All three Spartans who missed out on individual events last year -- Colvin, Shane Holmes and Olson -- qualified for state this year.

SPARTAN SPIN: The Spartan track team is sending 14 athletes to the state meet in nine events this year. According to Coach Roe, that number equals the most events Superior has advanced in since 1970 -- the year Cathedral merged with Senior High.

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