One hurdle after another, Comets get redemption

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON - BCLUW senior Olivia Hughes, right, goes to join the group hug with her teammates after the Comet girls won the 1A shuttle hurdle relay on Saturday in the Iowa Co-Ed State Track and Field Championships at Drake Stadium. The team of Hughes, Kiersten Kruse, Payton Pekarek and Lizzie Garber are the first BCLUW girls relay team to win in 42 years.

DES MOINES — BCLUW senior Olivia Hughes was reduced to tears on Friday in the Iowa Co-Ed State Track and Field Championships after placing last in the 100-meter hurdles due to a hard fall she took midway through the race.

On Saturday Hughes had tears in her eyes again, but for the exact opposite reason.

Hughes combined with fellow Comets Kiersten Kruse, Payton Pekarek and Lizzie Garber to win the Class 1A shuttle hurdle relay on Saturday at Drake Stadium with a time of 1:07.78, only the second relay title ever for the BCLUW girls and first since BCL won the shuttle hurdle in 1977.

After all the hugs and cheers and tears with her teammates, Hughes reflected on her path to becoming a state champion.

“Falling sucks, it really sucks, but I got up and finished. That happens, I just had to move forward and today I did that,” Hughes said, a smile plastered on her face. “I just put myself in the blocks and thought, ‘I’m fine, I can do this, I have run hundreds and hundreds of hurdles, I just have to do it one more time.'”

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON - BCLUW shuttle hurdle relay runners (from left) Kiersten Kruse, Payton Pekarek, Olivia Hughes and Lizzie Garber pose for a photo following their state championship performance on Saturday at Drake Stadium in Des Moines.

The 1A girls shuttle hurdle had to be amended due to the preliminary races being rained out on Thursday night, so the Comets had to wait through five rounds of timed finals before finally getting to run their race.

In those first five heats there were quite a few missed hurdles, hit hurdles and falls, so Kruse running the leadoff leg knew all she had to do was not make a mistake.

“Right before the race, right before I was getting in my blocks, I was focusing on a nice clean race,” Kruse, who hit a hurdle in the shuttle hurdle preliminaries a year ago, said. “I felt really confident in all of my teammates and myself since I knew all I had to do was run a clean race because we were all solid all around.”

Kruse did run clean, though when she handed off to Pekarek for the second leg there was a bit of a gap between the BCLUW girls and the leaders.

“I did realize that K.K. [Kruse] was neck-and-neck or even a little behind, so once I took off I thought, ‘this is my race, just focus on me,'” Pekarek said. “I ended up catching them at the end so I felt really good about that, so then I just gave it off to Lizzie and Liv to go for it.”

Pekarek had worked out a small lead after her leg, and Hughes expanded it even more so Garber on the anchor just had to maintain. She did more than that, however, as the Comet girls took first by more than half a second over Le Mars Gehlen.

As she crossed the line, Garber launched into Pekarek’s arms, while Hughes and Kruse sprinted the length of the home stretch on the Blue Oval again to celebrate with their teammates.

“That was awesome, that was pretty amazing,” she said. “This is what we’ve been working for all year, we set this goal at the beginning of the year and we’ve been working hard towards it. That was pretty amazing to finally reach it.”

There were cheers raining down on the team from the Comet faithful in the crowd perched on top of the finish line, and there was a good cheering section in the warm-up area as well.

“We had the guys over there in the warm-up area, we were just jumping and screaming and we took off to try to go catch them but they sent about four guys to come and pull us back,” senior Jack Garber, who later won the boys 1A 110 high hurdles, said of the boys shuttle hurdle team’s excitement. “They all came over to make sure to tell me they all won a state championship before I did.”

Lizzie, Jack’s younger sister, said she will never let her brother forget that she was a state champion before him.

“It’ll be a good one to rub in his face, he’ll like that a lot,” she said with a sly smile.

The celebration was ringed with a somber lining, however, as it was the final time that Hughes would run for BCLUW.

“This was my last race, so it’s kind of sad, but it’s so insane,” she said, fighting back tears of both joy and grief. “That’s been my goal since my freshman year, we were so close and got third, and then the next couple of years we had some rough goes but, oh, it’s great.”

If this had to be her final race, Kruse said she’s happy to send out Hughes as a champ.

“She’s a really good friend of mine and it’s really sad to see her go. She’s put in so much time with this team and I am really going to miss her,” Kruse said, her voice quivering to the point of breaking. “She is a big important part of this team and I know we can continue to do this with her support.”

Class 1A — 1. (tie) Alburnett, Kee Community 36, 3. Montezuma 35, 4. Nodaway Valley 33, 5. (tie) Bedford, Central Decatur 30; 26. BCLUW 10, 39. Gladbrook-Reinbeck 5.