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LISBON — Who needs asphalt? The Lisbon Lions have grass, and their coach has creativity.
“We don’t use it as an excuse,” Casey Baxa said of the lack of a track on the school campus. “We work out mostly here on the football field or on the streets.
“We use the hills a lot. We just use our imagination.”
So now, use yours. Imagine a football team practicing in a parking lot. Or a basketball team scrimmaging in a library.
Now imagine that team thriving, constructing a mini-dynasty.
This team without a track, the Lions pursue their third consecutive Class 1A boys’ track and field state championship at Drake Stadium in Des Moines. Competition commences at 9 a.m. Thursday.
“If we show up and do what we need to do, we should be able to win another,” senior sprinter Derek Bova said.
Based on results from last week’s districts, the Lions are a slight favorite in what figures to be a two-team race with Pekin.
“We don’t run against them all year, but these kids are all over Quik Stats,” said Baxa, a 1998 Lisbon graduate. “It pushes us, and it probably pushes them.”
The Lions previously trained periodically at Cornell College and Mount Vernon High School. Neither of those arrangements were extended into this year, Baxa said.
“Cornell wanted $100 an hour, and that’s not feasible,” he said.
So the Lions have moved on. Early-season workouts were held in a hallway at the school. Once the weather improved, the Lions made themselves at home at Walmer Field, just a few strides downhill from the high school.
Measurements are done by distance between light poles.
“We know what every distance is,” said Jack Butteris, who joins newcomer Blake Langhurst to give the Lions a formidable 1-2 punch in the 400 meters.
“Then, you get on the track at a meet, and it feels like you’re running on air.”
Butteris has signed to run at UNI, but has been limited this season by a quadriceps injury. He returned in time for the district meet last Thursday, and ran the 400 in 49.57 seconds.
“I took lot of rest, did a lot of stretching, then I rode the bike pretty hard,” Butteris said. “After districts, I couldn’t walk on it much. I did a lot of physical therapy. Two events a day at state will be easier.”
One of Butteris’ best moves this season came when he pursuaded Langhurst, a senior, to join the team for the first time.
“They tried to get me out last year, but I had a job,” said Langhurst, who will anchor the Lions’ top-seeded sprint medley relay. “Basketball and football didn’t end the way we wanted, and I wanted another chance to win a state championship. And like the guys said, I have the rest of my life to work.
“I didn’t expect I would be this fast. I regret not going out earlier.”
Baxa said Langhurst “was sent from God. He came out of nowhere.”
Butteris, Bova and Langhurst are seniors. The rest of the nucleus is dominated by juniors — “we have 16 of them, and 12 or 13 are really good track guys,” Baxa said.
Good track guys don’t necessarily need a good track. Or, in the case of the Lions, any track at all.
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