PAOLA — Through the rain, Elysia Kunkler and Elka Billings shined on Friday in Paola.
With rain projected on Friday afternoon, the events at the regional track meet were moved up to 11 a.m. to beat the weather, but rain still interrupted the meet before the finals of Elysia Kunkler’s favorite event, the 100-meter hurdles.
Kunkler and her teammates returned to the bus and waited out the storm. When the meet was resumed, rain was still pouring down onto the track and meet officials were rushing to get the athletes ready to compete before the next batch of storms was scheduled to roll in.
Despite the hectic and less than ideal conditions, Kunkler was able to rise to the occasion and match her placing from the preliminary round earlier that day by posting a second-place time.
With the timing equipment malfunctioning after the rain, Kunkler will enter next weekend’s state meet in Wichita with a regional time of 15.93 — her preliminary time.
Kunkler was quickly back on the track again for the 100-meter dash to try to qualify for her third state event of the day — the only three she competed in.
“Next week will be good for her because there is more time between the races,” Iola coach Dana Daugharthy said. “She just turned around and ran, ran, ran today. More time will help her run better.”
Again Kunkler came out strong and ran a 13.09 to qualify for Wichita in fourth place.
“My goal was to make it in at least one of my events, but instead I made it in all three,” Kunkler said. “I think today was a pretty good day.”
Kunkler’s first state bid was hours before in the long jump. Although, her place it that event was looking unsure until the end.
Kunkler was in fourth place — just hanging on to her spot in the state meet — as the competitors were jumping their sixth and final attempts. Kunkler jumped a 16’1.5” to begin the competition, but had fallen short of that mark in each jump since.
Chanute senior Kyndal Frederick moved past Kunkler and into fourth with her final jump of 16’2”, edging Kunkler by half an inch and looking for a moment to have stolen her spot in Wichita.
Kunkler still had one jump left though and made the most of it by shattering her personal best with a 16’8” to not only qualify, but win the regional.
“My best jump before this was a 15’11” so I beat that by almost a full foot,” Kunkler said.
Kunkler even surprised her coach.
“I really didn’t expect her to get first in the long jump,” Daugharthy said. “Her jumping 16’8” is really good, 16’11” is the school record, so she is getting close. I am really proud of her and I just didn’t expect that.”
While Kunkler was expected to qualify for state in at least an event or two, fellow freshman Elka Billings came into the meet as an underdog, but Daugharthy was determined to give her the best chance he possibly could to run in Wichita.
“I didn’t think I had a chance” Billings said. “There are so many fast girls and they seem faster than me so I didn’t think I really had a chance.”
With Billings used to running a full slate and fresh off of running the 3200-meter run, 1600-meter run and 800-meter run in Wellsville at the Pioneer League Meet, Daugharthy and Billings put all their state hopes in one basket and entered just the 800.
The decision paid off handsomely and Billings ran her best time of the year to edge out Paola’s Maddie Olsen and finish fourth.
“On the second lap, I just tried to stay with those top three girls and I knew that I had to stay with them if I wanted to go to state,” Billings said. “I knew that if I wanted to go to state I had to stay with them, so I just went as fast as I could.”
Billings finished with a 2:35.
“I told her before the race that if she ran a 2:35, she had a shot,” Daugharthy said with a laugh. “She ran that and made it.”
Now Kunkler and Billings will both be able to measure themselves against the best the state has to offer next week.
“I really didn’t expect to go to state as a freshman, but now that I get to go I am just so excited,” Billings said.
Most of the Fillies’ events will occur on Saturday with Kunkler’s 100-meter hurdles preliminaries at 2:10 p.m., being the only Iola event on Friday’s slate.
Kunkler will open Saturday’s festivities in the 100-meter dash preliminaries at 8:30 a.m. Her finals in the 100-meter hurdles are at 9:30 a.m., and the 100-meter dash is at 12:45 p.m.
Kunkler will long jump at 3 p.m., and Billings will run her 800-meter run at 5:05 p.m.
The meet is at Wichita’s Cessna Stadium.
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