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High hopes: Cardinals poised for big season

Carrington’s Ashley Neumiller is one of several key returners for the Cardinals track and field team this season. Chris Aarhus / Sun File Photo

A heap of optimism surrounds the Carrington high school track and field teams this spring, now if only the weather would cooperate.

Another late spring has once again locked the bulk of the state’s track teams indoors for the time being, where largely limited practices have replaced the first few scheduled outdoor meets of the season. But once the sun does shine, so should the Cardinals.

The two-time defending state champion Carrington girls team is once again poised to make plenty of noise, while a young Carrington boys squad has made gains to potentially up its game.

But there can’t be any fun without the sun.

“We’re just kind of chomping at the bit to get outside,” Carrington track and field coach Greg Hoeckle said. “We still have some injury things that we are dealing with, with one of our (girls’) athletes, but other than that we’re pretty healthy and we’re waiting to get outside.”

Plenty of buzz will be surrounding Carrington senior Kayla Hochhalter all season. The standout thrower, who signed with the University of Iowa over the winter, is potentially gunning for three individual state titles in the javelin, discus and shot put.

She is the defending title holder in the discus, winning with a mark of 135-5. But she also finished second in the shot put (41-2.5) and third in the javelin (135-1).

Hochhalter has never placed outside of the top three in the javelin, dating back to when she was an eighth-grader, and her personal best of 145 feet in the event would be a new Class B record if she can match that mark at this year’s state meet.

“That’s her goal, and if anybody is capable of doing it, Kayla is,” Hoeckle said of Hochhalter’s potential sweep in the throwing events. “She works hard and has put the time and effort in to being in that position.”

The Cardinal girls put up 113 points to win their second straight state title last season, which was an impressive 51 points better than second-place finisher Hazen. But lost to graduation was Class B senior athlete of the year Josey Page, who won titles in both the 100-meter dash and the 200 with a torn ACL.

But another key cog returning is freshman distance runner Ashley Neumiller, who racked up three state podium visits as an eighth-grader. Neumiller finished third in the 3,200 (11:52.78), fourth in the mile (5:23.92) and sixth in the 800 (2:24.90).

Neumiller was also a member of Carrington’s second-place winning 3,200 relay team (10:09.53), which also returns sophomore Ann Endres and senior Page Anderson. Anderson strode to a sixth-place finish in the 400 (1:00.29) as well.

Senior Jacey Engelhorn is also scheduled to be back for the team this spring, after suffering a sprained ankle during the Region 4 girls basketball tournament in Devils Lake early last month. Engelhorn placed eighth in the 200 (26.92) and she’s a main contributor to Carrington’s recent relay success.

Engelhorn, along with fellow senior Madison Wendel, helped Carrington’s 400 relay team win a state title last year (50.77). Along with Anderson, Engelhorn also helped the 800 relay team to a second place-run (1:46.02) and the 1,600 relay team to a fourth-place finish (4:14.77).

Other returning state placers for the Cardinals include sophomore pole-vaulter Haley Wolfe (eighth, 8-6), and junior thrower Bailey Retzlaff (fourth in discus, 119-2).

“We have a strong nucleus of girls returning, and we have good support with our younger girls coming up,” Hoeckle said. “We try to cover all the areas. But we have four good quality throwers and they usually place high at every meet, so that’s probably where we’re the strongest.”

To complement Hochhalter and Retzlaff in the throwing events are senior Audra Montgomery and sophomore Kauri Hochhalter, Kayla’s younger sister.

The Carrington boys team has upped the ante after finishing 17th at state last season with 19 total points. The team only includes one senior, Hunter Stusynski, but the young talent is starting to rise toward the top.

The team will be looking for a strong showing from junior Seth Abaurrea. Abaurrea placed fifth at state in the 100 (11.19) and sixth in the 200 (22.65), but possibly helping Abaurrea’s cause in those events is the graduation of other athletes.

Of the four sprinters who finished ahead of Abaurrea in the 100, and the five athletes that finished ahead of him in the 200, just one returns in each race.

Abaurrea was also a member of the team’s fifth-place 400 relay team (44.84) and ninth-place 800 relay quarter (1:35.16), both of which return all its runners to the track. Also returning in the 400 relay are sophomores Walker Carr, Connor Wendel and Cole Ferguson, and back in the 800 relay are Ferguson, Carr and sophomore Riley Lura.

Carrington junior Riley Miller returns after placing fourth at state in the long jump (21-2).

“Our (boys) team is still quite young, but we have all our sprinters back and that’s where our largest group of returners are,” Hoeckle said. “We’re expecting some big things from the boys, and we feel like this year we can start moving hopefully into that top five range.

“We have some big goals, we just need to get out and see where we’re at,” Hoeckle added. “Our expectations are quite a bit higher than they’ve been.”

The Cardinals participated in the state Class B indoor meet held at NDSU on March 29. The Cardinal girls’ 63 points was one point better than Kindred’s 62 for top team honors, while the Cardinal boys finished seventh with 40.5 points.

Kayla Hochhalter and Retzlaff finished 1-2 in the shot put with marks of 37-9 and 36-1, respectively, while Neumiller took second in the mile (5:31.17).

On the boys’ side, Abaurrea took second in the 60-meter dash (7.24), while Wendel placed second in the 60 hurdles (9.30) and Miller finished third in the long jump (20-3).

Sun sports writer Michael Savaloja can be reached at 701-952-8461 or by email at