DES MOINES — As Joy Ripslinger made her way around Drake Stadium’s blue oval for the bell lap in the 1,500 Saturday, her last at an Iowa state meet, she heard the crowd. She picked up public address announcer Mike Jay’s voice.
There was one continuous thought racing through the Davenport Assumption senior’s mind.
“I wanted it for the team,” she said. “I don’t think anything could have slowed me down or anybody could have come from behind to get me. I wanted this so badly.”
Ripslinger became the first girl in Iowa history to complete the 400, 800, 1,500 and 3,000 sweep at the state track and field meet. In the process, she powered Assumption to the top of the record book with an unprecedented fifth straight Class 3A championship.
“I don’t know what could top this,” Ripslinger said. “This is a milestone I’ll never forget and something I’ll hold close to my heart for the rest of my life.”
Assumption felt the weight of expectations all season. Coach Tim O’Neill said his team dealt with more distractions than any squad he has coached. It overcame a mid-season injury to Carly King, its top sprinter.
But when the three-day meet concluded, the Knights scored in 10 events and closed with 93 points — 16 clear of runner-up Pella.
“We had some ups and downs in the season, and we felt the pressure in a lot of different places,” King said, “but ultimately we had to deal with having a target on our back. We went out there and performed.”
Ripslinger was the ring leader.
The Arkansas recruit finished her illustrious career with nine state championships, the most in school history.
She became the sixth girl to win four individual state titles in a weekend, joining Collins’ Cathy Caroll (1970), Davenport North’s AG Bradford (2008), North Tama’s Sara Stoakes (2009), Logan-Magnolia’s Alex Gochenour (2010) and Griswold’s Rebekah Topham (2014).
“She’s a once-in-a-lifetime kid that a coach will ever have,” O’Neill said of Ripslinger. “Special.”
Ripslinger leaves with 3A state meet records in the 800 (2:07.51), 1,500 (set Saturday, 4:39.00) and 3,000 (established Thursday, 9:55.37).
The 1,500 was particularly emotional for teammate Julia Schumacher. It was her last race with Ripslinger, her best friend and training partner the past three years.
“I always say that Joy is like an alien of some sort,” Schumacher said. “She’s super human. Who wins the 400 through 3,000? But watching her train, I expected nothing less.
“She’s been an inspiration to me.”
Ripslinger admitted sweeping all four races was a goal but unexpected
“I’ve always been involved 400 to 3,000 in my four years, but I never thought I’d be state champion-caliber in all four,” she said. “It is amazing to me that my training has brought me to that position.”
The 16-time state medalist and seven-time Drake Relays champion opened the day with her third consecutive 800 title in 2:09.39. About four hours later, she broke free from Center Point-Urbana’s Adrianna Katcher and Crestwood’s Ellie Friesen on the final lap to repeat as champion.
“After this long weekend, it wasn’t quite in me to go all out and have the race of my life,” Ripslinger said. “It wasn’t super realistic. I did what I usually try to do and hammer the last lap.”
The Knights had plenty of other contributions on the final day.
King was second in the 100 and 200 along with anchoring a third-place sprint medley relay. Senior Jasmine Harris was fifth in the 200 and sixth in the 100. Schumacher added five points with her fourth-place finish in the 1,500 to clinch the crown.
“Coach mentioned to us that we could slam the door on everyone else if Joy won the 1,500 and I placed,” Schumacher said. “I wanted to do more than place. I wanted to help close the door.”
It was a memory nobody in Assumption's program will soon forget. Atlantic, North Tama and Tipton had won four straight. Nobody has achieved this.
All five wins have been by double figures. They've had 49 top-three finishes in events during that span.
“It is amazing we’ll be known for something like this,” sprinter Mary Grace Carroll said. “We’re part of history.”
It begs the question: Can the streak continue in 2018? Ripslinger and Harris move on, but the Knights return about everyone else.
Leadership will fall on new eyes. New roles will be established.
“It is exciting to see a shift in leadership,” King said. “We’ve seen it over the past few years with our teams where leaders leave and new ones kind of fill in that role. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.”
Still, Ripslinger’s departure provides a big void, 40 points to replace.
“We have some young phenomenal kids waiting their turn,” O’Neill said. “Can we replace Joy? No. We’ll have to find a way to do it a little bit differently.”