BY JIM MISUNAS
WICHITA – Great Bend distance runner Kerby Depenbusch showed the heart of a state champion.
Depenbusch achieved his goal by outkicking the field to earn his first 5A state gold medal in Friday’s 3,200 meters with a career-best time (9:25.07).
Depenbusch smartly worked from the back of the pack, saving energy for his final two laps in perfect 70-degree weather and light wind.
After starting with a 68-second lap that ranked 10th, Depenbusch executed a trio of perfectly-timed 70-second laps and added laps of 72, 73 and 74 seconds laps five through seven to move up to second place.
“I run my best when I stay back and stay out of trouble,” Depenbusch said. “I let the leaders run themselves down a little bit. I have a good enough kick that I can usually take most people at the finish.”
When he sprinted past Andover runner-up Asher Moen (9:26.57) with 400 meters left, there was no turning back, no doubt Depenbusch would seal the victory with a 1:03.5 final lap.
“Asher always surprises everyone. His brother Alex, who runs for Wichita State, beat me here last year,” Depenbusch said. “But I thought keep going – keep pushing as long as I could. It was a pretty nice race. That was my fastest race by far.”
Former Panther teammate Mason YellowWolf, a future barber, treated Depenbusch with his tradition – a state haircut. YellowWolf’s work fashioned the initials “G B” on the back of Depenbusch’s head.
“I get a haircut every year for state track,” Depenbusch said. “I let Mason do it. He’s learning – I’ll say that. Most times, people don’t notice my haircut.”
Depenbusch finished fourth in Saturday’s 5A 1,600 meters (4:26.48) as Mill Valley’s Mitchell Dervin (4:19.66) captured the gold medal.
Great Bend sprinter LoCora Bryant fought off a nagging muscle injury to place fifth (12.33) in the best 100-meter field ever assembled. Leavenworth state champion Aarika Lister (11.64) is ranked all-time in the 100 and Newton runner-up Kalli Anderson (11.85) is ranked third all-time in the 100.
The Panthers’ most impressive finish featured the 3,200-meter girls relay (9:50.73) that placed fourth. Baleigh Fry (2:24.4), Paloma Sandoval (2:28.8), Olivia Rugan (2:31.7) and McKenna Esfeld (2:25.8) helped the Panthers’ relay improve their season-best time by 14 seconds.
Panther high jumpers Camryn Dunekack (5-2) placed fourth and Jaclynn Schroeder placed seventh (5-2).
Panther pole vaulter Braxton Schooler cleared 13-0 to place third after entering with the sixth-best pole vault.
Triple jumper Candice Smith placed eighth (33-11) to earn a spot on the awards stand.
5A GREAT BEND RESULTS
100m Q—6—Bryant, GB, 12.37
100m FINAL—5—Bryant, GB, 12.33
800m—11—Esfeld, 2:29.78; 14—Fry, 2:36.4
3,200m—1—Depenbusch, 9:25.07; 14—Tomlin, 10:08.36
400m relay—14—Great Bend, 44.48 (Miller, Widiger, Ryan, Brown)
1,600m girls relay—11—Great Bend, 4:12.53 (Fry, Esfeld, Sandoval, Mills)
1,600m boys relay—12—Great Bend, 3:30.63 (Brown, C. Hammond, Widiger, Miller)
3,200m relay—14—Great Bend, 8:40.24 (C. Hammond, E. Hammond, Tomlin, Sanchez)
3,200m relay—4—Great Bend, 9:50.73 (Fry, Sandoval, Rugan, Esfeld)
High jump—4—Dunekack, 5-2; 7—Schroeder, 5-2
Long jump—16—Smith, 14-101/4
Triple jump—8—Smith, 33-11
Pole vault—3—Schooler, 13-0