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chris murphy/daily globe Adrian's Nicole Slater (left) leads the first leg of the 4x800-meter relay in the Class A track and field state meet at Hamline University in St. Paul Saturday. For more photos, visit dglobe.com.

STATE TRACK AND FIELD: Slater, Sauer, Kopplow, Thier earn 2nd to lead area titles

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ST. PAUL -- Despite running in the "slower" heat Saturday afternoon, the distance-running loving Adrian Dragons capped another successful season with an impressive second-place performance in the Class A girl's 4x800-meter relay at the 2012 state track and field meet at Klas Field on the campus of Hamline University.

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The silver medals claimed by the AHS foursome of sophomore Nicole Slater, senior Austyn Thier, junior Megan Sauer and junior Jordin Kopplow highlighted the list of area placers Saturday.

Friday, Fulda senior Sylvia Zanini, a foreign-exchange student from Italy, had captured a state title in the discus, while Windom senior Hannah Steele earned fourth in the same event.

Saturday, Steele claimed her fifth state-meet career medal by rallying to place fourth in the shot put, while Zanini finished sixth.

Thier capped the day for area girls' competitors with a brilliant third-place finish in the grueling 800-meter run -- with temperatures soaring to the 91-degree mark.

"It was so hot," exclaimed Thier after running the last race of her stellar AHS career, which has included remarkable success in cross country, basketball and track. "Getting second in the relay was great and I really wanted to win the 800, but wasn't quite able to pull it off."

In a very much-anticipated race between nine qualifiers who had all clocked preliminary times on Friday within .97 seconds of each other, La Crescent junior Katie Shepardson -- the top seed from the sectional-winning times -- broke away on the backstretch of the second lap and won the event with a time of 2:20.16.

Coming down the final homestretch, Blue Earth Area junior Krista Hassing pulled away from Thier -- who had run among the top three the entire second lap -- and claimed second, clocked at 2:20.21.

Thier hung on to third-place (2:21.41), while Mora senior Emma Johnson (2:21.94) and Wabasha-Kellogg junior Kalyn Biever (2:21.96) finished very close in fourth and fifth, respectively.

"My legs felt pretty heavy coming into the finish and was it hard to kick," said Thier about the end of the race. "Based on Friday's times, this could have been anybody's race and the first lap so was closely-bunched. Then, the La Crescent girl (Shepardson) made a bold move and broke away. I tried, but just couldn't catch her."

Two years ago, Thier placed eighth in the 800 at the state meet, so this year's effort was her best individual placing at a state event.

By claiming two medals Saturday, Their finished her high school with an amazing total of 13 state-meet medals between cross country and track.

"Austyn had a super, super career as a runner for Adrian High School," praised AHS head coach Doug Petersen about his star performer. "Running both on the 4x800 and the open 800 is a tough double, but she has done both very well."

Including Friday's preliminary run, Thier ran three competitive half-miles in less than 24 hours.

"The heat made it tough," she summed up. "My legs were dead at the finish."

Indeed, Thier collapsed a bit after crossing the line and needed assistance in getting back on her feet.

"I was fine, just very exhausted," she concluded. "I was trying so hard."

Dragons win first Heat by 10 seconds

Getting a 2:25 opening split by Slater, the Dragons took a commanding lead early in the first of two heats in the finals of the 4x800 relay.

"I wanted to get us a lead and knew that Austyn, Megan and Jordin could stretch it out," said Slater about her opening leg, which was capped by a very strong finishing kick.

Thier, who normally anchors for Adrian was moved up to the second runner position Saturday and stretched Adrian's lead to about 80 meters by the time she passed the baton to Sauer.

"We were anticipating Benson's best girl (Samantha Goff) running second for them again, like she did in the section meet," explained Petersen about the switch. "But she ran their fourth leg this time and Austyn really opened a lead for us, which put Adrian way ahead."

The steady-running Sauer ran a terrific third leg for the Dragons, maintaining the wide lead for Kopplow, who brought AHS across the finish line in a season-best time of 9:39.97.

"I was running scared," chimed in Kopplow about her anchor run. "What really helped was all the fan support we had. There were a lot of Adrian people up here cheering us on, which was nice."

Benson/Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg, which had outrun Adrian (9:49.21 to 10:00.65) in the Section 3A meet at Pipestone May 31, was a distant second in Saturday's first heat, clocked at 9:49.42.

After winning the first race by so far and knocking more than 20 seconds off their sectional time, all the Dragons could do was watch and wait as the second (faster) heat took the track.

In a competitive race, Watertown-Mayer (the fourth seed coming in) took command and won by 14 seconds with a time of 9:31.06 -- claiming the first-place gold medals.

Park Rapids Area (9:45.04) nipped Waseca (9:46.32) for second in the heat, but ended up getting third and fourth, respectively, overall -- after Adrian's time was inserted into second place.

Esko (9:49.27) and Mesabi East (9:49.29) finished just ahead of Benson/K-M-S in places five and six, respectively, while the Braves took seventh overall and also earned medals.

"We felt that if we could run under 9:40, we would place very high," summed up Petersen, who coached the Dragons to four consecutive Class A state cross country team championships from 2005-2008.

"All four girls ran very well, each of them had great performances with super efforts, allowing us to win our race by a long ways and finish with the second-fastest time among the 16 best teams in the state."

Steele again moves up with best throw on final effort

Just as she done in the discus on Friday, Steele came through with a clutch performance on her final attempt in the shot put.

Heading into the finals Saturday, Steele was in fourth place after hitting a distance of 39-8.75 in the prelims.

But in the finals, a 41-9 effort by Foley senior Cassandra Cardinal and a 41-0 mark by Annandale senior Katie Gruys dropped Steele down to sixth.

Steele's first throw in the final round was a 38-5 and she fouled on her second attempt.

But, with the pressure on, the talented Eagle uncoiled on her sixth effort, launching the iron ball a measured distance of 41-2 -- her best distance of the day by more than 17 inches.

With that final mark, Steele passed up both Gruys and Zanini (40-7.75), who had been in third place after the prelims, and clinched the fourth-place medal.

"I am really excited," beamed Steele after receiving her fifth-ever state meet medal (three in the shot put and two in the discus). "I just knew I needed a good one, because I really didn't want sixth again in the shot put (she placed sixth at Hamline in both 2010 and 2011). The last one felt great and it moved me up two places."

Steele, who won the state discus title last year as a junior (119-11) placed fourth Friday (132-10), getting her best throw on her last one.

By placing fourth in two events this year, Steele racked up 12 points (12-10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 scoring for the top nine places) and put Windom in a five-way tie for 28th-place in the team standings among 74 schools who scored points in the meet.

Steele's best-ever shot put was a 42-5.5 at the Dakota Relays in Sioux Falls in early May. She will continue her track and field career at the University of Sioux Falls next year and is excited about throwing for Erin Elder, who coached her early in her career at Windom.

Zanini, who had also run in the prelims of the 100-meter high hurdles (16.87) on Friday before winning the discus (141-1) on her final throw, was not able to get a better distance in Saturday's finals and fell from third to sixth (40-7.75 being her best shot put distance).

"It was all right," she summed up. "The really good one (big throw) didn't come today, but I am happy for the other girls, including Hannah who is such a great competitor. I had a lot of fun and I am really happy about having the chance to come over here (to the United States) and compete in so many things (volleyball, basketball, four events in track meets) for Fulda High School."

St. Clair senior Ashley Thooft, who finished second to Zanini in the discus Friday, won the shot put with a distance of 43-11.75, while Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial/Nicollet senior Karina Schroeder (43-3.75) was a solid second.

Westbrook-Walnut Grove/Red Rock Central senior Chloe Arfsten put the finishing touches on a fine all-around high school athletic career by competing in the pole vault Saturday.

In her first time competing at Hamline, Arfsten cleared the opening height of 8-3, but was not able to scale 8-9, as she tied for 14th place in the competition.

Carolyn Nye, a freshman for the Blake School, set a new Class A girls' record by clearing 11-7 to impressively win the event.

Adrian with 18 points (10 and eight) tied with St. Cloud Christian and Sauk Centre for 18th place in the team standings, while Zanini's 16 points put Fulda in a tie for 21st with Section 3A team champion Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd.

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