The Best in the West Classic certainly seemed to bring out the best in Scottsbluff on Tuesday night.
In a meet that spotlighted the region’s top high school track and field athletes, the Bearcat boys shined in a number of events. Although no team scoring was kept, Scottsbluff’s output as a team stood out as the Bearcats placed first in nine of the 17 events.
“We had a great meet considering it’s been about two-plus weeks since our last meet at Broken Bow,” Scottsbluff coach Jim Barker said. “It’s pretty tough competing against your own teammates at practice every night. Everybody was hungry for a meet. I’m glad we had the meet, and I thought we really shined in a lot of areas. Overall, I thought we had a super track meet tonight.”
Indeed. The Bearcats had impressive performances both in the field and on the track. One of the team’s highlights was the effort of Matthew D. Klein, who walked away from Bearcat Stadium with three first-place medals and one runner-up medal. He was named the Most Outstanding Male Athlete of the Meet, an award sponsored by the Star-Herald and voted on by regional coaches and members of the media.
“It actually turned out way better than I thought it would,” Klein said. “After having all these meets cancelled, I wanted to finally get out there and prove something. Tonight I really gave it all I had. My whole team gave it their all, and it really paid off.”
Klein was stellar in the hurdles races, posting season-best times while claiming both the 110-meter high hurdles (14.96 seconds) and the 300 intermediate hurdles (40.22).
“I really wanted to PR this week, so it felt great being able to do that,” Klein said.
His other victory came on the 4x100 relay. He and Jake Delzer, Stetson Anderson, and Luke Worden captured the title with a time of 44.87 seconds.
Klein wrapped up his big day in the last race of the day, the 4x400 relay. He and Anderson, Tayler James, and Eric Olsen finished the race in second place in 3:34.54.
Klein was just one of a number of Bearcat athletes who excelled Tuesday. In fact, the team’s most thrilling moment came in the 4x800 relay. The Bearcat team of Ben Willis-Teff, Justin Pritchard, Matthew Barraza, and Tayler James set a meet record with a first-place time of 8:10.05. The previous record was 8:12.5, set by Scottsbluff’s foursome of Chris Graham, Johnny Selzer, Clark Diffendaffer, and Andrew Carter in 1996.
“I was really excited for our 4x800 relay. I thought they were really determined. That’s something that they really wanted to do tonight,” Barker said. “They really got after it.”
Scottsbluff’s Jon Maag was a double winner, claiming both the shot put (51-7) and the discus (152-3). The Bearcats’ other winners were Worden in the 100 (11.03), James in the 800 (2:01.81), and Barraza in the 3,200 (10:10.38).
Barker said the meet went about as well as he could have hoped for the Bearcats, especially considering bad weather has hampered the team’s practice and meet schedule recently.
“We didn’t take a step back. I thought we took off from where we were at Broken Bow. It’s like we hadn’t skipped a beat,” he said. “We had some really good performances. I think we’re right on schedule to do bigger and better things. The weather today wasn’t the most ideal, but our kids got after it – both on the boys’ side and the girls’ side. So, we’re really pleased with how things went.”
Barker said it helped his team being able to start the meet so strongly, including Maag’s success in the throws and then the Bearcats’ record-setting performance in the first running event of the meet, the 4x800 relay. He recently stressed to his team that “how we start a meet kind of dictates and determines how things are going to go that day.”
“I said, ‘We really need to start off with a bang in the field events and also the relay,’” he said. “The kids pick up on that, and they want to keep doing well as the meet progresses. Things never really tapered. We just kept doing this and that. Every event we were in, it was very solid.”
The Gering boys celebrated three victories, including another impressive performance in the 4x400 relay. The squad of Dillon DeMott, Aaron Pierce, Austin Dolberg, and Ryan Schwartzkopf placed first with a time of 3:30.45.
Schwartzkopf added a win in the 400 when he crossed the finish line in 51.10 seconds. Zac Bibb also took home a first-place medal after soaring 6 feet, 4 inches in the high jump.
Other winners in the boys’ meet included Minatare’s Andres Mendoza in the 200 (22.99); Bridgeport’s Cody Franklin in the 1,600 (4:39.95) and Jaime Gonzales in the long jump (21-4 ½); Alliance’s Nick Smith in the pole vault (13-0); and Mitchell’s Adam Schlotthauer in the triple jump (41-10 ½).