“On the boys’ side, it’s up in the air,” said Smith. “It will really come down to who competes well on those two days. In a lot of these events there are a lot of kids who are clustered very close together by time or distance. It isn’t like past years where there’s one or two dominant teams. Everyone kind of has their area where they’re looking to get points.”
That drama doesn’t extend quite as far on the girls’ side of the competition. Smith notes Cody’s girls’ team is as dominant as ever and should breeze through the weekend.
“After Cody, though, it’s going to be a tossup for who gets second,” Smith said. “I think we’ve got as good a shot as anyone in that regard.”
One area where the Panthers are almost assured of harvesting a ton of points this weekend is in the throwing events. On both the boys’ and the girls’ side, the Panthers rank among the state front runners in 3A in both the shot and the discus.
“Unfortunately, that’s only two events,” notes Smith. “If you have good sprint kids or good jumpers, you can work them into three or four events. With the throwers, you can really only use that strength in two.”
Of course, the Panthers aren’t just a throwing team. Pole vaulter Hayden Cragoe is one of only two performers in 3A to clear 14 feet in the pole vault this season. Sophomore Kalei Smith has the second-best high jump in 3A this season, clearing at 6-3. Both boys are among the state’s fastest times this season in the 110-meter hurdles.
On the girls’ side, junior KaDee Harrison has one of the state’s best times at 200 meters. Freshman Anissa Warner looks to be a threat in the jumps. Classmate and teammate Danna Hanks should similarly vie for points in the 100-meter hurdles.
“We’ll just have to see what happens,” said Smith. “It really is a case where the little things are going to decide the final order of finish and, in some cases, who gets to go to state.”
Another wild card, Smith notes, will be injuries. While the Panthers head to Lander with a relatively clean bill of health, Smith notes other schools will have some decisions to make entering the weekend.
“There are a few kids that have pre-qualified for state that are dinged up,” Smith said. “Those schools might decide to hold some of those kids out this week and give them an extra week of rest before state. If that happens, that could really shake up the standings.”
If the Panthers are to return with regional trophies this weekend, one of those things that will have to go well will be the two throwing events, however. Garrett Lynch and Vince Sleep have two best discus throws at the classification this season. Lynch and Sleep also own two of three top shot put distances recorded in the state and, along with Star Valley’s Sam Gertsch, should put on quite a performance there. Garrett Michael is also one of 3A’s best shot put competitors for the Panthers.
On the girls’ side, Shawnea Harrington and Tori Sleep sit second and third in Class 3A in the discus. Along with teammate Lex Brady, the trio should amass some good points for the Panthers in Lander.
Overall, Smith notes the meet probably won’t approach the level of performance that fans saw last year, when all eight relay teams and as many as 11 individuals in an event field surpassed state qualifying standards to automatically earn a spot in Casper.
“I don’t think we’ll see that this season,” Smith said. “There are some kids that are going to run times or have distances that would have been 10th last season that might end up placing fourth this year. Don’t get me wrong, there are some very, very good performers that will come out of our region, but I don’t think the overall level of talent is where it was last season.”
The top eight individuals and the top four relay teams automatically advance to state. Individuals and relay teams surpassing the state qualifying standard will also earn the right to travel to Casper next week, regardless of their final placing.
Competition in Lander starts at 9 a.m. on Friday with the finals of the 800 meters and runs through Saturday afternoon when the final event, the 4x400 relay, is scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for students as set by the Wyoming High School Activities Association.
The meet will also serve as the 2A and 1A regionals, making for a lot of schools in attendance. Boys’ soccer play-in games will also be taking place Friday at the high school in Lander.