OTTUMWA — ”Take a victory lap.”
For seniors like Spencer Hammack and Zach Messer, it was the last chance to get that instruction from Ottumwa boys track coach Jim Nickerson.
Neither were about to let the opportunity pass them by.
Hammack and Messer proved to be the winning one-two punch for the Bulldogs twice, with top two finishes in the 200 and 400 meter dashes. The duo gave Ottumwa control of what was a close race for the team title most of the night to a 30-point win over Oskaloosa, as the Bulldogs finished with 124 points, the only boys squad to top the century mark.
“Those two senior sprinters and both of their times were fantastic,” Nickerson said of Hammack and Messer. “They got us 36 of our 123 points with those two runs. The leadership all the seniors showed out here was outstanding.”
There was plenty of time to celebrate and soak in one last victorious run for Hammack and Messer, who joined four other seniors in being honored during the meet at Schafer Stadium on Tuesday. Both were happy to be a part of another winning night for the Bulldog track team.
“This is the only chance we get to win at home. That’s what makes it such a special meet for us,” Messer said. “It’s all about the team. You want to run your best time, but it’s all about scoring points and winning meets.”
“This was my last home meet. I didn’t want to go home finishing second,” Hammack added.
Hammack ran away from second with a hall-of-fame run in the 400 meter run. The senior joined the state’s top sprinters by posting a time of 50.17 that meets the Ottumwa boys track standards for the Bob Warren Hall of Fame.
“That kind of run puts him number two in the state right now,” Nickerson said. “He’s got a legitimate chance to contend for a state title in that event.”
Messer adding a solid time of 51.25 in the ‘Weldon Nickerson Memorial’ 400, giving the Ottumwa boys a big result in a race that held special meaning for the Bulldog boys head coach.
“I know this race means a lot to Coach Nickerson,” Messer said. “It means a lot being that it’s named after his dad. It has to be one of his favorite events.”
It was a solid night all around for Ottumwa track and field. While the boys finished off their team title run in style by winning the 4x400 relay, the Ottumwa girls used a late relay win to solidify second place in the Newell Invite with 106 points.
Only one of the best teams in the state kept the Bulldogs from sweeping the team titles. Iowa City West showed their incredible depth, scoring 176 points for a 70-point win all while holding out some of their top stars for the Iowa City High Relays on Thursday.
“Iowa City West is a contender for the state championship this season. There’s no shame in losing to a team of that caliber,” Ottumwa girls head track coach Steve Green said. “Our goal coming in was to be in the top three. To finish second was the best result we could have asked for.”
It was a happy homecoming for Iowa City West girls track coach Mike Parker. The Ottumwa graduate has been doing plenty of celebrating lately as Parker got to bring his new eight-week old daughter, Sophia, to his home town for the first time.
“Ottumwa is always important to me. We take winning this event very seriously,” Parker said. “I ran in this meet when I was in high school. This is always exciting to see my dad and my whole family. They’re all here cheering me on.”
The Bulldog girls got to celebrate a pair of wins, including a sweep of the 400 dash races. Junior Sydney Strunk took the girls 400 in a season-best time of 1:00.99.
“I was really happy with that time. I think that’s a full second faster then I’ve ever run it,” Strunk said. “Running against a team like Iowa City West helps a lot. It really motivates you to give your best effort.”
“Sydney’s been improving out of the blocks, she’s been running her first curves stronger and she understands you can make up a lot of time in those first 250 meters,” Green added. “It’s only a matter of time before that time comes down to around 59 seconds.”
Senior Sarah Wilson got to win in her final run in the Newell Invite, teaming up with Katie Sammons, Sarah Thordarson and Kiera King to win the 4x100 relay for the Bulldogs. Ottumwa avenged earlier losses to teams like Oskaloosa and Fairfield by beating out the Indians by 18 points for second and a quality Burlington squad by 30.
“This was a good example of young athletes who have been running together all year understanding that track and field is 95 percent mental and five percent physical,” Green said. “They understand the value of getting prepared mentally. They’re putting trust in their technique, their teammates and their training.”
Several other area schools had impressive results in Ottumwa on Tuesday. The Oskaloosa boys used a late win in the 4x100 relay to hold off Davis County for second place by a point while the Mustangs got wins by Austin Roberts in the 400 hurdles (57.5), Colton Boas in the shot put (50-5) and Will Kincart in the discus (155-10.25).
Fairfield’s Corbin Harwood took the 110 hurdles in 15.45 seconds as the Trojan boys scored 80 points to finish fifth. No Fairfield runner was more impressive then Sydney Howard, who scored wins in both the 100 (12.43) and 200 (26.66) dashes in just her second race back since missing two weeks with a shin injury.
“I’m really surprised to be running like this after just coming back last Thursday in Mount Pleasant,” Howard said. “It’s like I haven’t missed any time at all.”
Centerville finished sixth in both boys and girls action. Meaghan Foster had an impressive night in the field for the Reddettes, winning both the girls shot put (40-6.5) and discus (112-10).