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May 23, 2003

Saalfeld jumps to state gold

From: Columbus Telegram, NE - May 23, 2003

By DON STRECKER / Telegram Sports Editor

OMAHA - David City Aquinas sophomore Craig Saalfeld has never felt as though his deafness has hindered him in athletics.

It certainly didn't this morning at Omaha Burke Stadium.

Saalfeld bettered 25 other jumpers to win the Class C boys high jump during the first session of the 2003 State Track and Field Meet.

After just brushing the bar on his first attempt at 6-foot-4, Saalfeld cleared the height on his second try to edge Travis Shepardson of Gordon, who just missed on his third and final attempt.

"I was just trying to get my feet up and just get over the bar," said Saalfeld, who cleared 6-5 at the district meet.

Saalfeld, who missed on all three of his attempts at 6-6, said he has a 50 percent hearing loss. He wears small hearing aids in both ears.

"I've always felt like I matched everybody else," Saalfeld said. "I've never felt like my hearing loss has brought me down."

Saalfeld said his best jump until this season was 5-10. He cleared 6-4 at the Fremont Bergan Invitational and 6-5 at the district meet in David City before winning the state at 6-4.

He was at a loss to explain the improvement.

"I'm mainly doing the same stuff," Saalfeld said. "I guess just working hard and getting stronger, lifting in the weight room (has done it)."

Kris Johnson of Newman Grove, who is tied with Saalfeld for the area lead at 6-5, finished tied for sixth with Dustin Bloomquist of Tri County at 6-0.

While Saalfeld was celebrating, two Columbus High athletes were dealing with disappointment.

Marcus Middleton, at one point the leader in the Class A boys triple jump, finished third in the event. The junior, who had the second best jump in the state in Class A during the regular-season, went 44-10 1/2. His distance was the same at Kearney's Micah Brown, but Brown took second based on a better second jump.

Middleton went 43-3 and 44-3 on his first two jumps, then went 44-3 again despite taking off nearly a foot in front of the board.

"I was feelng pretty good. I was focused," Middleton said of his beginning.

"Everybody was telling me, 'You've got to stay focused,' and I was."

But his final jump of the preliminaries when he came up short of the board was the sign of problems. He could feel an injury problem with his right thigh starting to flare.

"At the conference meet (at Columbus), I landed wrong," Middleton said. "But it hasn't given me any problems until today"

Lincoln High's Ryan Blahak, the son of former Scotus Central Catholic standout Joe Blahak, won the event. He went 45-4 1/2 on his last attempt, jumping nearly two feet farther than his previous best of the day. Blahak did nearly the exact same thing at the Fremont Invitational to beat Middleton there.

"I can't believe that," Middleton said, whose best jump of the day was also on his last jump of the finals. "But he had a nice jump."

Joe Blahak, who went on to a football career with Nebraska and with the Minnesota Vikings, holds the area record in the long jump at 23-0.

Middleton, who set the CHS school record at 22-5 3/4 earlier this season, will be going for it when he competes in the Class A long jump Saturday morning.

"I think I'm feeling at 23-0 in me," he said, smiling.

Columbus' Derek Zulkoski wasn't smiling during the Class A pole vault. The senior, who earlier set the CHS and area record in the event by going 15-0, had been battling a hamstring injury in recent days. But he appeared to be ready to go on Thursday at practice.

This morning, he wasn't. Cool temperatures and the hamstring problems prevented Zulkoski from placing in the event.

He passed to 13-6, spending the entire time stretching in an effort to keep it stretched, but he was unable to get over the height.

Zulkoski, who earlier this school year took third place in the boys diving at the State Swimming and Diving Meet, finished fifth in the state pole vault two years ago for his only state medal in the event.

Humphrey St. Francis picked up the area1s first medal of the day, finishing fourth in the Class C girls 3,200-meter relay. The team of Alison Huettner,

Elisha Wegener, Miranda Bender and Danielle Wessel grabbed (temporarily, at least) the area lead from Scotus Central Catholic with a time of 9 minutes, 59.92 seconds.

Scotus' 3,200 relay team was scheduled to compete in the Class B portion of the event later today.

St. Francis was in ninth place at one point during the race. But the Flyers' middle two legs of Wegener and Bender pulled St. Francis into medal contention.

Aquinas' boys followed the lead of the St. Francis girls, finishing sixth in the Class C boys 3,200 relay. The quartet of Anthony Aerts, Brian Birkel, Ryan Sabata and Matt Brandt finished with a time of 8:28.42, coming two seconds short of their season-best time.

Like St. Francis, Aquinas was in ninth place, but the Monarchs found themselves there after three legs. Brandt, the lone sophomore running with three freshmen, passed three runners early in his leg and challenged Weeping Water's anchor leg, Tim McKenzie, for fifth before settling for sixth.

In the Class A 3,200 relay, the Columbus High team of Ashley Kamm, Laura Niedbalski, Hilary Powell and Amber Brandenburger settled for 11th place despite a season-best time of 10:09.69.

In other preliminary events, Cross County's Toby Ball and Newman Grove's Johnson reached the finals of the Class C boys 110-meter high hurdles. Ball, who finished second in his heat with a time of 15.40, finished third in his heat, while Johnson, clocking in at 15.53, was second in his heat.

Ball will start in lane six of Saturday's finals, while Johnson will start in lane seven.

Columbus High's Emilie Kluth reached the finals of the Class A girls 400 with her second-place finish in her heat today. Kluth, a junior who ran a 1:00.05, will start in lane seven of Saturday's final.

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