Three things to watch at the 98th Howard Wood Dakota Relays
Inside: Elite athletes to know, a further look at the special event fields and the small-school talents poised to perform.
SIOUX FALLS — As thousands of athletes representing upward of 170 teams converge on Sioux Falls on Friday and Saturday for the largest track and field meet on the South Dakota sports calendar, the Upper Midwest’s best will be on full display.
Here are a few of the top storylines to follow leading into the 98th edition of the Howard Wood Dakota Relays:
Best of the best
While the Dakota Relays normally produce a handful of breakout performances, there are also several known entities set to make their mark at the meet.
This season, the elite group is headlined by talents such as Rapid City Stevens distance ace Simeon Birnbaum, throwing standouts in Hamlin’s Gracelyn Leiseth and Sioux Falls Washington’s Kael Miedema and speedster Cece Deebom, of Fargo Davies (N.D.).
Birnbaum, who’s pledged to the University of Oregon, paces the nation in the 3,200 meters with a time of 8 minutes, 34.10 seconds at the Arcadia (California) Invitational on April 8. He also has the second-best time nationally in the 1,600 meters (4:01.05), which he set on April 29 at the Drake (Iowa) Relays. Birnbaum won the race at both distances at last year’s Dakota Relays. Within South Dakota this season, Birnbaum also tops the leaderboard in the 800 meters (1:53.69), this year’s boys special event with Birnbaum among the eight-person field.
Leiseth, a University of Florida commit, ranks No. 3 nationally for both shot put and discus as of April 30. With a heave of 50 feet, 6 inches, in the shot put on April 27, Leiseth currently outpaces the rest of South Dakota by nearly 7 feet. In the discus, an April 13 mark of 171 feet, 8 inches, is just shy of 39 feet further than the next-closest South Dakotan.
A University of Nebraska commit, Miedema and fellow future Cornhusker Jason Maciejczak (a football signee) have traded the top shot put and discus marks so far this spring. As of April 30, Miedema is atop the discus standings at 191 feet, 7 inches, and is second in the shot put at 59 feet, 11 inches. Maciejczak is the opposite, leading the shot put (60-9) and ranking second in the discus (181-1).
Another Nebraska track and field signee, Deebom is the defending 100 meters and 100-meter hurdles champion at the Dakota Relays and a seven-time North Dakota state champion across four different events (additionally, 200 meters and long jump). Deebom ranks ahead of all South Dakota sprinters and is a headliner in the girls 200 meters special event.
When the gun fires in the boys 800-meter run on Friday, the field will be led by the dominant Rapid City Stevens senior Simeon Birnbaum.
Birnbaum has five state track championships to his name, including three last year in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200-meter races, plus has won the last two Class AA cross country titles. Birnbaum carries the state’s record time into the event at 1:50.12, three full seconds ahead of everyone else’s personal-best time in the field.
There will be some top talent chasing him. Sioux City North’s Gabe Nash, a Nebraska commit, is the Iowa defending champion in the 800 and 1,600 meter races and was on the blue oval with Birnbaum last week at the Drake Relays in the 1,600. Grand Forks’ Quinn Roehl and Sioux Falls Christian’s Isaac Davelaar, who has won six state championships in Class A in South Dakota.
In all, there are six commits to Division I institutions for track and field — Birnbaum (Oregon), Noah Breker (North Carolina), Nash (Nebraska), Sam Castle (South Dakota State), Roehl and Jonah Dafoe (North Dakota State) and Jaxson Fiechtner (South Dakota).
In the girls 200, six past state champions are in the field, highlighted by Minnesota Class AA state champion Brooke Hohenecker of Providence Academy. Kelsie Belquist, of New Rockford, N.D. has the Dakotas’ fastest 200 time this season in 24.87 seconds. Belquist was the Class B champion in 2022 in the event in North Dakota and hasn’t lost an individual sprint race since 2021, while her next-door neighbor in the 200 race on Friday in Deebom, was the Class A champion in North Dakota last year.
Mount Vernon/Plankinton product Berkeley Engelland is a four-time state champion, winning twice in the 400 and 800 races the last two seasons in South Dakota’s Class A, while Central Cass (N.D.)’s Elise Wisnewski has won seven state championships and is in her junior season.
Last year, four boys events and two girls events (non-relays) were won by Class A or Class B South Dakota athletes. Among them, Custer’s Blake Boyster (200 meters special event, 400 meters) and Hamlin’s Gracelyn Leiseth (shot put) are the lone returners attempting to defend their titles.
But several more are likely to challenge for individual titles this weekend.
Ethan/Parkston’s James Deckert highlights a trio elite of small-school distance jumpers, joined by Rylan McDonnell, of Wall, and Jayden Munroe, of Aberdeen Roncalli. In the statewide standings, Deckert leads the triple jump at 44 feet, 5 inches, and is fourth in the long jump at 22 feet, 3 inches. McDonnell is tops in the long jump (22-7.75) and fifth in the triple jump (43-7.25), while Munroe occupies second position in both with leaps of 22-5 and 44-3, respectively.
Two Mitchell-area Class A jumpers stand atop the state high jump standings, as Gregory’s Daniel Mitchell paces the state at 6 feet, 6 inches, and Sanborn Central/Woonsocket’s Jeff Boschee (6-4.25), the defending Class A state champion, has been steadily climbing the leaderboard.
As he works toward a defense of his state title in the shot put, Platte-Geddes’ Lee Reiser has a season-best of 59 feet, 4 inches, the top distance outside of Class AA and No. 3 overall behind Pierre’s Jason Maciejczak (60-9) and Sioux Falls Washington’s Kael Miedema (59-11).
In the boys 400 meters, the top two times belong to Class A West River talents James Pierce (49.34 seconds), of Lead-Deadwood, and Blake Boyster (49.45), of Custer.
Gracelyn Leiseth’s teammate at Hamlin, Kami Wadsworth, is also one of the elite throwers in South Dakota. Wadsworth currently owns the third-best girls shot put mark and second-best discus mark in the state. She’s also third in the javelin at 128 feet, 11 inches, the best mark outside of Class AA.
All told, three of the top five shot put throws and the top four discus distances belong to Class A athletes. McCook Central/Montrose’s Aubyn Schmidt and Wagner’s Emma Yost rank third and fourth behind the Hamlin duo.
A podium finisher in the 100, 200 and 400 meters at the Class A state meet last season, Custer’s Jordyn Larsen missed the 100 meters finals cut at the Dakota Relays last season. But as of April 30, the speedy sophomore owned the No. 1 time in both the 100 meters (12.30 seconds) and 200 meters (25.86). Despite her leaderboard standing, Larsen was not selected to compete in the 200 meters girls special event on Friday night.