Tigers take girls’ 4×800, Wadsley in boys’ 3,200, and middle school medley relays to Drake Relays

To hear Gilbert long distance coach Laura Kautman describe it, Charlie Bucket had an easier time securing his golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory than her girls’ 4×800-meter relay did in grabbing a hold of its precious spot in this week’s Drake Relays.

Let’s cut to the end for a quick moment: The quartet of Clare Stahr, Sophia Bleich, Keira Andersen, and Sarah Feddersen is in the star-studded event scheduled to hit the blue oval inside Drake Stadium in Des Moines Saturday morning at 10:25 a.m. But it wasn’t easy.

For starters, in an attempt to cut its time significantly, the group borderline pleaded with Ames High School for entry into a meet with some heavy hitters last Tuesday. The Tigers finally got the go-ahead and, boy, did they perform.

Stahr, Bleich, Andersen, and Feddersen turned in a blazing 9:37.22 at Ames to meet the blue standard and officially punch their ticket to Drake. They shaved nearly 13 seconds off their previous best and will enter Drake Stadium with the seventh-fastest time in the state regardless of class.

Are the girls surprised at how far they’ve come in such a short period this spring? Absolutely, and yet they all say their best is yet to come.

“For me personally, I’m super excited,” Bleich, a sophomore, said. “At the beginning of the season, if you would have told me that I’d be running at Drake, I would have been shocked. But I think we have a great team.”

“This was my high school goal, to qualify for the Drake Relays,” Stahr, a junior, said. “Seeing our hard work pay off this year with this great group of girls is just so cool to see. All of the hard work has come to fruition.”

Stahr went through pain — quite literally — to help the Tigers qualify. At the Ames meet, the lead-off runner had her heel stepped on by another competitor in the large pack early on and yet she still managed to keep Gilbert near the front while running most of her two laps with one shoe on and one shoe half-off. The back of her foot was bloody by the time she handed the baton to Bleich, but she did her job.

Bleich and Andersen, just a freshmen, turned in arguably their best races as well before Feddersen, a sophomore and first-year track and field participant, brought it home on the anchor.

“There’s a real drive between us,” Andersen said. “We want to push each other to be our best and run our fastest.”

Kautman says all four have been pleasant surprises this spring, but maybe none more than Feddersen, who has seamlessly cemented herself as the relay hammer. A competitive gymnast prior to the 2022-23 school year, she admits she didn’t really understand the significance of the Drake Relays until just recently.

“Coming (into the season) with no expectations and having never done track before, I didn’t even know how big of a deal Drake was,” Feddersen said as her relay mates chuckled around her. “But getting to watch our times drop and realizing it was actually achievable was really cool.”

Kautman recognizes Feddersen’s contributions as a first-year runner and says she’s quickly adapted herself to the competitive world of running.

“The part about Sarah I didn’t realize is she’s a fierce competitor,” Kautman said. “She’s toed the line with some of the state’s best and she’s raced right with them.

“In order to be an elite gymnast, I think you have to have the mental and physical pieces. Was she a surprise running wise? Absolutely, but when you see what she’d accomplished leading up to track, it’s not a surprise.”

Kautman speaks glowingly of all four of her runners. She knows that’s what it takes — four solid pieces — to compete at Drake.

And that’s exactly what Gilbert wants to do: compete at Drake. Yes, the girls are happy to be there amongst the best of the best. But when the race begins, just being happy to be there will no longer be good enough.

“We’re ready to compete at Drake,” Feddersen said.

Dubuque Hempstead enters Saturday’s 4×800 with the fastest time of 9:20.54, close to a 13-second gap over No. 2 seed Ankeny (9:33.31). The Nos. 2-7 seeds are separated by less than four seconds.

Wadsley Drake bound in 3,200

Gilbert senior William Wadsley admits it sheepishly — he was a scoreboard watcher.

In the days leading up to last Thursday’s Drake Relays cut-off, he checked the boys’ 3,200-meter leaderboard a couple times a day. Why? Because he was near that cut-off line for qualifying and to be known as a Drake Relays qualifier is something he really wanted.

“Two or three times a day, I would check it,” Wadsley said. “But I was just kind of leaving it up to God. Whatever he wants, that’s what’s going to happen.”

Fear not, William. You’re in.

Wadsley got the good news from Gilbert boys’ track and field coach Joel Franzen during a school assembly last Friday afternoon and to say he was excited would be an understatement.

“It definitely brought a smile to my face and joy flowed through my body,” Wadsley said.

Wadsley will be part of the field of 21 runners during Thursday’s distance carnival at Drake Stadium in Des Moines. The boys’ 3,200 is scheduled to hit the track at 5:52 p.m.

Fittingly enough, it was on the famed blue oval that Wadsley earned his spot among the best distance runners this state has to offer. At the Jim Duncan Relays on a cold and wet Saturday morning earlier this month, he turned in a career-best time of 9:33.27 and that was good enough to qualify. He beat his previous best time by a whopping 21 seconds.

And now he wants to complete the eight-lap race even faster.

“I had a goal going into this season that I wanted to get a 9:20 (plus), and with my qualifying time of 9:33, I think that’s totally achievable,” he said. “I’m really excited for a good time.”

Ford Washburn of Iowa City High has run the fastest 3,200 this season (9:00.73), followed by Pella’s Chase Lauman (9:15.30).

Middle School relays also headed to Drake

In addition to our high school athletes, the Gilbert Middle School track and field team will also be represented at this week’s Drake Relays.

Both middle school teams will take their 1,600 medley relay to Des Moines.

The girls’ medley — Sammy Johnson, Ella Andrews, Allie Grandgenett, Callie Hales, and alternate Emee Dani — will race at 5 p.m. on Friday.

The boys’ medley — Tayton Warg, Micah Leyva, Brandon Terry, Logan Bleich, and alternate Justin Sosnouski — will compete immediately following at 5:07 p.m. on Friday.

Only eight middle school teams across the state qualified for the girls’ and boys’ medley relay races. The Gilbert boys’ squad landed one of the coveted spots with a time of 4:12.20, while the girls’ group advanced with a clocking of 4:46.70.