Kayla Hernandez was at her best performing on the largest stage a high school track and field athlete in Iowa gets.
Hernandez, a junior at Clinton High School, started the day with the best discus throw of her life Thursday at the Drake Relays, and she bettered her previous best again in the finals on her way to a seventh-place finish in the prestigious track meet.
“I had a good feeling about today,” said Hernandez, whose first throw sailed a first-flight-winning 128 feet, 9 feet farther than her personal record. “I went in there and threw my hardest. When I heard that 128 I was happy. I felt tears in my eyes.”
Although it was her best throw of the day, she also went 119-6 and 123-11 in the finals to finish 6 inches behind sixth-place finisher Amanda Platte of Mount Vernon. Dakotah Goodell of Williamsburg, who had three throws past 131 feet and three fouls, won the event at 140-0. Amanda Piche of Marion Linn-Mar was second at 137-9 and one of just two Class 4A throwers who had a better distance than Hernandez.
“It was hard competition, and I made it through,” Hernandez said Thursday night in a telephone interview. “I want to see what state has for me. I’m hoping (to break 130). I’ve got a couple more things I need to work on, but I think I can get them down. I need to work more on my snap at the end. I would like to work on that and get a little more oomph in there.”
Tony Steen, the throws coach for the River Queens, said everything was coming together for Hernandez.
“She just had a really good day,” he said. “It’s finally starting to pay off. This is a huge confidence boost. I think she has a lot more; she can throw a lot farther. I think Kayla thinks so, too.”
Clinton’s other Relays entry, junior distance runner Kate Kaster, also competed Thursday. She finished 19th in the 3,000 meters in 10 minutes, 53.60 seconds. Shelby Houlihan of Sioux City East won in 9:56.71. As expected, Northeast’s Emily Franks did not compete.
“It was an OK run; I’ve had better,” Kaster said. “It was a fine race.
“Today I just went out and said I was going to try to run my best and whatever happens happens. I gave it everything I had. I went out and ran. I was going to run the race and run as hard as I can and not really strategize.”
Central DeWitt’s Joe Carber placed seventh in the boys shot put at 53-8.75, and teammate Tom McClimon was 17th at 49-7.5. Eric Simmons of Madrid was the champion at 59-2.75
Former Clinton High athlete Kurtis Brondyke, a senior at Central College in Pella, also was on the blue oval Thursday. He completed the second day of the decathlon and finished seventh with 6,898 points. Mat Clark, unattached, won with 7,500.
Brondyke’s best finishes in the 10-event competition were third in the javelin (185-0) and fourth in the discus (122-6).
“I thought he looked pretty good,” said Steen, who was an assistant coach with the boys program when Brondyke was at Clinton. “I talked to him a little afterward, and he said it was all coming around.”