The Gehlen Catholic High School girls track team has prided itself on one race for the last three decades: The shuttle hurdle relay.
Gehlen Catholic will be participating in the Iowa high school girls state track shuttle hurdle relay race for the 31st consecutive year in the Class 1A portion of the race at 7:40 p.m. Thursday.
31 straight years. That’s one heck of a streak. That’s long enough to go through a generation, maybe even two.
To make the streak even more impressive, four of the five Jays (alternates included) are underclassmen.
Those five Jays are juniors Sydney Livermore and Kate Hill, sophomores Molly Roder and Tiffany Woerdehoff and senior Katelyn Langel.
The Jays are seeded third in Class 1A in the race. Their state-qualifying time is 1 minute, 8.43 seconds. Gehlen trails only Belle Plaine (1:07.96) and BCLUW (1:07.57).
Gehlen junior high coach Rick Fox trains each aspiring hurdler each year and puts them through a methodical, technical instruction so that when those junior-high athletes morph into high schoolers, there’s no further basic instruction needed.
Teaching hurdles is Fox’s passion. He’s been nurturing young state-qualifiers-to-be for over three decades. The Jays hold the 1A state record, which they sent in 2012 in 1:05.44.
And, that passion spills into the kids. The Jays — regardless of class — take those tips to become the best they can be and write their names into the history books.
“It rubs off on every girl who goes through it,” Gehlen coach Jeremy Schindler said. “It’s something that if you’re dedicated trackster, you dream of being on the shuttle hurdle relay team. They know what they’re doing is special. They’re not just satisfied with being there, they want to go down there and place high.”
Schindler is technically the head boys track coach for the Jays, but specializes in working with the boys and girls sprinters and middle distance kids. He’s coached at Gehlen for six years and he’s a perfect 6-for-6 in sending teams to the state meet in the SHR.
Schindler is one of three Jays varsity track coaches. The girls head coach is Travis Westhoff, who specializes in field events with both the boys and girls.
Schindler will admit, however, he just makes “minor” tweaks with the girls. They have the technique down.
“I don’t want to mess with it too much,” Schindler said. “Maybe it’s how they’re coming out of the blocks, maybe it’s getting a little too high over hurdles or if their arms get messy. You start to wiggle and get off-balance. We watch the arms. We watch how they’re coming out of the blocks. We make sure our exchanges are clean. I make those small, minor critiques for them to get over the hump.”
What makes the achievement just as impressive is that the Jays don’t have an all-surface track. All they have is an asphalt track.
At the beginning of the season, the Jays will practice in the gym and jump over as many as three hurdles. In the indoor season, they’ll go to as many indoor meets as possible to get the pace, rhythm down and to get over more than three hurdles.
When the weather gets nice, the Jays will either stay indoors or borrow a Siouxland track.
The Le Mars High School track (and its football stadium) is getting remodeled, so that option was out.
However, the Hinton team offered Gehlen to use its track a handful of times this season.
“They like it when we get to a real track,” Schindler said.
One of the changes that the Jays made is to hurdle less and run more on a daily basis. Schindler is a firm believer that the girls have their techniques down, so the next step is to get them in shape.
So, they shifted their focus in that direction.
“They’d stop their running workout early to go hurdle in past years, and that never made sense to me,” Schindler said. “They know how to hurdle. We need to finish the running workouts so we can make you a stronger runner.”
The goal doesn’t stop in Des Moines. The Jays believe they can win the title.
“We’re firing on all cylinders,” Schindler said. “We’re really confident right now. We’re ready to go make a run at a state title.”