NCHS gets into track and field season

Cory Griffith
Posted 3/27/24

A preview of the 2024 Niobrara County High School outdoor track team.

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NCHS gets into track and field season


LUSK – Niobrara County High School head track and field coaches Jim Lyons and Sandra Johnson have seen a lot, but it’s pretty rare for them to have two athletes from the same class continuing their career at the next level. In addition, numbers are up and Mother Nature was much kinder to getting outside earlier compared to the last couple of seasons.

Melody ZumBrunnen signed her Letter of Intent for the University of Wyoming last fall and looks to defend her state championships in the 200 meter dash and triple jump. She was just short of a third title after finishing second in the 100m dash, and also came in fourth place in the long jump. The school record holder in the 100m, 200m and long jump looks to add the triple jump school record to her list.

“Mel is pretty focused on getting those school records again, and wants to add the triple jump too,” said 14th-year girls head coach Sandra Johnson. “We probably won’t look at any relays, so she can focus on the events and give her more opportunities to break those records.”

Phoebe Allbright and Taci Bartschi are the other two seniors and both look to finish higher at state than last season. Allbright finished third in the shot put, while Bartschi was fourth in the pole vault. However, she is currently battling a shoulder injury.

“I just can’t stress how much having Phoebe and Taci around improves everything we do,” noted Johnson. “A great group of seniors for us this year.”

Junior Gracie ZumBrunnen qualified for four events at last year’s state meet- with a fourth place finish in the 100m leading the way. She also qualified in the high jump, 400m and 800m.

“Gracie will high jump and really wants to get the school record in the 800m, and she’s looking for another event,” added Johnson. “One that we talked about is the long jump, she’s pretty talented so she’ll be successful wherever we put her.”

Kyra Willey is another junior that Johnson mentioned as one to watch throwing the shot put and discus. A handful of underclassmen will find their events and should be able to contribute as the season progresses.

Four seniors are out for the boy’s squad- led by Chadron State College recruit David West. He signed his Letter of Intent to walk on last week after setting the school record in the 800m run last season. He’s also a three time state qualifier in the pole vault and will begin working into the 1600m run.

“David’s just been such a staple of our program the past three years,” said tenth-year boys head coach Jim Lyons. “He’s decided to continue his career after high school, but I know he’s got some pretty lofty goals for this year, and we’ll start preparing him for the next level.”

Cory Bruegger’s first season since middle school turned out pretty good with fourth place finishes in the triple jump and pole vault at last year’s 2A state meet. He was also part of the fifth-place 4x100m relay team.

“He’s just a natural athlete, and qualified for state in a few different events,” added Lyons. “So we’re expecting more good things out of Cory.”

Gabe Matthews-out for the first time since his freshman campaign will be running the middle distance events. Tim Engelhardt admittedly isn’t fast, can’t jump very high or far but the exchange student is trying another new experience, and the coaches will find a few events for him to (shot?) put him in.

Nathan Miller had an All State season as a freshman with a second place finish in the high jump, and also earned fourth in the long jump. Miller was also part of the 4x100m relay team that placed fifth. His expectations are higher this season as Lyons has plans for him to run a few of the sprints as well.

Classmate Cody Himes is also looking at big improvements in the high jump and possibly mid-distance events. Isaac Assman is out for the first time, and should help Lyons’ squad. A strong freshman group will help bolster depth and both Johnson and Lyons hope the anticipated move to 1A will help them continue to increase numbers.

“Those upper echelon schools will still be tough as nails,” added Lyons. “But the pre-qualification numbers are a bit lower, so that should help us.”

“Like Jim said, we think it will help us get more kids qualified,” mentioned Johnson. “And the possibility of scoring enough points to bring home trophies should also be a benefit.”

NCHS opened their season in much better conditions than last year with a Saturday meet at Morrill, Neb. The Dennis Zowada Invitational is scheduled for April 27 at Fullmer Stadium.