When Grace Zimmerman began competing in track and field in junior high, she looked up to Dakota Wood as a role model.
Wood, a 2015 Hazen High School graduate, was one of the most successful athletes in Class B girls track and field history, winning state championships in the 100- and 300-meter hurdles in 2013, 2014 and 2015. She also placed second in the 100- and 200-meter dashes in 2015 while leading the Bison to their first team title since 1998.
Zimmerman, now a Hazen High School senior, doesn’t possess the state meet hardware that Wood does, but she has accumulated quite a collection, thus far. She has captured three individual championships (100 and 200 in 2017, 200 in 2016) and two runner-up finishes (400 in 2017, 100 in 2016) over the past two years, helping the Bison to two more state titles.
Zimmerman has a chance to add to that collection this weekend at the MDU Resources Community Bowl. She’s the No. 1 seed in three open events -- 100 (12.35 seconds), 200 (25.34) and 400 (58.62).
Just as Wood did in 2015, Zimmerman hopes to finish off her stellar high school career on a high note.
“Dakota had such a great state meet her senior year, and what made it really special was the team winning the state title,” Zimmerman said. “This is my last state meet, so yes, I would like nothing more than to go out a winner, both individually and team-wise. We won the last three years and we want to win it again. There's lots of motivation here.”
Zimmerman said Wood was a strong leader who inspired her as well as her classmates Katie Duttenhefer, Elise Hintz and Raquel Doll, all of whom contributed to Hazen’s last two state championships.
“Dakota led by example and we’ll never forget how she encouraged us and helped us along. We were very lucky to have her as a teammate, and as a friend,” she said. “She showed us the way ... she showed us what it takes to be successful. My classmates and I know how important it is to have great leaders, and we’ve tried to be the same to the younger girls on the team.”
Zimmerman led the way in last year's state meet, scoring 30.5 points. She was the top seed in the 100, 200 and 400 last year, but finished second to Hillsboro-Central Valley’s Gracie Wright in the 400. Later, in the last event of the state meet, Zimmerman trailed Wright in the final leg of the 1,600-meter relay, but passed her down the stretch to give the Bison their third relay victory of the weekend.
“That was such a satisfying way to end the meet,” Zimmerman said. “I’m a very competitive person and I gave it my all in the (open) 400, but (Wright) just ran a better race. When I ran against her in the relay, I was behind when I started, but I wasn’t going to let her beat me again.”
Every athlete responsible for Hazen’s winning 78-point total last year returned this spring. Duttenhefer finished third in the 200 and sixth in the 100; Hintz fifth in the 200; Doll fourth in the 300 hurdles, and Angel Bobbe seventh in the shot put. Duttenhefer, Hintz, Doll and Hannah Sailer ran legs on the winning 400- and 800-meter relay teams, and Zimmerman, Hintz, Doll and Sailer carried the baton in the 1,600 relay.
Duttenhefer and Hintz are qualified in the 100 and 200 this year; Doll in the 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles, and Bobbe in the shot put.
The Bison are also seeded No. 1 in the 400 (50.23) and 800 (1:44.21) relays, and No. 3 in the 1,600 (4:10.64) relay.
“We have a lot of experience back from last year and we expect to do better,” Zimmerman said. “We also have girls who qualified for the first time, so I think we have a little more depth than we did last year. We’re excited. We worked hard all year for a chance to compete for another title. We know we have the ability.”
With a team heavy on talent and postseason experience, Hazen is considered the favorite in the girls team race this weekend, but Zimmerman said there are never any guarantees in a state meet.
“Anything can happen, and we’ve seen things happen over the years,” she said. “Being the best before the state meet doesn’t mean anything. You have to compete and give it everything you have. We have a lot going for us, but there are a number of teams out there that are capable and want the same thing we do.”
Earlier this year, Zimmerman committed to North Dakota State University for track and field. Once again, she and Wood will be teammates.
“I’m really excited about it. It’s a chance to compete at a Division I school, and be Dakota’s teammate again,” Zimmerman said. “She’ll be my role model, like she always has been.”
Other No. 1 seeds are Wright, 800 (2:19.32); Lana Krack of Thompson, 1,600 (5:07.94) and 3,200 (11:15.45); Elaina Swartz of Park River-Fordville-Lankin, 100 hurdles (15.16) and 300 hurdles (44.98); Amber Stevahn of Shiloh Christian, Katya Boranko of Richardton-Taylor, Taylor Reilly of Drayton-Valley-Edinburg, and Tessa Schroeder of Enderlin-Maple Valley, high jump (5-3); Masy Kuntz of Dickinson Trinity, long jump (17-9); Schroeder, triple jump (36-9.25); Paige Haakenson of Nelson County, shot put (39-5); Payton Packer of Kindred, discus (123-0); Kendra Odegard of Lisbon, javelin (138-1), and Maria Blessum of Rugby, pole vault (11-3). Wright (400 and 800) and Swartz (100 hurdles and 300 hurdles) are returning champions.
In the boys division, New Town captured state championships in 2015, 2016 and 2017 after scoring heavily in the open 800, 1,600 and 3,200 events, as well as the 3,200 relay. The 2018 Eagles aren’t as strong in those events as they were in past years, so their streak might be in jeopardy this weekend. New Town is seeded 5-6 in the 800, 2-5-7 in the 1,600, 2-3-7-8 in the 3,200, and No. 2 in the 3,200 relay.
The team that appears most likely to dethrone New Town is Dickinson Trinity, which has 15 top-five seeds, including four No. 1s. Kaden Kuntz is the top seed in the 200 (22.30) and long jump (23-0); Noah Sickler owns the state’s fastest time in the 400 (49.55), and Trinity’s 1,600 relay team tops the leader board with a 3:29.07. Kuntz is also seeded No. 3 in the 100 and triple jump; Sickler, No. 4 in the 300 hurdles and No. 5 in the 200; Aric Knopik, No. 2 in the 110 hurdles and high jump, and No. 5 in the 300 hurdles, and Dillan Kovash, No. 4 in the pole vault and No. 5 in the javelin.
In addition, Trinity is seeded No. 2 and No. 4, respectively, in the 800 and 400 relays.
Other prime contenders include Hillsboro-Central Valley, which has 13 top-eight seeds (seven in the top five), and Milnor-Wyndmere-Lidgerwood with nine seeds in the top eight, including four No. 1s.
Other individuals seeded No. 1 are Jacob Rodin of Kenmare-Bowbells, 800 (1:55.96); Isaac Huber of Edgeley-Kulm, 1,600 (4:23.01) and 3,200 (9:28.35); Connor Dennis of Watford City, 110 hurdles (14.83) and 300 hurdles (39.55); Beau Driscoll of Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood, high jump (6-5); Luke Foertsch of Milnor-Wyndmere-Lidgerwood, triple jump (46-10); Dawson Schroeder of Northern Lights, shot put (57-8); Wyatt Hanson of Stanley, discus (168-7); Adam Mark of Kindred, javelin (179-11), and Dylan Brandt of Kindred, pole vault (14-0).
Foertsch, Hanson and Brandt are defending champions.