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Grace Zimmerman, center, and Katie Duttenhefer, second from right, lead a seasoned Hazen girls track and field team that is hoping to make it four consecutive state titles this spring.

Hazen’s team championship in Class B girls track and field last year was a bit of a surprise.

Athletes who accounted for more than half of Hazen’s 83-point championship tally in 2016 graduated, but the 2017 Bison went on to win five state meet events and score in three others to capture the program’s third consecutive title. They tallied 78 points – 16 more than second-place Hillsboro-Central Valley.

If Hazen makes it four straight this spring, it won't be much of a surprise. Every Bison point-scorer in last year's state meet is back.

“There is definitely a positive feeling because of the talent and experience we have here,” said Hazen coach John Ward, who also guided Hazen to second-place state meet finishes in 2013 and 2014. “The girls know we have a target on our backs this year and they’re up for the challenge. This group of girls has always worked hard, and they always seem to rise to the occasion. They know another title is possible and they’re ready to go after it.”

Leading the list of returnees is senior sprinter Grace Zimmerman, who racked up 30.5 points in last year’s state meet. She finished first in the 100- and 200-meter dashes, placed second in the 400 and anchored the winning 1,600-meter relay team.

A seasoned track and field veteran, Zimmerman placed first in the open 200, second in the 100 and sixth in the 400 in 2016, and third in the 400 and fifth in the 200 in 2015.

“Grace has done a great job since her freshman year, and she really came into her own the last couple of years,” Ward said. “She’s an outstanding athlete and a tremendous leader. She has a chance to have another big year, but she also knows that it won’t be easy because there's always such strong competition in her events. That, and helping her team succeed, keeps her motivated each day.”

The Hazen roster also includes five other athletes who placed in last year's state meet. Katie Duttenhefer was a double-placer in individual events, finishing third in the 200 and sixth in the 100. Elise Hintz placed fifth in the 200; Doll came in fourth in the 300-meter hurdles, and Angel Bobbe contributed a seven-place finish in the shot put. Duttenhefer, Hintz and Doll are seniors, and Bobbe is a sophomore.

The Bison swept the 400-, 800- and 1,600-meter relays, with Duttenhefer, Doll, Hintz and Hannah Sailer, now a sophomore, running legs in the 400 and 800. Zimmerman, Hintz, Doll and Sailer carried the baton in the 1,600. The winning times were 50.05 seconds in the 400, 1:44.44 in the 800 and 4:04.18 in the 1,600.

“Grace was the big point-scorer for us last year, but so many other girls stepped up in the state meet,” Ward said. “They were definitely out to prove something because a lot of people didn’t expect us to win again. It takes a team effort to win a state title … that’s been the case for us the last three years."

Ward said Hazen also has potential in the lower grades. Paige Erhardt, a freshman, qualified for the state meet in the 100 hurdles last year and was close to qualifying in the high jump. Sophomore Megan Ell, freshman Tenley Sage and eighth-grader Shenise Klein were part of a state-qualifying 3,200-meter relay team. Senior Cecelia Pfliger also was a member of that team.

“We should be better in the distance and middle distance events this year, and Paige looks good in the hurdles and high jump,” Ward said. “And there are other underclassmen who we think will step up and do well. It looks like we could be a deeper, more balanced team this year.”

Hazen was supposed to open its outdoor season next Tuesday with the Bison-Miner Classic in Hazen, but that meet will likely be canceled because temperatures are expected to be in the 30s.

“Right now, it’s anybody’s guess when the season will actually start,” Ward said. “It’s frustrating. The girls are anxious to get outside and get going, but in North Dakota, you never know when the weather will allow that. Hopefully it'll be soon.”

Also back this season is Grant County-Flasher’s Taylor Roehl, the defending state champion in the triple jump. The senior multi-sport standout also placed second in the 300 hurdles, fourth in the 100 hurdles and fourth in the long jump.

Other returning state champions are Gracie Wright of Hillsboro-Central Valley, 400 and 800; Elaina Swartz of Park River-Fordville-Lankin, 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles; Abbie Jiles of Westhope-Newburg, long jump, and Faith Beck of Dickinson Trinity, pole vault.

Four athletes will defend their state championships in the Class B boys division – Jalen Chase of 2017 state champion New Town, 3,200; Luke Foertsch of Milnor-Wyndmere-Lidgerwood, triple jump; Wyatt Hanson of Stanley-Powers Lake, discus, and Dylan Brandt of Kindred, pole vault. Chase set a state record in the 3,200 (9:23.31).