The quest to get back on the state leaderboard officially begins Saturday.
Washington, last year’s state runner-up in Class 4 girls track, will host the Class 4 District 3 track meet at Scanlan Stadium. The meet begins at 9:30 a.m. with the first round of field events. Racing events will begin at 10:15 a.m.
Visiting teams will include St. Francis Borgia Regional, Union, St. Clair, Pacific, Sullivan, Camdenton, Helias, Parkway Central, Parkway North, Rolla and Westminster.
The Lady Jays look to have another team with a chance to make waves at the state championships in Jefferson City at the end of the month.
Washington had the state championship relay team in the 3,200-meter race last season, but this year the 1,600-meter relay team appears to be the strongest, winning the Gateway Athletic Conference Central Championship this past Friday.
“The girls (1,600-meter relay) is cranking right now,” Washington Head Coach Mike Olszowka said. “(We) ran our second best time of the year and we had a couple legs that we know we can improve on.”
Leading that relay team are two returners from the state championship 3,200-meter team — senior Claire Ayers and sophomore Mia Reed.
Ayers was also the state runner-up in the 800-meter run behind teammate Mikayla Reed last season and finished with the bronze medal at the state meet in the 1,600-meter run.
She won the 800-meter run at Friday’s GAC Central Championships and finished second in the 1,600-meter run as well as anchoring the two distance relays.
“Claire had another great meet,” Olszowka said. “Two GAC championships and two runners-up to finish off her GAC career.”
Mia Reed, the younger sister of Mikayla, finished second Friday in the 3,200-meter individual run and is in position to threaten for more state medals to add to her growing collection.
“Mia has been a trooper all year,” Olszowka said. “She has been training very hard and it has been affecting her times. However she knows that as we head into the state series and she gets her legs under her she is going to set up to peak at the right time.”
The Lady Jays had a state medalist outside of the distance races as well last season in high jumper Morgan Gratza.
Gratza, who finished eighth in the event at the state meet last year as a freshman, cleared 5-4 at the GAC Central Championships to take first place.
That height would have been the state championship jump in Class 4 a year ago. However, it’s not even Gratza’s top jump of the year. Gratza overwrote the school record book in the event earlier this season by clearing the bar at 5-6 during Washington’s Nix Relays.
Gratza is also a threat in the long jump, triple jump and 100-meter intermediate hurdles. She placed in the top three in all events at the GAC Central meet.
“Morgan had a very strong day in the jumps,” Olszowka said. “First runner-up in the hurdles and (No.) 1 in the high jump. We also had her long jump and triple jump, earning all GAC (honors) in all four events.”
While Gratza was the runner-up in the 100-meter intermediate hurdles, the race was won by her teammate, freshman Ingrid Figas.
Figas made it a sweep of the hurdle events by also claiming first in the conference in the 300-meter low hurdle race. She also was a member of the championship 1,600-meter relay team with Ayers, Mia Reed and Anna Schneider.
“Most people can’t believe that Ingrid is only a freshman,” Olszowka said. “Not only is she strong and athletic but she has so much poise that carries her through her events. She has been working very hard in practice polishing up her technique and it is showing.”
Contending for a spot on the Washington 1,600-meter relay team will be Emma Duncan, who finished third individually in the girls 400-meter dash at the GAC Central Championships.
The Lady Jays are not to be counted out in the throwing events either with the combination of Sophia Olszowka and Harley Vuocolo both finishing in the top 10 of all three events Friday.
Olszowka’s second-place finish in the javelin was the best of their attempts.
“Harley and Sophia had a great day at the throws,” Coach Olszowka said. “They doubled our usual points that we received from throws. Those points are adding up quickly and help keep us close early in the meet.”
Union’s Jaiden Powell will also be a contender to watch in the girls throws, as will St. Clair’s Jolee King and Emily Barkhurst.
On the boys side, Washington’s school record holder in the javelin, Andrew Gildehaus, was the top thrower in the event at the GAC Central Championships.
“The conditions in the javelin were not great,” Coach Olszowka said. “The winning throws were nearly 30 feet short of normal. Andrew found a way to adapt and overcome the conditions. Some days you have to be mentally tough and get the job done. That is exactly what Andrew did.”
Union will also bring a strong male throwing contingent into the district meet.
Washington’s top male performer Friday was sprinter Daulton Bender, who won the 200- and 400-meter dashes in the GAC Central and was part of the winning 1,600-meter relay along with Johnny Duncan, Conner Maher and Gabe Scheperle.
“Daulton continues to improve and make a statement for his senior year, winning both the 400 and 200 and leading off for the (conference) champion (1,600-meter relay) team” Coach Olszowka said. “His hard work and leadership are something that will help carry the boys team through districts.”
Not to be forgotten in the boys distance races is Noah Little, a district champion in the individual 3,200-meter run last season.
Bryce Meyer also looks to be a contender in the boys long jump and triple jump, placing in the top three in both events on Friday.
Other faces from around the district to watch out for include a pair of returning state medalists in the boys hurdles, Borgia’s Adam Bell and Union’s Demetrius Clark, a pair of returning medalists in the pole vault in Pacific’s Gavin McDonald and Casie Culinane and returning state qualifiers Grace Leibhart (Pacific, hurdles), Hannah Machelett (St. Clair, long jump) and Alohilani Bursey (long jump).
Union also brings in a strong group of contenders in the sprinting events and the high jump.