Arrows qualify six athletes for the Class A state track & field meet in seven events

Pipestone Area senior Aiden Voss. J. Draper

Phase 3 is in full swing for the Pipestone Area track & field teams, as the Arrows pushed six athletes in seven events through to the Class A state meet, June 8-9 at St. Michael-Albertville in St. Michael, following their performances at Thursday’s Section 3A meet in Montevideo.

The Arrows were strong throughout the day in Montevideo, moving into their ‘competition phase’ as they looked to qualify as many young athletes as possible for the season-ending event.

Aiden Voss was the first Arrow on the day to punch his ticket to the state meet, as the Pipestone Area senior and two-time state place-winner won the boys’ 110-meter hurdles in a time of 15.62 seconds. Although Voss wasn’t overjoyed with his time in the 110s, he went on to claim his ‘usual’ hurdles double by winning the 300-meter event as well – clocking in with a season-high mark of 40.66 seconds.

“I wasn’t too happy with my time in the first one, the 110s; I’d messed up my ankle two days before and my back was tight; excuses are there if you want them, but I’m sure I’ll run better at state,” said Voss, who placed third in each hurdle event at the 2022 state meet. “The 300s went okay and I was pretty happy with the time.”

Still, Voss’ seeming disinterest in claiming a pair of section crowns likely points to unfinished business as he looks to cap his high school career with a pair of state champion medals.

“I hope to; I want it really badly,” he said. “I’ve been working years for this… want to win pretty bad.”

Classmate Caden Strasser also earned two punches of his state ticket, and nearly garnered a third with Voss and freshmen relay mates in the 4×400-meter event – the final race of the meet. Going into the meet, Strasser had done his homework for both his events – the open 800 meters and the mile (1,600 meters).

Pipestone Area senior Meredith Draper. J. Draper

“In the mile I knew it was Redwood (Will Ahrens), me and Luverne (Ryan Fick) and we were all pretty tight,” he said. “I knew I had to hold off whoever was behind me – didn’t matter who.”

Strasser didn’t have too much work to do to hold that runner off, as the Arrow senior clocked in with a runner-up mark of 4:37.51 – behind Ahrens (4:31.88), but well ahead of Fick (3rd, 4:41.59). The 800 was a different story altogether.

“I thought Lakeview’s Ethan Schwankl would get out fast, he’s a 1:57 guy, so I had to try to stick with him and hold off the next runner,” Strasser said. “It was the guy from Canby and I heard his footsteps coming up on me at the end. That was enough to push me on, and I managed to beat him to the finish line with a PR.”

Fewer than four tenths of a second ahead Canby/Minneota junior Zach Orada (2:02.7), Strasser’s mark of 2:02.36 qualified the senior for state in his second individual event with the 4×400-meter relay remaining on his competition schedule.

“Aiden and Caden did what they set out to do at the beginning of the year,” Pipestone Area head coach Todd Tinklenberg said. “It was a struggle a little bit, more so for Caden. I thought he ran a little tired and the heat was a factor, but he gutted it out and, in both races, found a way to take second place and go on to next week.

Pipestone Area senior Caden Strasser. J. Draper

“In the 4×400, they gave it everything they had, but each one was a second or a second-and-a-half off of what they ran last time, which made the difference. I knew Caden would probably have to expend more energy in the 800 and mile than he did at sub-Sections, so he’d have a little less energy, but he ran a great spilt. Aiden had tweaked his back a bit in the hurdles, so he didn’t run a fantastic time, and the two freshmen – Cayden (Zephier) and Austin (Musch) – did a great job. They didn’t run quite as well as they did the other night, but still had a great showing.”

The disappointment of the Arrows’ third-place finish in the boys’ 4×400-meter relay in a time of 3:37.51 was felt well after the meet, but the seniors are confident their freshmen teammates have a state meet on their horizon.

“Musch and Zeph are probably the two most talented freshmen I’ve ever run a 4×400 with,” Strasser said. “Before subs and sections, they were the ones giving the pre-race talk. I’ve never experienced that before and it made it so much more fun and so much sadder when we finished third. I know those guys will do great in the future, but it’s unfortunate we missed out on the opportunity to get that team up to state.”

Pipestone Area freshman Caiya Strasser. J. Draper

The hype around the boys’ 4×400-meter relay quartet was great, but so too was talk surrounding the PAS girls’ sprint relays – put together late in the season with ‘state’ in mind. And Meredith Draper’s third-place finish in the open 100 meters, where she clocked in behind area nemesis Brynn Bakken (12.61) and Morris Area’s Lydia Fynboh (13.04) with a mark of 13.21 only served to place more emphasis on the 4×200-meter relay.

Despite some spotty handoffs, the quartet of Draper, classmate Avarie Brecher and freshmen Caiya Strasser and Aurora Winsel posted a third consecutive PR in winning the event in a time of 1:49.55.

“I knew I just had to push myself harder to make it in the relays, give it everything I had, because I didn’t want it to be my last meet,” Draper said. “I kept my legs warm and stayed hydrated.”

And Strasser, who qualified for state in the 100-meter hurdles earlier in the meet with a winning time of 16.09 seconds, was bent on making sure the seniors made the trip to state with her.

“I felt my blocks were pretty good and I’ve improved there since the start of the season,” Strasser said of her performance in the hurdles. “I slowed up a bit at the end… a little tired, I guess. Hopefully, I push through to the end at state.

“Getting to state in the hurdles was my goal the whole season. Our relays weren’t as quick to begin with, but they came around and we pushed as hard as we could to get them there (state) Meredith was excited and we were happy to get it done for her and Avarie.”

Pipestone Area senior Avarie Brecher. J. Draper

But the lightning-quick quartet wasn’t finished in Montevideo. Making better handoffs than they had in the 4×200-meter relay, Brecher, Strasser, Draper and Winsel beat all to the finish line again, clocking in at 50.81 seconds to claim a second Section 3AA title the accompanying state qualification.

“It feels amazing,” said Brecher, who competed for the Luverne Cardinals two seasons ago. “I never thought we’d be here; all the practicing and hard work, things I didn’t really want to do, paid off for us.”

“It’s surprising, too, because we were always losing to Luverne at the beginning of the year,” Winsel added. “So, it’s just amazing that we beat them and… we’re going to state.”

Not his brainchild alone, Tinklenberg’s formation of the relay teams late in the season came about through sight and sound – watching and listening to what the girls were doing and saying. 

“I knew we could probably be pretty good in a relay,” he said. “I wasn’t like I was sandbagging, but it was one of those things where we let the kids discover other options before thinking we could put this together at the end. It gets into my philosophy a little bit, where we’re just coming to our prime right now; we’re absolutely peaking and I think we have another week in us yet before we reach our best, and you look at the last three meets and they’ve PR’d every time. Sometimes you have to let kids discover what they can do and then they start believing in themselves too. It worked out. Yeah, they performed extremely well and came in with PRs again. They dropped almost a second in the 4×100 and a second-and-a-half in the 4×200. They just had a great day; they were pretty motivated, I guess, to get Meredith and Avarie to state.

Pipestone Area freshman Aurora Winsel. J. Draper

“I’m really happy for the seniors. Meredith has been the staple in this program for six years, but there were always people faster than her when it came to individuals. So, before sub-Sections I asked her what she wanted to do, two opens and a relay or just one open and a couple relays. She made the decision to go with two relays and the first thing she said last night was, ‘I made the right decision coach.’ And Avarie is just so quiet and she finally learned to believe in herself. I told her she could be a good sprinter, she’s a beautiful runner, and she has drastically dropped her times in the 100 and 200 through belief. Then you throw in the two freshman and they make a great team. It’s fun, and I’m so excited for those two relays.”

So is Draper, who is confident her team can go faster in both relay events.

“I think it all fell into place at the end; we had a couple bad handoffs but, obviously, it worked for us,” she said. “Once we fix those, I think we can be a really good team. Switching up the order right before sub-sections was a good idea.

“We can cut off even more time; we can run better with perfect handoffs everywhere. That’s the goal and we’ll be working on those every day until the state meet. It’s been exciting; I never thought we’d have this much potential with our relay teams. From the beginning of the season until now, it’s crazy how much we’ve improved.”

While Draper was in the hunt for qualification in the 100 meters, so too was Winsel in the 200. The freshman clocked in at 27.36 seconds to place fourth and, despite missing out on qualifying in an individual this season, she sent a strong notice she’ll be one to beat come next spring.

Senior Arinn McGee and junior teammate Naomi Wallace also had near misses on the day, as the former – a 2022 state qualifier in the shot put – placed third in the discus (110 feet, four inches) and fifth in the shot put (35 feet, four inches) and the latter earned fourth place in the girls’ high jump at a height of 4’-10.” Had she risen two more inches, a height she reached during the regular season, she’d had been in a tie-break situation with winner Carly Tolifson (Benson/K-M-S) and runner-up Jordan Thein (MACCRAY), who reached five feet even.

“Arinn didn’t have her best day, and I find out later that she tweaked her back that morning,” Tinklenberg said. “She didn’t tell us, but I could see she wasn’t 100 percent. She told me afterwards and you could see she was disappointed, but she said, ‘hey, I had my shot last year and I’m grateful for that.’

“Reaching five feet would have put Naomi in that top two and it would have come down to misses. I think she was in a good mindset, just a little unfortunate… clipped the bar a couple times. She had a good season and it’ll make her hungry for next season.”

PAS senior Brooklyn Goelz wrapped up her high school career Thursday, competing at the section meet in the girls’ pole vault. The second-year leaper surprised many by making the section field to begin with, and posting a personal record of seven feet, eight inches in Montevideo was a cool capper to her career.

Brecher, Taylor Post, Wallace and Spanish foreign exchange student Paula Valdivieso-Zamora represented the Arrows in the girls’ 4×400-meter relay, while Alyvia Caskey, Samantha Stokesbary, Elizabeth Sanchez, Laura Minet teamed up for the PAS girls in the 4×800-meter relay. Neither side was realistically in the running for state qualification, and their respective times of 4:26.08 and 11:57.67 placed them fifth and 11th.

Suvandy, who was heavily praised by coach Tinklenberg for his individual efforts in the 100 (8th, 11.91, PR) and 200 (7th, 24.19) joined forces with Trevin DeWilde, Musch and Zephier to place eighth in the 4×200-meter relay in a time of 1:38.31. Zephier also competed in the triple jump with senior teammate Colton Fey. Neither leaper had an outstanding day and capped their individual campaigns 12th and 13th, respectively, at distances of 18’-10.5” and 18’-6.25.”

“I know they didn’t finish where they’d hoped, but they’ll be hungry for next spring and lots of talent coming back to help,” Tinklenberg said. “Hayden Brooke will, hopefully, be healthy next year at the end and Americ … came on like gangbusters this year; he’s my first eighth grader to make sections in the 100 and 200. That’s unheard of, it really is. You look at the roster and see who was in those races and … he’s just an eighth grader. I’m glad he got the opportunity and got to understand what sections are like and their importance.”

Post also came on like gangbusters in her first season running hurdles. While the junior only eked into the section field through an at-large berth out of the sub-Section, Post continued to move forward – clocking in with a PR mark of 51.56 in the 300-meter hurdles to place seventh in the event. And Valdivieso-Zamora capped her experience in the United States with a ninth-place finish in the girls’ triple jump at a distance of 31 feet, 11.25 inches.

“She came up afterwards and said how much she enjoyed being part of this team and this season,” Tinklenberg said. “She said it helped her discover she could do other things she didn’t know she could do. I think that’s cool… always cool when you have foreign exchange students discover something about themselves because they don’t have an opportunity in their home country to do it. She was such a vibrant part of who we were this year, always had a smile and never complained. It was just a joy to have her on the team this spring.”

And also getting a taste of what sections offer were Arrow throwers Logan Cordell, Bentley Pater and Caleb Velde. Cordell and Pater didn’t quite meet their previous marks at the sub-Section meet, placing 13th and 16th in the boys’ shot put at 40’-4.75” and 36’-3,’ while Velde reached a distance of 108’-9.5” in the discus – placing the senior ninth at his final high school meet.

Unfortunately for sophomore hurdler/jumper Connor Wagner the injuries he sustained prior to the section meet prevented him from finishing a race. After clicking the first hurdle and … the second hurdle in the 110s, Wagner withdrew from the race and the ensuing 300-meter event.

“He has some great ability and I’ve had a lot of coaches say he’s gonna be good in the next couple years,” Tinklenberg said. “And we’re going to need him with Aiden graduating; so, he’s going to have to become the hurdler we depend on.”

The Russell-Tyler-Ruthton Knights had a few close calls Thursday, but were unable to secure any state meet berths.

Junior Tarin Bingham reached a distance of 127 feet, 4.5 inches to place third in the boys’ shot put, while classmates Logan Roelofs and Aiden Johnson placed sixth and seventh, respectively in the 3,200 and 800 meters.

On the girls’ side, freshman Taya Christiansen posted the best individual finish, clocking in with a PR time of 1:04.4 to place seventh in the 400 meters.

The Knights also had several relay teams reach the section meet, with the team of Tucker Haroldson, Ben Guida, Carson Gylling and Roelofs posting the best finish – placing seventh in the 4×800-meter event in a time of 9:01.54.

For complete results of the Section 3AA track & field championships, go