SALEM-Before the running events begin at the McCook Central/Montrose's Fighting Cougar Invitational on Tuesday, the stadium is relatively quiet and the lone event taking place within its fence is the boys high jump.
There are only two competitors, but they are attempting to clear 6 feet. Garretson's Trevor Fiegen-last season's Class A third-place finisher-just missed, so Howard junior Colton Spader takes three steps and effortlessly clears the bar, drawing murmurs from onlookers.
Early in the season, Spader is performing better than any point in his prep career-setting a personal record of 6 feet, 4 inches at the Ethan/Parkston Early Bird Invite-as he looks to avenge a substandard outing at last season's Class B state meet.
"I think I surprised myself with that (jump at Parkston)," Spader said. "I'm just kind of figuring myself out a little more than in other years."
Spader-who hovers near 6-feet tall-went on to beat Fiegen, as both cleared 6-2.25, but Spader so in fewer jumps. It marked the third time in three meets he leaped 6 feet or better, but last May in Rapid City, Spader's season ended with a disappointing jump of 5-8.
"I was really hoping to kick it in and I should have been placing," he said. "But life just doesn't work out how you want it to all the time."
Prior to this season, Spader's top jump was 6-2, but those jumps did not come as consistently. This season he has begun to take a more methodical approach to the event.
In an event that combines explosiveness with technique, Spader has worked to ensure his takeoff and flight are the same each time, which is not something he had done in past seasons.
"I don't think it's a confidence issue, it's going out and giving every jump 100 percent," Howard coach Keith Moe said. "It's knowing how to put everything into a jump and taking it seriously. ... We've had some misses, but we've recalibrated to get back to where we need to be."
With a new focus on his craft, expectations have been adjusted accordingly. Coach and pupil are both in agreement that placing at this season's state meet is not only a goal, but a "must."
Spader's jump of 6-4 would have tied second place in Class B last season. With the season still in its infancy, Spader has his sights set on greater heights to attain, including surpassing the Howard program record of 6-6, set by Bryan Lenocker.
"I would love to get into the top three (at state), if not try winning it," said Spader, who had attempts at, but could not clear the record at Parkston. "But that's a long way away and I have a lot to work on. ... I want to get to 6-7. One of my dad's best friends, Bryan Lenocker, holds the record and he told me I need to get him by an inch."
Moe does not discourage such high aspirations, as he believes it's only a matter of time before Spader sets the new high jump standard for Howard.
"I'll be happy, but I won't be surprised when I he breaks it," Moe said. "I think he's definitely got 6-6 in him and above that."