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Mears, Grooters double state champs

Ellie Grooters will have to move over, because there's another double state track champion in town now that the Packer girls have returned from last weekend's state meet in Bismarck where they finished fifth.

Eighth-grade long distance running talent Alissa Mears joined the sophomore with a pair of state titles in the 1600 and 3200, while Grooters repeated as state champion in the 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles.

Mears said she wasn't expecting to beat Minot senior Melanie Funke in the 1600 last Friday during the first day of state competition.

"Honestly, I can say that I didn't think I had a chance in the one-mile, because I ran against her earlier this season and she beat me," said Mears. "It was really shocking (after I won). The smile on my face, as my mom said, was priceless."

One of the state's elite cross country runners, Mears has also experienced plenty of success in track since her varsity debut last season - just not to this level.

"It was a little surprising that she won the 1600, because everyone was thinking the 3200 would be her best chance," said West Fargo head coach Darin McKinnon.

Mears was coached primarily by long distance coach Darren Boehm, while Jim Jonas serves as Grooters' hurdles coach.

Grooters said she felt the pressure of expectations after a season where she dominated her competition and had many of the top times in the state in the two hurdles events. Last season she was a contender heading into state when she won her state titles; this year she was clearly the favorite.

"It was more nerve-racking this year going into it because you know they expect you to do well," said Grooters. "And if you don't do well, everyone acts like, 'What happened? You always hope to win, but you never expect or take for granted that you win."

Grooters had her share of difficulties repeating as state champ in the 300 hurdles. She nearly fell after making contact with the fifth hurdle after going over with her right leg as lead.

"Usually I go over with my left leg, but that time my steps were messed up. I had to stutter (step) the whole race," she said.

Grooters also took third in the 200 and fourth in the 100.

Sophomore April Andersson, a transfer student from Ohio this year, took second in the pole vault with a vault of 10-6. She was also a member of the 800 relay team that took eighth place.

The girls' 3200 relay took sixth place, while the 1600 relay was seventh.

Sarah Denne, a sprint star last season, wrapped up her injury-plagued junior year by anchoring the 400 relay, which took ninth.

"Just seeing her competing, and running and not being injured was a good way to leave Bismarck," said McKinnon.

The Packers graduate one state placer - senior Cassandra Sayler of the 3200 relay team, who will run next season at Minot State University.

Mammenga takes 3rd

The boys were led by top placer Cody Mammenga, who was third in the shot put with a personal record of 54-9. The junior's efforts led the Packers to a 12th place finish among 17 schools. The Packers were 18 points away from sixth place in the tight field.

The Packers scored points in the 800 and 1600 relays. The West Fargo 3200 relay team took fourth place with sophomores Spencer Uetz and Jamison Gehrig and seniors Lane Nelson and Travis Stadum. Gehrig was eighth in the 3200.

McKinnon said he was impressed by junior Luke Solum, who placed in three events (sixth in the long jump, sixth in the 1600 relay and seventh in the 800 relay).

"When you're walking out of the state meet with three plaques, it doesn't matter what place they are. It says how good of a meet you had. There's good competition there."

Shane Hillen became the only freshman to qualify for state in the 400 and took 11th. Junior Billy Kuehn finished just ahead in 10th. Both were members of the 800 and 1600 relays, along with Solum. Sophomore Justin Gibson anchored the 800 relay, while senior Steven Hay ran the third leg of the 1600 relay.

"I thought that everyone competed well, above what I expected," said McKinnon. "It was a lot of fun to watch."

Senior Tyler Lund qualified for the state meet at the last possible moment - EDC - and ended up vaulting a personal record 12-9 in taking seventh place at state. He said he ended up adjusting to using a bigger pole prior to EDC.

"When you get faster on the track you end up getting a longer pole to vault with. I got more confidence," said Lund. "It's kind of scary to vault, but as you get better at it, you end up getting more comfortable."

Lund is one of four state placers who graduate next month