BY BRETT MARSHALL
Great Bend’s triple-event champion Kaiden Esfeld and Hays High’s jumper Reanna Greene earned Western Athletic Conferece Male and Female Track Athletes of the Year by WAC coaches.
Great Bend girls coach Lyles Lashley and Hays High’s boys coach Tony Crough earned Coach of the Year honors.
Esfeld swept the WAC 800 meters (2:06.4), 1,600 meters (4:51.39) and 3,200 meters (10:27.84).
Greene won the WAC long jump (17-11) and triple jump (36-0). She placed third in the 200 (27.58) and competed on the runner-up 400-meter relay (51.15).
Two weeks later at 5A state track, Esfeld placed fifth in the 3,200 (9:38.73), eighth in the 1,600 (4:30.72) and 11th in the 800 (2:01.74). Greene placed third in the long jump (16-1011/2) and fifth in the triple jump (36-03/4)
Great Bend’s Esfeld said his first venture into high school running had proved to meet, perhaps even exceed, his expectations.
“It’s been a really good year,” Esfeld said, harking back to the 2020 fall cross country season when he won the WAC championship to earn that sport’s Runner of the Year award. “The transition from the distance training to track takes time getting used to it. It takes all the months in between the season after taking two weeks off after cross country.”
When asked which sport he prefers, he confidently says the spring track season where he runs the 800, 1600 and 3200, calling the 800 more of a dash and the other two the runs that describe the approximate one and two-mile distances.
“The 800 is faster and it gives me an adrenaline rush,” said Esfeld. “The longer races, you see different runners at the middle points of races, and you have to stay focused on what your race is actually like.”
Of the three, Esfeld said he likes the 3,200-meters the best.
“It’s usually the one I perform best,” he said. “I can get in position to finish good and use the speed that I get from working on the 800. It’s not a lot of fun to run eight laps and stay focused on your times for each of those.”
During most of the regular season track meets, Esfeld runs the races in order of the 1,600, 800 and then the 3,200 just before the final relay of the day.
At the state meet, the events are reversed — the 3,200 coming early then allowing for more recovery time, the 1,600 is still second and finishes off with the 800.
“I like it more that way,” he said. “You get the 3200 out of the way and can focus on the two shorter races much easier.”
Esfeld said his success this year has given him a greater appreciation for the mentor he had when he was in middle school — Kansas State runner Kerby Depenbusch.
“He was the one that was having all the success with the distance races when I first started running,” Esfeld said. “I wanted to be able to do some of the things he had done, so this is one of the rewards.”
Esfeld said he hopes that his next two years of high school running will allow him to inspire younger runners, too, become the new mentor to that next generation of Panther runners.
“Some day in the future, I hope somebody will say, ‘This kid can do that, too.’ He (Depenbusch) has been a great help to me.”
There are days, Esfeld said, that the training regimen is so tough that he wonders how he gets through those many miles.
“Winning WAC in the three events just reinforces that all the hard work is paying off,” Esfeld said. “Those days of asking ‘will this ever help?’ is now allowing me to get what I wanted. I didn’t get to run my freshman year (track) and I’ve gotten a lot better with the mental approach and my running form.”
Remaining calm and relaxed is something that Esfeld says he continues to work to improve.
“The mentality of running is one of the biggest challenges,” he said. “I like that I can run three different events because it provides some variety and keeps things interesting.”
When she was in the seventh grade, and beginning her first week of track and field practices, Reanna Greene wanted to take on the pole vault event, one in which an athlete plants a pole into a box, throws themselves into the air, makes a turn of the body and goes over a bar, with the hopes of clearing and then landing in a soft pit below.
That lasted all of one week for the recently graduated Hays High track standout.
“My coach gave me just that one week to try it out and then told me that he thought I should be doing the triple jump,” said Greene, who was voted the WAC’s Female Track Athlete of the Year by the league’s coaches after claiming victories in her two jump specialties – the triple and long jump.
Even entering her senior season, Greene had dreams of competing in another jump – the high jump – but once again her varsity coach insisted she do the events where she was the best, not the ones where she liked the most. It’s a funny story, she insisted.
“I knew it was a losing proposition and that coach would win,” Greene said with a laugh during a telephone interview. “Don’t tell him, though. I still wanted to high jump.”
But as she focused on her two events, Greene soared to new heights in her senior season, one that she has been most thankful and grateful to experience.
“When we found out that we weren’t going to be able to have a track season (2020 COVID-19 pandemic), a piece of me was missing,” Greene said. “Track has always been my favorite sport. I don’t think you realize what you’re missing until you don’t have it.”
Instead of doing nothing last spring, and even into the summer months, the self-motivated Greene headed to the track almost daily to do individual workouts. Taking some of the fundamentals of the sport that she had worked on for so many years, she practiced, practiced and practiced more.
“It just felt really good to do something positive,” Greene said. “I knew that I would be more happy doing that than doing nothing. There was a lot of individual work, no summer camps or meets to compete in.”
At this year’s WAC Championship in Liberal, that work paid off in dividends as she won the triple jump with a leap of 36-0 and the long jump with a mark of 17-11. She ran a leg of the Hays High’s runner-up 400-meter relay team. She also took third in the 200-meters to help provide points for her team.
The individuality of the sport is not lost on Greene, who says if she doesn’t have a good day, it’s all on her to improve and work to be better. If she has a good day, then it’s one to feel good about and know the hard work has paid off.
“There’s nobody to blame if you have a bad meet,” she said. “And if you have a good meet, guess what? It’s you that accomplished it.”
Greene said the day of the WAC Championship, she and one of her teammates were standing on the field watching as the Hays High boys team was being awarded its trophy for winning. Then, without giving it any thought, the public address announcer was commenting about the Track Athlete of the Year awards.
“We heard my name being announced, and I just thought, ‘oh my gosh, it’s me!’ I was in shock,” Greene said. “I was frozen on the field. There were many other great athletes that I just didn’t think I would be chosen. It never was anything I thought about ahead of time.”
For Greene, the award capped off a year that she wasn’t even sure would happen when she thought back to the 2020 abandoned season.
“I just didn’t know how it would work out,” she said. “But it was a great ending to an already good day and a good year.”
Just before the busy month of May hit, Greene signed a letter-of-intent to attend Cloud County Community College in Concordia where she plans to compete in track next year. She thinks she might be able to expand her events from the two jumps into becoming a multi-athlete.
“It’s like a dream come true because since I was in fifth grade, my mom and I have always talked about the chance to compete in college,” Greene said. “I played volleyball my freshman season and basketball all four years, but track has always been the main sport for me.”
Academically, Greene hopes to eventually go to law school to pursue that profession.
“For someone who used to say she didn’t like school, I guess I’m choosing one that requires a lot of school,” Green said with a laugh. “I began to like the legal stuff when I started watching Criminal Minds and Forensic Files. It just seems like I’m really interested in that kind of stuff.”
WAC GIRLS FIRST TEAM
GREAT BEND—Taryn Warren, discus, shot put; Mersadie Spray, high jump; Emilia Diaz, 3,200m; 1,600m relay (Eliana Beckham, Mersadie Spray, Emma Loomis, Daizy Gomez); 3,200m relay (Beckham, Olivia Rugan, Hannah Loomis, Emma Loomis)
GARDEN CITY—Hannah Phipps, 100m, 200m; Allie Strandmark, 800, 1,600m; McKenna Jagels, pole vault
HAYS HIGH—Reanna Greene, long jump, triple jump
DODGE CITY—Hadley Williams, 100m hurdles, 300m hurdles; Alex Gere, 400m; Kisa Unruh, javelin; 400m relay (Williams, Gere, Unruh, Kya Edwards)
ATHLETE OF YEAR—Reanna Greene, Hays
COACH OF YEAR—Lyles Lashley, Great Bend
WAC BOYS FIRST TEAM
HAYS HIGH—Trey Adams, discus, shot put; Jaren Kanak, 100m, long jump; Nate Brooks, javelin; Jordan Dale, high jump; Tucker Veach, pole vault
LIBERAL—Malcolm Wiltshire, 300m hurdles; Erich Ortiz, 400m; 400m relay—Easton Zapien, Ortiz, Darius Archuleta, Daniel Amparan; 1,600m relay—Amparan, Alex Lopez, Archuleta, A.J. Ramirez; 3,200m relay—Lopez, Edwin Murillo, Archuleta, Ramirez
GREAT BEND—Kaiden Esfeld, 800m, 1,600m, 3,200m; Oliver Dominguez, triple jump
GARDEN CITY—Brandon Springston, 110m hurdles
DODGE CITY—Vincent Ortiz, 200m
ATHLETE OF YEAR—Kaiden Esfeld, Great Bend
COACH OF YEAR—Tony Crough, Hays