SIOUX FALLS-Prior to the start of the boys 400-meter dash finals at the Howard Wood Dakota Relays on Saturday, Collin Helma wasn't sure if he could win the race.

The Freeman sophomore is the defending Class B champion in the event and he currently has the second-best time in the class this year. The field in the Dakota Relays also featured Aberdeen Central's Seth Martens and Rapid City Central's Blake DeVries, who have the top two times in Class AA this year, respectively.

As the field neared the finish line, Helma was able to nip Vermillion's Tommy Nikkel-who has the third-best time in Class A this year-to finish with a time of 50.24, winning by 0.19 seconds.

"I thought it was going to be close, especially with the times," Helma said. "I wasn't expecting to win, but I pushed hard at the end and came out on top."

The top four finishers were separated by 0.54 seconds, with Helma also besting Pipestone Area (Minnesota) senior Devin Tinklenberg and Sioux Falls Christian's Mitchell Oostra, who has the second-best time in Class A this season. He also happened to be the lone competitor in the race from a Class B school

"It's pretty big. All of them were from bigger schools and guys I hadn't raced before," Helma said. "Just being here at Howard Wood-it's an honor to be here."

McCook Central/Montrose junior Jacy Pulse-the defending Class B state champion in the 300 hurdles-nearly beat Rapid City Stevens' Elizabeth Schaefer, who has won the last four Class AA state titles in the event. Schaefer's winning time of 44.34 was 0.24 seconds faster than Pulse, who also placed third in the 400 at 58.15 seconds.

Jones, Haring hit top marks

With the sun shining and temperatures in the low-70s on Saturday, Mitchell senior Sam Jones though it was perfect weather to pole vault.

Jones entered the meet with a career-best vault of 13 feet, but that record went down in a hurry. He topped his previous personal-best mark by 9 inches, hitting 13 feet, 9 inches on his first attempt to place second in the event.

"We got some new poles this past week," Jones said. "I've been feeling really good on them. It felt a lot better."

Jones was the lone competitor to clear 13-9 on the first attempt and eventually helped him nip Minden (Nebraska) sophomore Ethan Riley on jumps. He wanted to clear 14-3, but missed all three attempts and St. Thomas More's Jens Christensen took the event with a vault of 14-9.

Meanwhile, classmate Carly Haring found herself in a duel with Watertown's Alayna Falak in the high jump.

The three-time state champion missed her first attempt at 5-8, but cleared the second to tie her own top mark and school record. Falak, though, made a clean jump on her first attempt and while both girls missed all three times at 5-10, Falak got the win on jumps.

Although Haring didn't come away with the win, getting back to her top jump was a good consolation prize, particularly since she expects to face Falak in the final three meets of the season.

"I would have rather won, but I'm thrilled to make 5-8 again and be back where I was last year," Haring said. "Alayna is a great competitor. I've always known she can beat me, it's just a matter of who has a better day."

Area relay teams have strong performances

The Avon quartet of Lauren Sees, Alexa Sees, Courtney Sees and Shalayne Nagel combined to put other Class B teams on notice on Saturday.

The Pirates came into the meet with a top time of 4:17.30 in the 4x400-meter relay this season, but they cruised past that mark with ease. Avon raced to a time of 4:12.27 to win the Class B division, besting second-place Deubrook Area by more than three seconds.

The same group also took second in the Class B 4x200 relay with a time of 1:51.15, 0.25 seconds behind first-place Ipswich.

Mount Vernon/Plankinton also ended the Dakota Relays with a bang, taking first in the Class A girls 4x400 relay, as the team of Berkeley Engelland, Savannah Risseeuw, Dacey Rihanek and Emilee Fox's time of 4:07.38 beat Luverne by 0.37 seconds.

Three of Bon Homme's boys relay teams reached the podium, with the Cavaliers finishing sixth in the Class A 4x200 relay, and seventh in both the 4x100 and 4x400 relays.

Nate Scieszinski, John Kubal, Josh Crownover and Joey Slama ran 1:33.76 in the 4x200, while Scieszinski, Kubal, Slama and Noah Heesch ran 45.7 in the 4x100 and Crownover, Slama, Heesch and Scieszinski ran 3:36.35 in the 4x400. Heesch also took sixth individually in the 110 hurdles.

Kimball/White Lake's Dani Deffenbaugh, Ryann Grussing, Kennedy Leiferman and Christine Gaulke took third in the Class B girls sprint medley relay (4:29.56), while Leiferman, Gaulke, Sidney McCord and Ellie Overweg were sixth in the 4x400 relay at 4:21.96.