Two state champs.
Two opposite reactions.
Fort Calhoun senior Taya Skelton couldn't help but smile as she crossed the finish line Friday, while Zack Marshall's expression never changed Saturday during the NSAA State Track and Field Championships at Omaha Burke Stadium.
“I'm happy, I'm just breathing hard,” Marshall clarified, finally grinning.
Both of the Pioneers' families celebrated their 2019 graduates' state championship wins, rushing to the trackside chainlink fence to meet their champions.
“Obviously, its a goal for everyone to win state track,” Skelton said. “Hugging them made it feel really real.”
During her high school athletics career, the future Nebraska Cornhusker runner had accomplished everything but a track and field gold medal. In fact, she'd never finished higher than fifth in the 3,200-meter run before Friday.
So, with her father recording the race from up high on a hill and her mother pacing at the bottom of the grandstand, Skelton accomplished her goal. With one lap to go, the three-time cross-country state champ let loose, winning the Class B 2-mile title in 11:57.2 — a little more than 6 seconds ahead of her fourth-place teammate, Avery McKennan.
“It was definitely very amazing knowing Avery was close behind me,” said Skelton, who also finished fourth in the 1,600 run. “I love having her medal. That's really exciting, too.”
But the 3,200 was about accomplishing her own goals. After a disappointing close to her high school cross-country career, the senior Pioneer set out to win on the track.
“I've done a lot to get here,” Skelton said. “I had surgery after cross-country and months of physical therapy, so it just feels really good to find that love for running again and to be able to do it comfortably without being in pain. It feels really good to run fast without, like, dying.”
She didn't die, she thrived, executing her plan to stick with the crowd until the final lap to perfection.
“It kind of worked out perfectly for me because I felt pretty comfortable those first seven laps,” Skelton said. “That last 400 just felt amazing.”
All 200 meters of Marshall's state championship run felt that way, especially with how he started.
“I'm terrible out of the blocks, but I think I got it that time,” he said.
The sprinter led from the beginning of the Class B 200, winning it in 22.09 seconds — 0.14 better than second-place Davon Brees of Seward.
After finishing fifth in the 100 dash earlier in the day, Marshall was able to reel-in everything on his mind and focus 100-percent on capturing a gold medal.
“Everything was going through my head,” he said. “But once I got into the blocks, I was just so focused on just going. Nothing else. Just running.”
The end result was Fort Calhoun's second state championship of the 2019 state meet — and Marshall's first in his very last race as a high school athlete.
“It's something you dream about, honestly,” the champ said. “And, then, finally you're here at state and you're like, 'It's possible.'”
Every Pioneer finds success
Marshall and Skelton picked up the big wins at the NSAA Championships, but three more qualified seniors helped push Fort Calhoun to finish ninth in the boys and 12th in the girls standings.
All three of those three — Ben and Jacob Haggar, and McKennan — medaled. McKennan earned her fourth-place finish in the 3,200-meter run with a 12:03.53 time, while Jacob Haggar was fourth in the 400.
“I didn't really expect to get fourth,” he said. “I just went out strong and tried to maintain it.”
Ben, who also finished eighth in the 200, was third in the 400 with a time of 50.6 seconds.
“I don't really know what to expect,” he said in regards to his brother's fourth-place finish. “He has his days.”
Both Haggars were proud of the accomplishment, lauding their opposition in the race.
“It's really competitive this year,” Jacob said.
The 400-meter Unified relay was also competitive for Pioneers Adam Bannister, Kameron Pringle, Dillon Dierks and Kyle Deyen. The squad finished their lap around the track in 1:01 Friday afternoon.