There is no rest for defending state champions.
So says Grace Zimmerman.
The Hazen High School junior captured a Class B state championship in the girls 200-meter dash in 2016 and is the top returning state place-winner in the 100 (second place). Her goal is to win one or both of those events in May, but she knows she’ll be competing in a field that is heavy on talent and experience. Of the combined 16 place-winners in last year’s Class B girls 100 and 200, 13 return this spring. The 100-meter champion, Jocelyn Dinius of Langdon-Munich, graduated, but the other seven placers are back. In the 200, six of the top eight finishers return, including the top three.
Zimmerman also placed sixth in the 400, and in that event, all eight 2016 place-winners are back, including state champion Gracie Wright of Hillsboro-Central Valley.
Zimmerman said the loaded field only adds fuel to the motivation fire.
"Knowing that there are so many good people coming back makes me work that much harder. I have to if I want to accomplish my goals," she said. "Winning is never an easy thing to do. The other girls are going to work extra hard because they all want the same thing. I'm expecting it to be really close this year. It's going to come down to who wants it more."
Zimmerman recorded two season-best times in the 2016 state meet – 25.80 seconds in the 200, and 59.80 seconds in the 400. Her time in the 100-meter final (12.87) was 0.27 seconds shy of her season-best, but only 0.09 seconds behind Dinius.
"I was definitely happy with my time in the 200. I didn't run my best time in the 100, but I was happy with the race and the finish," Zimmerman said. "I wanted to do better in the 400, but the group that made it to the final was really strong and all of those girls are back this year. Overall, I was satisfied. Any time you can score points in a state meet it's an accomplishment."
This season, Zimmerman hopes to run in the low 58s in the 400, the low 25s in the 200, and the low 12s in the 100.
“You always want to do better than you did the year before and I believe I can do that," Zimmerman said. "I have goals for all three races and I'm going to work as hard as I can to get there."
Hazen coach John Ward said Zimmerman is a self-motivated athlete who leads by example.
“Grace is a very hard worker who has always pushed herself. She just wants to make herself and her team better,” he said. “Last year was her breakout year and we believe she will continue to get better this season. She’s one of those kids you cheer for. She makes running look so easy, but if you knew the time and effort she’s put into it, you would know why.”
Zimmerman helped lead the Bison to back-to-back state championships in 2015 and 2016. In 2015, she placed third in the 400, fifth in the 200, and ran a leg on the winning 800-meter relay team.
“That was a lot of fun. We had a great group of girls who worked really hard and pushed each other every day," Zimmerman said. "It was so exciting to be a part of that. The individual stuff is great, but team accomplishments definitely mean more to me."
State champions in three other individual events also return in Class B girls – Peyton Frolek of Milnor-Wyndmere-Lidgerwood, 1,600 and 3,200, and Maara Nelson of Carrington, 100 hurdles. The 2016 second-place finishers include Frolek in the 400 and 800; Elaina Swartz of Park River-Fordville-Lankin, 300 hurdles; Meggie Fischer of Bowman County, high jump; Masy Kuntz of Dickinson Trinity, long jump; Payton Packer of Kindred, discus, and Mikka Haugeberg of Watford City, pole vault.
Ryan Wheeling of New Town, a triple-winner (800, 1,600 and 3,200) in last year's state meet, leads a long list of returning champions in the Class B boys division. The others are Dawson Kram of Dickinson Trinity, 100 and 200; Mark Medalen of Des Lacs-Burlington, 400; Josh Knutson of Des Lacs-Burlington, 110 hurdles; Maverick Cole of Lisbon, 300 hurdles; Brant Bohmert of Northern Cass, triple jump; Wesley Odegaard of Griggs County Central, shot put, and Kyle Odegard of Lisbon, javelin. Eight second-place finishers in 10 events also return – Austin Brown of Trenton-Williston Trinity Christian, 100 and 200; Shandon Toenies of Hillsboro-Central Valley, 400; Arthur Punton of Maple Valley-Enderlin, 800; Chace Hale of New Town, 1,600 and 3,200; Brady Wegh of Mott-Regent, 110 hurdles; Knutson, 300 hurdles; Payton Granger of Harvey-Wells County, high jump, and Adam Sakrey of Milnor-Wyndmere-Lidgerwood, triple jump.