County athletes ready to make their push at state

Mt. Vernon's Riley Nielsen clears the bar on her way to winning the pole vault at the 2021 Hoosier Heritage Conference girls track and field championships at Mt. Vernon High School on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. (Rob Baker/Daily Reporter)

HANCOCK COUNTY — Tonight, it’s the girls’ turn to shine in the spotlight as teams and student-athletes from across the state head to Ben Davis High School for the 2021 IHSAA track and field state finals.

This year, the Mt. Vernon Marauders, New Palestine Dragons and Greenfield-Central Cougars will be represented at state, which begins at 3 p.m. with a trio of field events.

The meet’s running events are set to start at 4:15 p.m. with the 4×800-meter relay.

Admission for the state finals is $12 per person with children 2 years and younger admitted for free. All tickets are digital.

Looking ahead to the state meet, here are this year’s girls track and field state finalists.

New Palestine 4×800-Meter Relay

Before heading to Purdue University this fall, New Palestine senior Brenna Shaw will make one more trip to the IHSAA track and field state finals.

Already one of the school’s most prolific cross-country runners in history, Shaw and her 4×800-meter relay teammates (freshman Courtney Study, sophomore Alexis Baynes and senior Kendall Mann) will vie for a state medal for the Dragons.

Shaw competed in the 800-meter run as a sophomore in 2019, placing 23rd overall, but this time around, she will focus solely on trying to make her final appearance with the 4×800 relay historic, once again.

In 2019, the Dragons set three school records at state, including in the 4×800, as Shaw, seniors Sophia Taylor and Grace Voelz and junior Kaylin Casner finished ninth in 9 minutes, 26.90 seconds.

The 2021 relay group enters state seeded 20th overall with a time of 9:44.40.

The present-day quartet posted the time during the Franklin Regional on May 25 to finish third in the event and earn a spot at state.

Shaw attempted a return in the 800, but she fell short with a ninth-place run in 2:27.04 at regional. Not that she has anything left to prove.

A four-time Hancock County cross-country champion, three-time regional winner, a two-time HHC champion and a state qualifier three times in her high school career, Shaw has well cemented her place as one of the all-time greats in Dragons history.

This spring, the 4×800 relay team of Study, Emily Adam, Emma Mann and Kendall Mann won the Hancock County Championships title in 10:33.34.

The relay team also won the HHC title in 10:27.70.

During the Shelbyville Sectional on May 18, Study, Shaw, Baynes and Kendall Mann were second in 9:55.42.

Their time dropped by more than 11 seconds, which means another dip could be on the horizon.

Kayana Maroska, Greenfield-Central

As a freshman in 2018-19, Greenfield-Central’s Kayana Maroska came out strong, especially at the Shelbyville Sectional.

The up-and-coming standout placed fourth in 200-meter dash (27.32), sixth in the 400 (1:02.09) and fifth with the 4×400 relay team (4:25.68).

She qualified for the 2019 Shelbyville Regional in the 200 but missed the finals’ cut, and she placed 11th in the 400 at 1:04.85, which unfortunately wasn’t quite fast enough for a state callback. The 4×400 relay team took 15th at regional in 4:27.28.

After a lost campaign in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Maroska seized her opportunity despite some late-season setbacks.

Unable to compete in the Hancock County Championships for the Cougars and eased back during the HHC meet, Maroska didn’t run the 400 at either event.

Instead, she placed third in the 200 at the HHC meet with a time of 27.23 and won both the 100 hurdles title (15.96) and the 300 hurdles championship (47.82).

At the the Shelbyville Sectional on May 18, Maroska was second in the 200 (27.13), first in the 400 (1:01.23) and won the 100 hurdles (16.02).

During the Franklin Regional on May 25, she opted out of the 200, missed the finals’ cut in the 100 hurdles and didn’t compete in the 300 hurdles to focus on the 400.

The move paid off with a state-qualifying runner-up finish in a time of 58.91, just behind regional champion Kate Henselmeier of Center Grove (58.89).

She enters today’s state finals seeded 10th in the 400 as one of seven juniors in the top 10. North Central’s Ramiah Elliott, a junior, holds the top seed with a time of 55.72.

Riley Nielsen, Mt. Vernon

The Mt. Vernon sophomore is making her first IHSAA state finals appearance today as the lone representative for the Hancock County, Hoosier Heritage Conference and sectional champion Marauders.

Nielsen opened up the “championship” portion of the 2021 track and field season as an immediate contender in the pole vault, clearing a height of 9 feet, 6 inches to claim the county title in the event on May 5 at Mt. Vernon High School.

From there, Nielsen kept on climbing.

During the HHC meet at Mt. Vernon on May 11, Nielsen matched her county height with a 9-06.00, which, once again, bested county foe Anna Ackerman of New Palestine, who placed second.

In both meets, the duo tied at 9-06.00, but Nielsen captured each title via tiebreaker criteria.

For sectional, the pair split, heading to different sites, and Nielsen used her competitive experience to her advantage at Pendleton Heights.

With a seed height of 10-00.00, Nielsen exceeded expectations and hit 10-06.00 to win the Pendleton Heights Sectional title over Arabians’ Madelyn Heineman (10-00.00). Heineman was third at the HHC meet with a 9-00.00.

At the Ben Davis Regional on May 25, Nielsen worked her way back up to 10-06.00, matching her sectional clearance on her second try to claim her second-career postseason event title.

Nielsen attempted 10-09.00 at regional, the site of the state finals, but she missed all three flights.

She is seeded 16th overall for the state finals at 10-06.00 as just the second sophomore in the top 20. The other is Heineman at 19th (10-03.00), who took third at the Ben Davis Regional.