Grundy Center track and field ready for NICL, 2A challenges

Tyler Venenga (left) and Brennen Sager are two of three returners from a 4x800 relay team that placed fifth in 1A at last season's state track meet. (Jake Ryder photo)
Jake Ryder
The Grundy Register

It’s a spring full of changes for Grundy Center track and field.

Like the other NICL West schools, the Spartans will compete against the former schools that were part of the NICL East (now East and Central) in an NICL Super Meet later this year.

It’s tradition for Grundy Center to see some of the West teams again in the state-qualifying meet a week later, but with the Spartans in 2A this year it’ll be a different group of familiar faces.

Competing in 2A will carry some challenges, but both the girls and boys teams are perhaps as well-equipped as any to take on this transition.

“We’re more worried about us,” Grundy Center girls coach Todd Rohler said. “It’s tough, we do have excellent track around here, but we talked about it and after that initial realization that we’re in 2A, we all realized that we’ve been competing with these girls in a lot of sports. You just have to push yourself a little harder. … It’s going to be a battle and a grind for the whole spring.”

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The Spartan girls have returning placewinners Dahlia Gardiner (6th in the shot put) and Carlie Willis (8th in the high jump) leading a balanced crew that returns eight of the nine girls that competed at the state meet last spring. Gardiner was also 12th in the long jump.

“We’re pretty well balanced,” Rohler said. “Very talented across the board. … We have 31 girls on the team this year, so we’ll be able to fill everything and at the same time don’t have to have girls run their legs off.”

Grundy Center’s girls only competed in one indoor meet this spring, the IATC Indoor State Meet in Ames. Willis was 4th in the 2A high jump and Gardiner 3rd in the 2A shot put. The Spartans also placed third in the 4x400 with the same team from last year’s state meet - Bella Dole, Laney Dole, Lucy Lebo and Ellery Luhring - and the 4x800 quartet of the Doles, Lebo and Taylor Stahl took sixth.

“I was really pleased, the girls are performing well right away,” Rohler said, “and they’re hungry for more after that success.”

The Spartan boys also bring quite a few state scorers back from a team that finished fifth in 1A last season.

Two of the more prolific returners are Dayne Zinkula and Logan Knaack, who each brought home four medals from Drake last spring. Zinkula and Knaack teamed up on a sprint medley team that placed second, a 4x100 relay that finished seventh and the 4x200 quartet that placed second. Zinkula is also the lone returner on a fifth-place distance medley team and Knaack was second in the 100.

“Logan sets the pace for our sprint group with that senior leadership for some young guys coming up that will be pretty good one day,” said Grundy boys coach Chris Conger. “Dayne this year will be asked to do more on individual races along with anchoring more.”

Conger added that he thinks Logan and Dayne might bump up to some longer races in the 400 range, while freshmen sprinters Brody Zinkula and Ryker Thoren could make a splash in the shorter sprints.

Grundy Center also returns three members of the 4x800 relay team that finished fifth at state - Brennen Sager, Tyler Venenga and Soren Cleveland; and two are back from the shuttle hurdle team that placed 12th - Connor Koch and Cooper Hoy. Ethan Sadler, who was 18th in the 3,200, is also back in the mix for the Spartans.

“We will be led by our long distance group,” Conger said. “Soren can jump to the mile, Tyler can go all the way down to 400s and Sager adds jumping ability to his repertoire. … Sadler’s had a terrific preseason, great leadership out of him, and Kaden Lynch is a name that will be very well known.”

Conger mentioned Brayden Sawyer in the discus and Patrick Brown III in the high jump and discus as names to watch in field events, as well as Tate Jirovsky in the high jump as well as the 400 hurdles.

In terms of the freshman class, Conger thinks that most boys sports will say they’re excited about the incoming freshmen.

“They won all their football games, won their basketball games, conference champ in track, very well balanced, which we love,” Conger said. “Brayden Wallis is a future star, ran 3 400s a night for the junior high team, went down to the junior high state meet and did well there.

Tiernan Vokes is a kid that was just a mature junior high kid, won everything from shot put to mile run, everything except for hurdles, so what does coach do? Put him in hurdles. … But when I see Tiernan Vokes, I see Nick Ascher. He can provide a jump, and I think he’s the type of kid that can do all three hurdle events, a lot of special kids that we’re excited about.”

The boys track program has been one of the best and most consistent in Class 1A in recent years and has won the district meet in the last three times it’s been offered, and would've been the favorite to win in 2020 before the season was canceled.

“We’re more ready than ever to make that jump to 2A,” Conger said. “We know a lot of things go through Dike-New Hartford, but we welcome that challenge. We know it’s hard to beat the Cedar Valley, and we know that if we come out of that battle we’ll put on a good show at the state meet.”


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