CHANUTE — The Iola Fillies have an incredibly young track and field team this season, but with that youth comes an equally incredible bright future.
Elysia Kunkler headlines a group of six freshmen who are looking to take the program to the next level over the next couple of years.
“It was pretty exciting because my first practice, I came in and they had like four girls last year and (our class) doubled the size,” Kunkler said. “We were all really excited that we could bring in a lot more people to the track team and I think we will be able to break some more records by the time we are seniors.”
Kunkler’s immense talents were on full-display at Friday’s Thad Clements Invitational in Chanute.
The highlight of the day came in Kunkler’s signature race, the 100-meter hurdles, when she finished second. The only runner to top the freshman was last year’s 5A state champion Taylor Muff from Pittsburg, who ran a 14.83.
Kunkler — who broke the school-record in the event earlier this season — ran a 16.4. Muff and Kunkler were both well ahead of the rest of the pack, led by Chanute’s Jayci Vietti, who took third.
“She is progressing the way she needs to,” Iola coach Dana Daugharthy said. “She is setting herself up for that state run.”
Kunkler says the key to running her best times in to get her three-step technique more consistent.
“At Burlington on Tuesday, the hurdles seemed really far, I don’t know why, because they obviously weren’t, but I was also hurting, so I four-stepped,” Kunkler said. “I think I am getting really close to getting it down. It is just muscle-memory and I am getting there.”
Kunkler also took third in both the 100-meter dash (12.91) and the 300-meter hurdles (51.94). She opened the day with a fourth-place 15’11” jump in the long jump. Both marks were personal-bests for the young Filly.
“I am going to try to make it in all four events,” Kunkler said about her hopes for the state meet. “My goal, for sure, is to make it in the 100-meter hurdles. I’d be very happy if I made it in all four events, but (the 100-meter hurdles) is my race.”
All together, Kunkler accounted for 24 team-points for the Fillies, who finished fourth with 35 points as a team.
Kunkler’s points alone were more than Coffeyville (23.3), Fort Scott (23), Labette County (17.3) or Frontenac (16) scored as a team.
The other primary point-getter for the Fillies on Friday was another top freshman, Elka Billings.
Billings placed third in the 800-meter run (2:38.78) and fifth in the 1600-meter run (6:03.69).
“She has just really progressed this year and next week, I think she has a really good chance of medaling at the league meet. That would be a really good accomplishment for a freshman.”
Billings has been running with the Mustang runners in practice and Kunkler thinks that helps her improve.
“I think her running with the boys makes her stronger,” Kunkler said. “She can keep up with them now and that competition makes her better.”
With Kunkler serving as the leader for future Fillies’ sprinters and Billings being the same example-setter for the distance runners, it is easy to see why Daugharthy is so excited about this class which also features Ella Taylor, Christine Helman, Sierra Petty and Melany Dean.
“I think with athletes like Elysia and Elka leading the way, it will get more girls to come out,” Daugharthy said. “It is going to be something they will want to be a part of.”
The Mustangs are also a very young group this season, but there isn’t any question who the captain of the team is with senior Chase Regehr.
“He has been our leader the past two years,” Daugharthy said.
Regehr took fifth on Friday in the 800-meter run with a 2:12.06.
“Overall, I don’t think I did very well today compared to my other times,” Regehr said. “But this is also the first time we’ve had two meets in one week and that really took us out of it, they were two long and competitive meets, so I knew if I could place here, it would be good. My times could have been better, but I’ll save them for next week.”
Regehr is focusing on the Pioneer League Meet this Thursday, where he hopes to recapture the title in the event.
“I’m excited, but I’m also nervous, I see the light at the end of the tunnel as my sports career winds down,” Regehr said. “Obviously, I want to go out with a bang at league.”
The senior was also a part of the 4×800-meter relay team, which finished fourth by running a 9:08.82.
“Bryce Andres ran a 2:19, which is his best split of the year,” Daugharthy said.
Junior Kanyon Beasley had the top finish of the day for the Mustangs by taking third in the javelin with a throw of 139’8”.
“Kanyon set his personal-best by over six-feet,” Daugharthy said. “His progression has been really nice.”
Freshman Dan Foust finished fifth in the 300-meter hurdles with a 43.68.
The Pioneer League Meet is Thursday in Wellsville.
Today, the team will host its junior varsity meet beginning at 3:30 p.m., at Riverside Park.