WHEATLAND, Iowa — They refer to it as the horseshoe. Technically, it is Iowa Street.

About a block or two from the main entrance of Calamus-Wheatland High School, in a residential area, the track and field programs frequently train on afternoons during the spring.

Like several other small schools across the state, the Warriors don’t have a track. They have to make do with a concrete horseshoe that is almost 400 meters.

“We’ve done it our whole lives, so it doesn’t seem different for us,” Cal-Wheat senior Hunter Rickels said.

It creates challenges.

Relay handoffs are practiced on straightaways in the parking lot. There are no precise measurements for exchanges compared to an actual track. Shin splints are a concern.

“At the end of the day, we focus on what we have and not worry too much about what we don’t have,” Cal-Wheat coach Brian Higgins said. “Our kids have gravitated to that view point.”

What the Warriors have is a state contender.

On the heels of a runner-up finish at the Tri-Rivers Conference meet and a championship at the Central City state qualifier, Cal-Wheat is among the schools in the mix for a Class 1A championship this weekend at Drake Stadium.

The Warriors brought home a state runner-up trophy in cross country last fall. They are seeking their first piece of hardware in track and field.

“It would be huge,” sophomore standout Chase Knoche said. “To be the first team to do that, it would be incredible. We’ve got the guys to do it.”

Even without a track facility, participation has spiked.

With approximately 120 students in grades 9-12, Cal-Wheat has 27 boys and 20 girls in its program. That equates to about 40 percent of the enrollment participating in the sport.

“There is a buzz, and people are excited doing something that never has been done before,” Higgins said. 

Cal-Wheat has won seven individual state titles — three from Cole Moeller in the high jump and four from Chad Flynn, Dion Braet and Tait Steines in the distance events. It also claimed the 3,200 relay in 1999. 

It never has had enough depth to contend for a team trophy. Until now. 

The Warriors won nine events at last Friday’s state qualifier. They are projected to score team points (a top-eight finish) in eight events, including having top seeds with its distance medley relay and Knoche in the 800.

“That’s why we’re really making a push for a trophy this year because we have the talent,” Rickels said. “We’re going to go out and show it.”

Council Bluffs St. Albert, BCLUW, Lynnville-Sully and Maquoketa Valley figure to be Cal-Wheat's biggest roadblocks. St. Albert is projected to tally points in eight events, too. 

“I’m 100 percent confident we can take home a state championship if we all perform to our best,” Knoche said. “We have the right guys to put it together. We just need to trust ourselves and finish it out.”

Higgins knew this was a possibility a couple of seasons ago after the Warriors placed fourth at the state cross country meet.

Now, a large senior class and several talented sophomores have proven to be a potent combination.

“We’ve all been friends for quite a few years,” senior Max Hansen said. “Even the guys below us, we’ve always been playing together in every sport. We have really close friendships.”

Cal-Wheat, like most 1A programs, leans on several stalwarts.

Knoche, Rickels and sprinter Raymond Venditti will compete in the maximum four events. All three ran multiple races in Des Moines last year for Cal-Wheat, which accumulated a dozen points.

"Seeing what we did last year and knowing we’ve improved since then, it gives us really high expectations," Venditti said.

Besides the distance medley relay and the 800, Knoche also runs the 1,600 and anchors the Warriors’ 3,200 relay. Rickels has the long jump along with the 800, 3,200 and distance medley relays. Venditti is in the 100 and 200 to go with the 800 and distance medley relays.

“We’ve been running the wheels off of Knoche, Venditti and some of those other guys the past couple of weeks,” Higgins said. “With the state meet spread out (over three days), we like those guys, and they’ll perform even better with some rest.”

There is more than that trio.

Sophomore Brady Buchmeyer qualified in the high jump. Junior Chandler Gannon has a possibility of earning a medal in the 1,600 and handles the third leg of the 3,200 relay. Senior Tyler Rowold, Hansen and sophomore Connor Scheer play vital roles on relays.

“Every team has its workhorses, but without the whole team it doesn’t happen,” Venditti said. “I love where the track team is going, and I don’t think it ends with us.

“There is great potential below us to do amazing things as well.”

As far as adding a track facility on campus, Higgins said the discussion has never reached a serious stage. 

It doesn’t faze him or his team.

“Guys come in every day and work to their fullest potential with what we got,” Rowold said. “We’re making it work pretty well so far.”

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Sports Editor

Prep sports editor, with emphasis on covering the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Iowa area high schools. I've been in sports journalism for 17 years, the last five at the Quad-City Times.