The Blair High School boys finished fifth May 2 during the Eastern Midlands Conference meet.
Sixteen days later, Ethan Baessler and Nolan Slominski combined for three gold medals and a couple records, leading the Bears to a Class B runner-up finish at the NSAA State Track & Field Championships in Omaha. Baessler scored the go-ahead team points behind state champion Waverly individually before coach Bryan Soukup's 1,600-meter relay lineup clinched the second-place trophy.
“Nobody expected it,” said senior Ted Lueders, a relay runner. “I wasn't aware that it was possible.”
With only the 1971 BHS girls earning an NSAA track title, the 2023 boys tied the runner-up feat of the 2010 Blair boys by finishing four points ahead of third-place Elkhorn North. Baessler and Slominski were the predominate reasons why.
The senior Bear, Slominski, claimed his school's first gold medal of the two-day state meet during the 800-meter run finals. He said it was “100%” the race of his life.
The three-sport athlete made his kick to the finish line early on during the second lap and didn't stop until he'd won by 2.16 seconds. He set the school-record time of 1:54.85, besting Connor Gibson, who set the previous top mark during the Bears' last runner-up season — 2010.
“I had to,” Slominski said. “I've been thinking about it ever since I hurt my knee and had surgery.”
The runner lost his senior year of cross-country to an offseason, summer injury before returning in time for basketball and track.
“I just had to (win),” he said. “It wasn't an option to lose.”
Slominksi celebrated his win briefly at the finish line before, exhausted, he lay down in the grass next to the track, resting his head against the chainlink fence at Omaha Burke Stadium. After a few minutes, his older brother Evan jumped the fence and helped him to the side with a medical official.
Once he'd settled, Slominski said he remembered watching Evan compete at state before he was old enough to have the opportunity to.
“I've always looked up to him,” he said. “Trying to do what he does.”
The recent graduate will follow in his brother's footsteps and compete at Dakota State next school year, but he had to win a state championship race first.
“It means everything,” Slominski said. “It was kind of my dream.”
Baessler, meanwhile, started his high school career as a junior varsity baseball player.
“Reserves and JV baseball,” the junior said Thursday, cracking a smile.
Now, at the end of his second prep track season, the sprinter is a two-time gold medalist. His 10.53-second win in the 100-meter dash set a new Class B state and meet record.
Baessler's 21.6-second win in the 200 broke his own school record, too.
“Hard work. Training,” he said, listing what led to his championship meet. “Taking care of myself.”
The junior said his parents, coaches and teammates deserve credit for their supporting. One teammate, fellow state-medalist sprinter Reese Beemer, joined in Baessler's celebration after his first win.
“He deserves this,” she said.
Baessler and Slominski didn't just contribute to the Bears' runner-up status individually, though. They also contributed to BHS' three relay medals. Slominski's 3,200 team with Zac Keeling, Lueders and Caleb Funk earned a silver medal first, crossing the finish line in 7:57.39.
The 400 relay team of Keeling, Baessler, Colin McCabe and Ben Holcomb then added an eighth-place finish in 43.73 before the 1,600 relay lineup outraced Elkhorn North and secured Blair's finish behind the champion Vikings. Funk, Slominski, Lueders and Baessler ran that race — the last of the Class B meet — in 3:23.67 for another silver medal.
“I gave it all knowing the team score could change because of this race, and it was important,” Funk said. “That's what was on my mind.”
The fifth-place team in the EMC earned second in the state as a result.
Bears claim more medals, too
While the Blair boys earned second, the BHS girls took 17th out 39 scoring teams in Class B. Norris and Bennington claimed first and second, but Beemer and Greta Galbraith made sure the Bears were represented in the top-half of the standings.
Galbraith, a junior, earned the top finish, claiming third in the pole vault. She cleared a bar set at 11 feet, which broke her previous personal best by a foot.
“I knew coming in I needed to get 10-6 to medal, so 11 is just even better,” Galbraith said.
A two-time state qualifier, the Bear hopes for further improvement going into her senior year. She plans to attend summer camps this offseason to reach new heights.
“Hopefully 12 (feet), 12-6,” Galbraith said. “Shoot high.”
Competing in her first state meet since a serious injury cost her the 2022 season, Beemer picked up a pair of medals Thursday at Omaha Burke Stadium. The school-record-holding sprinter was sixth in the 100-meter dash in 12.44 seconds before claiming seventh in the 200 with a time of 26.33.
Blair's Cooper Sorensen, Lincoln Kruse, Atticus Dick and Riley Yanak sprinted during the state championship meet, too, earning third together in the Unified 400-meter relay. Their time was 52.8 seconds.
Jaden Rogge and Cornez Tucker combined for a Unified medal as well, securing their's with a third-place finish in the shot put. Their best throws covered 34-9 and 33-11, respectively.
Bears Schuyler Roewert, Dawson Fricke, Braden McGill, Chase Cottle, Hailey Amandus, Reece Ewoldt, Jade Wickwire and Kate Wulf qualified and competed at the two-day state meet, too, but finished shy of spots on the podium.