BEMIDJI - A year ago the Bemidji 4x800 relay team of Jake Urban, Isak Sommer, John Buckanaga and Alex Schoneberger captured the state title with a time of 7:49.15.
All four members of that unit graduated and this spring few who follow high school track expected Bemidji to duplicate that result.
BHS junior Elias Hendrickson, however, was not counted among that group.
"I was an alternate on last year's 4x800 team so I watched them run and I gained valuable experience," he said. "Being at state gave me the motivation to train hard in the offseason so we could get back to state."
That motivation and that training paid dividends this spring as Hendrickson and his 4x800 teammates Scott Hulsebus, Gunnar Nelson and Sam Carlson finished second at last week's Section 8-3A competition and earned a trip to the state track and field meet. The foursome will hit the track at Hamline University 9:25 a.m. Saturday and BHS has been placed in the slower of the two championship heats which was reserved for the section runner-up teams.
Hendrickson anchors Bemidji's relay team and, because there are two heats, the Lumberjacks could fall short of their goal even if they win their heat.
"Even if we are out front of our heat we need to give all the marbles and finish strong," Hendrickson said. "This is a race that will be determined by time (and not necessarily placement) so I will have to finish as hard as I can."
Helping the Jacks establish a lead will be Hulsebus' job as he will handle the first leg.
"I try to maintain the pace in the first lap and then try to open a lead on the second lap," the senior said. "This is a brand new team from last year and I think we can do the job and be the state champion again.
"We're only five seconds off the fastest team in the state meet and that isn't much time," Hulsebus continued. "Our goal is to give the top team a run for the money and I'm sure we can do that."
As the second man in the relay, Nelson's assignment is to maintain position and the keys to doing that are running under control and paying attention to detail.
"The 800 is the hardest race to run," the sophomore said. "The secret is to go out hard but to stay relaxed. You also have to hold your form at the end because that will make or break your run."
Carlson handles the third leg and he is the lone member of the relay team who has participated at a state competition. During the fall the sophomore qualified for the state cross country meet where he placed 44th.
"The 5-kilometer and the 800 are two completely different animals but being at state in cross country will help me deal with the nerves," Carlson said.
"As the third my job is to make sure we have enough of a lead so that when I give the baton to our anchor he is in a good position to win the race."
Chanhassen will be the favorite to win the race as it posted a 7:55.74 time in its section meet. Prior Lake ranks second in Saturday's seedings at 7:57.21 while Wayzata is third with 7:57.35.
Bemidji's other state meet representative in the boys division will be Brady Schmidt who placed second in the 100 at the Section 8-3A meet with a time of 11.50. He will begin his quest for a state title 10:14 a.m. Friday. If he makes the finals Schmidt will return to the track 10:15 a.m. Saturday.
"I'll have to do much better than 11.50 to stay with the leaders at state," Schmidt admitted. "I had a bad start but caught the kid (Matt Huberty of Sauk Rapids) at the end and made it.
"My personal best is 11.19 and that would put me in with most of the runners at state. And maybe that would get me to the second day," he added.
Placing in the top nine and advancing to Saturday's final was a distant possibility earlier this spring but during the year Schmidt made a concerted effort to qualify for the state meet.
"This year I was mad that I didn't qualify for the Hamline Elite meet but I went just to watch," Schmidt said. "After watching I re-focused on getting to state. I buckled down and started to work harder."
How Schmidt will fare at the state remains to be seen but the junior plans to leave everything on the track and go from there.
"My goal is to run fast and have fun," he said. "I've already made it to state and whatever happens, happens."