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Title Quest: Hilltoppers' Burt eyes elusive first state track championship

Few athletes know the feeling of being so close, yet so far away like Duluth Marshall senior sprinter Jack Burt. As a sophomore, Burt finished second in the 100 meters at the Section 7A meet to Proctor's Terrance Wenzel, who went on to win the st...

Duluth Marshall senior Jack Burt is framed by two runners while competing in the 800 meter run during a track meet on Tuesday evening in Superior. Burt is normally a sprinter, but he ran the 800 on Tuesday as part of his recovery from a pulled hamstring. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
Duluth Marshall senior Jack Burt is framed by two runners while competing in the 800 meter run during a track meet on Tuesday evening in Superior. Burt is normally a sprinter, but he ran the 800 on Tuesday as part of his recovery from a pulled hamstring. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Few athletes know the feeling of being so close, yet so far away like Duluth Marshall senior sprinter Jack Burt.

As a sophomore, Burt finished second in the 100 meters at the Section 7A meet to Proctor's Terrance Wenzel, who went on to win the state title.

As a junior, Burt finished second in the 200 at the Section 7A meet to Esko's Dawsen Cossalter, who went on to win the state title.

After three state meets and eight medals, from places ninth to second, good is no longer good enough for Burt's final prep season.

"Win a state championship, that's the main goal," Burt said. "Anything short, I'd be pretty disappointed. It'd be especially demoralizing after coming so close. It's frustrating, but it's also kind of cool at the same time."

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Burt, who will run college track at Wisconsin, pulled a hamstring last month at St. Scholastica and tweaked it April 14 in the LSC Indoor at Ashland. He has been taking it easy but hopes to race on Friday in St. Paul at the Hamline Elite Meet, which features the state's best and doesn't separate by class.

Burt made his state meet debut as a freshman in 2015, finishing ninth in the 100 and eighth in the 200. His times and places have gotten better each year, including a third (100), fourth (200) and second (400) at last year's state meet and career best times of 10.89 seconds, 21.99 and 49.82, respectively.

Burt grudgingly added the 400 as a sophomore in 2016 - it's a grueling event, an all-out sprint with a touch of endurance - but it was actually his highest finish at state last year.

Burt said his favorite is still the 200, where he bursts out of the blocks and attacks the corner. He was second in the event at the state meet in 2017 before his fourth last season.

"Jack was a little disappointed last year at state," Marshall coach John Vallez said. "He ran six times in two days, it was 95 degrees and by the 200 final, he was just spent. He even said afterward he didn't feel good at all, but he still did pretty well, considering."

There is a relatively quick turnaround from the 400 to 200 finals, so Burt has considered dropping the 400 to focus on his other events, but part of him has fallen in love with the event he originally loathed. Training for the 400 helps his endurance, and turns out, he is really good at it.

Minnehaha Academy senior Jonathan Webb won the 100, 200 and 400 at the state meet Burt's freshman year, and that's something that stuck with him.

"I thought, 'If he can win all three, why can't I do all three?'" Burt recalled. "I'm the No. 1 returner in the 400, so I'd like to win it, obviously, and I'd like to win the 200 as well. The 100 would just be super fun, because I know the competition will be so good down there. I'm just excited to get back. I feel I've gotten better over the winter."

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• Burt called this year's Marshall sprinting group, which includes junior captain Popo Perrault, the strongest he has been part of. Perrault, who is also a standout soccer player, didn't complete last year's track season because of other commitments.

"Popo has a really good chance to make it to state as well, which would be exciting," Vallez said. "I think Popo will be right there, and to send two kids in the 100 would be pretty cool."

Best of the rest

Duluth Denfeld has a strong junior class in Wryott Gerson, fourth in the 200 and fifth in the long jump at sections last year, as well as sprinter Julian Beckrich and multi-event athlete Connor Feyen. Senior captain Chance Larson returns after a two-year hiatus and should be a force in the hurdles and long jump, while juniors Dominic Klaas and Dominic Miller and sophomore Tyrell Beckom give the Hunters strong depth in the sprinting events.

Duluth East returns senior Nathan Radke in the pole vault, junior distance runners Eli Koski and Oliver Hasler and senior Thomas Woytko and sophomore Derek Daniels in the sprints.

Superior returns senior captain Gunnar Gronski, a dynamic leader who nearly went to state in the 300 hurdles last year and is looking stronger this spring. The Spartans also have Max Plunkett, who narrowly missed state in the 400 last year and has already run a 53-second indoor 400 this spring.

Proctor has a new coach in Nathan Johnson, a former St. Scholastica assistant who takes over after longtime coach Lowell Harnell retired. Johnson was already a Proctor football assistant, and several of the track athletes he was already familiar with from the Rails' state qualifying team last fall, including seniors John Pioro, Brody Eldien, Kaleb Stevens, Cody Hampton and Adam McRae, as well as cross country runner Zach Coughlin.

Hermantown returns All-LSC performer David Birkeland in the middle distances, a senior who helped the Hawks advance to the state basketball tournament. He is joined by fellow all-conference selections Mason Thedens and Mark Monte Jr., as well as sprinter and hurdlers Anand Munkhjargal and David Cornelius, who also does jumps.

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Esko is traditionally strong in the relays and that should continue, with returning state competitors in seniors Isaiah Arntson, Joshua Kemp, Jedd Anich and Justin Jones and juniors Sam Rengo and Luke Bourgeault. Senior Tate Olson returns after finishing seventh in Class A in the pole vault with a mark of 13 feet, 6 inches.

Two Harbors has one of the state's top distance runners in senior Jake Paron, an Augustana University track and cross country recruit who was fifth in the Class A 3,200 last year. Sophomore Noah Smith and freshman Isaac Swanson also return from the Agates' state qualifying 3,200 relay. St. Scholastica football recruits Spencer Ross and Ryan Darsow are among the top sprinters and jumpers, while Brandon Lounsberry and Andrew Hulst return in the throwing events.

Moose Lake-Willow River returns senior Ethan Olson, a state qualifier who holds school records in the 1,600 (4:29.21) and 3,200 (9:45.80). Junior Aidan Szczyrbak will be the top thrower, followed by Dilon Louzek, Anakin Oswald and Keagan Fredrickson-Noyes, while juniors Trent Juhl and Logan Peterson, sophomores Eli Werner and Nate Jungers and freshman Grant Pettit should help the Rebels contend for a fifth straight True Team state berth.

Ashland returns standout twin distance runners Maury and Walker Miller, who will follow older brother Bryce and compete collegiately at Missouri-Kansas City.

Northwestern continues its strong tradition in pole vaulting, with Joey Peterson and Ethan Jensen having already cleared 12-6 this spring.

Cromwell-Wright returns senior Nic Johnson, a Minnesota State-Moorhead football recruit who long jumped 21-6 last year while also running the 100 in 11.29. He'll anchor the Cardinals' sprint relays.

South Ridge returns senior Nick Carlson, a state qualifying triple jumper.

Grand Rapids has one of the Northland's top sprinters in senior Brody Holm, while freshman Wade Brouse could have a breakout season. Junior Tyler Norgord leads a strong group of distance runners that includes junior Garrett Beckrich and senior Alex Kelling, who finished first and eighth, respectively, at the state Nordic meet.

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Greenway freshman Geno Uhrbom just continues to get better. After advancing to state last year in the 1,600, he comes into this season with even high expectations after finishing third at the Class A cross country meet last fall.

Hibbing returns eight seniors with varsity experience, including 400 runner Michael Kubena, pole vaulter Joe Flaten and sprinter and hurdler Spencer Hood.

International Falls returns senior pole vaulter Wyatt Amdahl, a St. Thomas recruit who tied for ninth in Class A last year with a mark of 13-0.

JACK BURT, BY THE NUMBERS

State meet finishes, by season

Junior: third (100), fourth (200), second (400)

Sophomore: seventh (100), second (200), eighth (400)

Freshman: ninth (100), eighth (200)

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Jack Burt leads the pack during the 100 meter dash final at the Lake Superior Conference meet at the Spartan Sports Complex in May 2017 in Superior. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
Jack Burt leads the pack during the 100 meter dash final at the Lake Superior Conference meet at the Spartan Sports Complex in May 2017 in Superior. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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