Taking a closer look: Numbers don't matterAlready this year Pepin decided to co-op with Alma in football, boys basketball and girls basketball, yet another Lakers sport with dwindling participation and disadvantageous facilities has found success as an independent program.
By: Ryan Nilsson, The Republican Eagle
Already this year Pepin decided to co-op with Alma in football, boys basketball and girls basketball, yet another Lakers sport with dwindling participation and disadvantageous facilities has found success as an independent program.
The Pepin track and field team, which is comprised of six boys and seven girls, placed first in once event and set five personal records at Tuesday's Dunn-St. Croix Conference meet, according to athletic director and assistant coach Greg Ketz.
The boys finished ninth with 13 points and the girls took eighth with 37 points at the nine-team meet, but that wasn't a point of emphasis.
"We take a lot of pride in certain players who score a lot of points, but as far as worrying about who won the meet, it doesn't even enter our mind," Ketz said.
He added: "We had several personal records and that was more exciting than anything."
The Lakers also place a premium on individual success at the conference meet because of their facilities: Pepin does not have a track.
The team's throwers practice without a ring on the two tennis courts behind the school gym using rubber discuses.
The four members of the girls 4x100-meter relay team (the school's lone relay team) work on handoffs in the long narrow parking lot behind the tennis courts. It's 100 meters from the stop sign at the corner of Sixth and Pine streets to the strip of faded white paint near the entrance to the baseball field.
The runways for the triple jump/long jump and pole vault are located on the blacktop play space behind the school. A large, color map of the United States is painted next to the runways. There also are four-square grids painted on the ground nearby.
"This is just what we've always had and always done," coach John Gayan said. "We stress a lot when we go to meets, all the way up until our meet that was yesterday, the conference meet, everything that we do up to there is practice. You're getting on a track, you get to run on a track. It's practice."
The absence of a track doesn't phase the Lakers.
"I've never had a track before so I guess for us it's just, whatever," said junior Hannah Norwick, who placed first in the long jump at the Dunn-St. Croix meet.
Combining with Alma wouldn't solve the facilities problem, because it doesn't have a track either.
Yet there has been talk of a co-op program because of the participation numbers, Ketz said. There's a chance even fewer Pepin students will sign up for track next year. Of the 13 athletes on this year's team, there are five seniors and two freshmen.
Gayan said that there are advantages to having a small program.
"It's real easy to keep track of everybody," he said. "Your thumb is always on what's going on, from something personal that might be bugging them to physical things, muscle pulls and strains."
The limited numbers also mean that the team members form strong bonds and pull for one another.
"We're all cheering for each other, everyone's just a lot more confident, I think, knowing that their teammates are there for them," Norwick said. "I think for me it's a real confidence booster out there running or jumping and having my teammates on the sidelines cheering for me."
A decision about combining with Alma has not been made and Ketz said it's an issue that might be examined more in the fall.
• Cannon Falls senior Kyle Blakeslee set meet records at the Hiawatha Valley League Conference championship in both the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs.
Her times at the May 11 conference meet also were personal and school records.
In the 1,600 she finished in 5 minutes, 11.38 seconds and shaved .36 seconds off the meet record. Her time of 11:09.7 in the 3,200 was 7.4 seconds faster than the previous meet record.
Blakeslee set another school record Friday at Triton as a member of the 4x800 relay team. Blakeslee and her sophomore sister, Jordan, along with freshman Sveta Mason and seventh-grader Kaia Bierman, posted a time of 10:15.52.
Blakeslee is back in action at the Section 1A Tournament, which begins Tuesday in Lake City. She advanced out of subsection 4 in both the 1,600 (5:17.29) and 3,200 (12:07.03).
Athlete of the week
Luke Johnson, Red Wing sophomore
Johnson set a Missota Conference meet record in the discus with a toss of 164 feet, 10 1/2 inches Tuesday to capture the title.
The performance was nothing new for the sophomore. He won the discus at the True Team Section 1AA meet on May 6 with a toss of 173-2.
The conference meet will conclude today at Prior Lake High School. Johnson will be competing in the shot put.
Meet to watch
Section 1A meet; Tuesday, May 28; Lake City High School
The Tigers will play host to the two-day, small-school section meet. Cannon Falls, Kenyon-Wanamingo, Lake City and Zumbrota-Mazeppa are all in Section 1A.
The state tournament is the following weekend, June 5 and 6, at Hamline University in St. Paul.