When Olathe South High School junior Braden Smith strolled through the infield toward the medal stand at Wichita State’s Cessna Stadium last Friday after winning the Kansas Class 6A boys shot put and again on Saturday after winning the discus, jaws involuntarily dropped.
Smith is 6 feet, 6 inches and 290 pounds — powerfully built and supremely athletic, especially for his size. He is one of the most sought-after offensive tackle recruits in the nation.
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During the Kansas state track and field championships, though, Smith was just a little brother gunning for family bragging rights.
Smith’s older sister, Megan, a sophomore at Texas Christian University, won the girls shot put titles her last two years in high school and also won the discus throw as a senior.
Braden wanted to do even better.
He started with a strong showing on the first day last Friday, winning the shot put with a mark of 57 feet, 3 1/2 inches — more than four feet longer than the put of runner-up Max Bullard, a Shawnee Mission West senior.
A day later, Braden finished off the double-gold performance by crushing the field in the discus. He launched all three throws in finals of more than 180 feet, including the winning mark of 188-0 that beat runner-up Kevin Tenny, a Blue Valley North senior, by 13 feet, 2 inches.
“It feels pretty good to win both events,” Smith said. “Now, if I do it again at state next year, I could have more golds than my sister. That’s the goal now — to top my sister.”
Neal turns out to be a natural
Competing in the event for only the fourth time in his life, Olathe East junior Caelan Neal won the Class 6A boys triple jump title by 18 inches by spanning 46 feet, 11 3/4 inches.
“It’s my first time ever doing track, so I’m pretty excited,” he said.
Each of Neal’s six jumps exceeded 46 feet and would have won the meet.
Neal started out as a long jumper, but found his triple jump niche roughly a month ago.
“I’m a decent long jumper, but I just did the triple jump because somebody got hurt and I happened to be good at it,” Neal said.
Rowden strikes gold
Olathe North junior Kai Rowden has known for a while that he possessed the talent to win the Class 6A boys high jump.
He had a shot last spring before Jonny Giess of Blue Valley Northwest started clearing 7 feet in midseason, but last Friday Rowden finally broke through.
He was the only competitor in the field to clear 6 feet, inches and one of only four in all classes en route to the big-class gold.
"My third year here, it’s nice to finally get the gold medal,” Rowden said. “I worked really hard to get here where I am right now, and this is a nice reward to know my work paid off for me in the end, but I still want to strive for higher heights.”
Cusick erases state diving demon
Blue Valley North senior Chris Cusick was the favorite to win the Class 6A diving title last winter, but he wound up second.
He wasn’t the favorite in the 6A boys pole vault last Saturday, but this time he struck gold when he overcame windy conditions to clear 14 feet, 6 inches — a mark nobody else in the field could match.
“I could have gone higher, but I’ve had some really good practices lately,” Cusick said. “I tried to keep myself calm and told myself I could win it. Plus, I wanted to redeem myself from that second place at state diving.”
Green, Caldwell also win
Olathe South sophomore Tanner Green is more of a 400-meter specialist, but Topeka senior Dukiya Tibbs beat him to the line in his best event last Saturday.
So, Green did the next best thing, out-leaning Tibbs at the finish line in the 200 meters for a stunning win by 0.01 second (one one-hundredth of a second) in 22.40 seconds in the state meet’s most hotly contested race. All seven runners — one competitor was disqualified for stepping out of his lane — finished within one second of each other.
“I thought (Tibbs) was winning, so I leaned my hardest to try to edge him out,” Green said. “It was a fun race. We got going, and you could feel everyone pushing each other.”
Shawnee Mission South senior Jake Caldwell, didn’t need a last-second lean to win the Class 5A boys 400, powering away from runner-up Ian Jones of St. James Academy down the backstretch for the gold in 48.68 seconds.
“That last 100 meters is my territory,” Caldwell said. “Most people start slowing down, but that’s where I like to pick it up and pull away.”
Meanwhile, Nebraska-bound Shawnee Mission Northwest senior Jackson Barbour capped his career with a gold-medal run in the 800 in 1 minute, 54.81 seconds — the fastest winning time in the event.
“I came really close last year and thought I could get it, but that’s been my whole goal this year — to win state and run a good time,” Barbour said. “I was able to do that, so it was awesome.”