When Kerri Morris first started as Calvary Lutheran's track and field coach, she had to roam the hallways after school and recruit students to come out for the team.
That's no longer necessary, she can let the results do the talking for her.
After sweeping the boys and girls titles in the CCAA conference and then winning the Class 1 District 5 team championships, Calvary Lutheran is ready to see what it can do next in what has been a breakthrough season for its track program. The Lions qualified 12 athletes for 11 events in the Class 1 state track and field championships, which will be held today and Saturday at Adkins Stadium.
"Now we've got a lot more kids out," Morris said. "We're filling spots, they're enthusiastic. These kids are the best poster children for getting people out here. They're talking to classmates, explaining how much fun track is and how everybody can find a spot."
Morris said her team set big goals heading into the season, wanting to win conference and finish in the top-5 at districts. Not only did the Lions and Lady Lions exceed their goals at districts May 5, but they did so in convincing fashion.
The Calvary girls scored 125 points, finishing 29 points ahead of the second-place team. The boys were even more dominant, winning by 48 points with 123 total.
"It hit a point where the parents had it all figured out that there was not enough points left that anybody could catch us," Morris said.
The boys team tied Glasgow for first place at the Class 1 Sectional 3 meet, which Morris said hadn't even been on their radar.
"Now it's got people thinking, asking, 'Well, where do you think you can fall at state?'" Morris said. "It's always on a coach's mind. The biggest thing is you want to get your kids through the prelims, and we haven't had all that many."
In fact, Calvary has only had three all-state finishers in the program's five-year history. One all-stater has high hopes this year to become Calvary's first individual state champion.
Senior Luke Allen finished second in the boys triple jump last year at state. He qualified for state this year in all four of his events: the triple jump, the long jump, the 100-meter dash and the 4x100-meter relay.
"This is a kid who has only been jumping two years," Morris said. "He didn't even do track in junior high or his freshman year. He came out his sophomore year, had a stress fracture and didn't get to do a lot.
"Last year, he came out of nowhere and went all the way to state."
Allen is seeded second in today's triple jump competition — behind Salisbury's Garrett Francis, who placed fifth last year at state and edged Allen by three inches at sectionals — and will enter Saturday's long jump as the No. 1 seed in Class 1, having jumped 21 feet, 8 inches at sectionals.
Allen's personal best in the long jump is 22-7.5, which he achieved last month at the Tomahawk Relays in Hallsville.
"It's hard to not think about the possibilities he could have," Morris said. "He's really seeded well. He's also there in the 100 and he's there anchoring our (4x100) relay. It's an amazing thing to be there in four events, but he's pretty good at keeping it in check."
The Lady Lions also have a four-event qualifier in sophomore Emma Homfeldt.
Homfeldt will be the anchor leg on Calvary's 4x100-, 4x200- and 4x800-meter relays. She is also entered in Saturday's 800-meter run, where she is seeded second behind Liberal's Alexys Barton.
Homfeldt ran a personal-best time of 2:27.09 last week in the 800 at sectionals.
"She went (to state) last year in the 800 and she had never run the 800 until about midway through the season," Morris said. " She's an incredibly hard worker and a fierce competitor. She's not very big, but when you watch her run, she is aggressive."
The Calvary girls lost one of their top athletes to injury earlier this postseason. Samantha Gunn was an all-state medalist last year in the long jump and won four events at districts before suffering her season-ending injury.
"The girls took kind of a big hit with Samantha Gunn being injured," Morris said. "She was our senior, she won four events at districts and on her last triple jump, she tore a hamstring muscle. She tried to jump last week (at sectionals) and just jumped once and had to scratch."
Olivia Bexten, who advanced to state in the high jump, will replace Gunn in Lady Lions' 4x100-meter relay.
Five of Calvary's 11 state events are relays.
For the boys, Sam Felger, Cal Kolzow and Austin Meisel each run on the 4x100 and 4x200, and in addition to qualifying for the 200-meter dash, Reece Going will run in the 4x200.
The Calvary girls could have as many as seven different runners — Homfeldt, Bexten, Sarah Johnson, Allison Procter, Madeline Wilson, Andrea Stanford and Katherine Allen — in their three relays events.
"They've really learned how to work together well," Morris said.
Last year's state championships were an eye-opening experience for Calvary's athletes, who are used to attending track meets that are sparsely attended.
This weekend, they'll be competing in front of a few thousand spectators. Morris had her team go by Adkins Stadium during Thursday's practice session to become accustomed to the surroundings.
"It's kind of like in the movie Hoosiers, where they measure the basketball goal," Morris said. "It's still a 400-meter track, it's still the same length on the runways, the exchange zones are the same distances. It's all the same, it just looks different."
Morris said this year's success has already sparked more interest down the line for future Calvary athletes. Perhaps a strong showing at state — and maybe even a top-four team trophy — would be the perfect ending to this storybook season.
"I want to keep this trend going," Morris said. "The first year, we got one to state. The second year, we had two. Last year, we had five, and this year we had 12.
"If we can just keep doubling this, it's a great ratio."