Jefferson Team, Distance Runners On Display At Drake Relays

By Jeff Linder and Scott Saville, Reporters

DES MOINES, Iowa — This has all the makings of a premier distance-running rivalry.

Everything, that is, but the venom.

"I like her a lot," Linn-Mar freshman Stephanie Jenks said of Griswold's Rebekah Topham. "I consider her a good friend. We chit-chat before races. She's so nice. I feel honored to run with her."

So much for blood and guts.

Distance duels figure to be one of the highlights of the Drake Relays, which kick off for the high-schoolers Thursday afternoon at Drake Stadium.

Linn-Mar has a prime contender in the girls' and boys' races.

Jenks will go head-to-head with Topham in the girls' 800-, 1,500- and 3,000-meter races (and will lead off the Lions' 3,200-meter relay). And Josh Evans is a top contender in the boys' 800, 1,600 and 3,200.

"If we finally get some good conditions, and it looks like we're going to, there could be some phenomenally good times," said Evans, a junior.

The Drake record for the boys' 1,600 is 4:11.57, set by Steve Greiner of Pekin in 1979.

Jason Thomas of West Des Moines Dowling is the top seed at 4:12.69. Evans has run 4:16.46 this season.

"(The record) is definitely a possibility," Evans said. "Again, if the weather's good, we're really going to fly. My goal is 4:09 or 4:10. That would be great."

Finally healthy after dealing with back issues during the cross country season, Evans has re-emerged as one of the state's elite distance boys. He is the state leader in the 3,200 (9:21.01) and ranks No. 2 in the 1,600 and 800 (1:57.06) — both to Thomas.

"Thomas and I, I think we're really going to push each other to some great times," Evans said. "I can't wait. I can't stop thinking about it.

"I think the injuries, they've really made me appreciate my races now. I treat each one like it might be the last one."

Evans is a veteran of the Drake track (or, as you'll hear dozens of times this week, "The Blue Oval"). This is Jenks' first Drake appearance as a high-schooler, running in front of thousands.

"I always envisioned myself running there, and I was so hoping I would qualify — even if it was in just one event," she said.

Last year at Drake, Topham made an immediate splash as a freshman. She won the 1,500 and 3,000 and was second in the 800. Based on premeet seeds, Jenks is poised for a similar debut.

At 9:49.24, Jenks is the top seed in the 3,000 and already ranks No. 6 all-time in Iowa. Jenks is ranked second to Topham in the 1,500 and third in the 800. Linn-Mar is No. 3 in the 3,200 relay.

"I'm really looking forward to running with Rebekah," Jenks said. "I'm sure we'll be able to push each other to some PRs."

There's a contrast in their styles, but both lead to brilliance. Jenks is willing to go out hard from the start; Topham prefers to hang back and reel in the competition.

"It's going to be a lot of fun to watch," said Linn-Mar girls track coach Nathan Hopp. "That 3,000, it's going to be an interesting race — two great ones going at it."

The girls' 3,000 is 4:10 Thursday afternoon, the boys' 3,200 follows at 4:25. The 800s are Friday, the 1,500 and 1,600 are Saturday.

Talking Tuesday night, Jenks didn't have a target time — or strategy — in mind.

"I don't really have a lot of set goals," she said. "I just want to do my best and let my body do what it wants to do."
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