Tiger thinclads prep for a Wyoming spring

Members of the Niobrara County High School track and field team includes front row, from right to left: Rachel Krein, Phoebe Allbright, Gracie ZumBrunnen, Taci Bartschi, Larkin Williams, Evelyn DesEnfants, Jazmin Ladwig, Melody ZumBrunnen, Kyra Willey, Royal Kremers and Abby Glavan. Back row: Enrique Maez, Nathan Nelson, Cody Himes, Charlie Gaukel, Jackson Smith, Cory Bruegger, David West, Nathan Miller, Kort Bannan, Cian Kimes, managers Tia Allbright and Sky Bouissey. Not pictured are Nathan Fish, Jacob Steemke and Isaac Newbury.

LUSK – A couple weeks ago the Niobrara County High School track and field season got underway, yet their days outside have been very limited. Visiting practice last week, the Tigers and Lady Tigers, along with almost 40 middle schoolers, were finally getting hurdles, jumping mats and other equipment onto Gibson Field at Fullmer Stadium.

It doesn’t matter if you’re in Saratoga, Sundance, Pavillion, Byron, Lusk or most of the other schools, Mother Nature has made getting the spring sports season going tough so far.

“We’re all in the same spot, you can’t do anything about it,” Lady Tiger head coach Sandra Johnson said. “We’ll do what we can to get the kids prepared each week.”

Despite numbers lower than most of their 2A counterparts, Tiger head coach Jim Lyons (ninth year) and Lady Tiger head coach Sandra Johnson (13th year) are excited about the potential of their young squads. Each has three returning state qualifiers along with five other letterwinners and a handful of newcomers.

Leading the way is senior Jazmin Ladwig, an All-State 100-meter hurdler in 2021, followed by a fourth-place finish last year. She also ran the 300-meter hurdles with a seventh-place finish and was part of the 4x100 relay team which took fifth at state last spring. She became the first Lady Tiger wrestler to win a medal at state last month and feels it has helped her prepare for her final season on the track.

“It’s definitely got me more in shape and has given me more confidence,” Ladwig mentioned. “I think it helped me get a little head start on this season.”

Larkin Williams is back in the throwing rings, hoping to qualify for state, and is joined by first-timer Evelyn DesEnfants.

Both agree trying multiple sports has helped them, and building friendships along the way is what drives them. They also look forward to hanging out with coach Nelson every day.

“They are all leaders, and we’ll lean on them a lot,” Johnson said. “They might have to take over a little bit more with no senior boys, but these three can handle it.”

Juniors include Phoebe Allbright, Taci Bartschi, Cory Bruegger, Kort Bannan, Rachel Krein, David West and Melody ZumBrunnen. West and ZumBrunnen have each qualified for state their first two seasons in a variety of events.

“David qualified for state twice in the pole vault already and looking to move up this year,” Lyons said. “I think he’s finding that love for track and field, and we’ll expect him in some of the running events and relays too.”

Melody ZumBrunnen was an all-state sprinter in the 100- meter dash, 200-meter dash, broke a 32-year-old school record in the long jump, placing third at state. She helped the 4x100 relay team to a fifth-place finish at state last year. To say she’s not an important piece of the Lady Tigers is an understatement.

Allbright and Bannan are experienced throwers and expected to improve their distances to place at regionals and qualify for state. Bartschi and Krein are new to the program, while Bruegger returns after three years away.

“I’m not sure how Cory will fit in right away, but he certainly has the ability to help in some jumping events, and maybe some relays,” Lyons added.

“Rachel wants to do some running events, and Taci could fit into some of the jumps once we get outside more,” Johnson said. “It’s still early so we’ll figure out how to fit them in.”

Gracie ZumBrunnen, Nathan Fish and Jackson Smith qualified for state in a combined eight events as freshmen. ZumBrunnen took third in the high jump, sixth in the 400-meter dash, seventh in the 100-meter dash and was also part of the 4x100 relay team last spring. Fish was on the 4x800 relay team who finished sixth and the 4x100 relay team who finished in seventh, while also qualifying in the pole vault. Smith was on that 4x100 relay team also and is expected to run hurdles and some jumps this season.

Seven freshmen boys and a pair of girls are out, and the coaches want to make them comfortable to understand the process.

“You usually never know what you’re going to get out of freshmen,” Lyons added. “But it’s a good group, and we want them to be at practice and have that want to compete attitude. Hopefully by the time they’re juniors and seniors, we’ll be able to expect big things from them.”

Ron Nelson and Chris Skeen return as assistants, while Tia Allbright and Sky Bouissey are managers for the season.

Following two weekends of canceled events, NCHS will try to get their season underway at Wheatland on Thursday. The annual Dennis Zowada Invitational on Gibson Field at Fullmer Stadium is scheduled for April 29.