By Stephen McKay
Sports Writer 

Coyote relay brings home gold

Potter-Dix quartet reaches goal, new school record


Anne Johnson / Special To The Sun-Telegraph

Potter-Dix High's 4x800 relay team, from left, Cooper Hicks, Cameron Purcell, Sam Bogert and Jake Johnson, celebrate after being awarded their gold medals on Friday in Omaha.

OMAHA, Neb. – About a year ago, somewhere along the road between Omaha and Potter, four recently adorned NSAA track and field medalists began to dream of greater achievement. They didn't so much talk about how good it would feel to be a state champion. They talked more about what it would take to get there.

But once Jake Johnson, Sam Bogert, Cameron Purcell and Cooper Hicks, in that order, ran themselves to a state championship on Friday in the 3,200-meter relay, they couldn't help but think about how good it felt.

"It's just amazing, it feels unreal right now," said Bogert shortly after becoming a Class D Nebraska state champion.

"I've been excited about this race since last year and it was just an amazing experience," Johnson said.

First inspired by its sixth-place finish at the 2014 state meet, the quartet began talking about the 2015 championships on the bus ride home.

"We were so happy to get sixth and we said to each other then, 'you know we have a good chance of winning this next year,' " said Purcell.

From that day, they all agreed to make the commitment necessary to reach their collective goal.

"During practice when we were doing hills or something hard, we would say to each other, 'state champs, keep going, keeep pushing, we can do it,'" said Hicks.

The foursome from Potter-Dix High School actually emerged as a fivesome last season. At the 2014 state championships, Bryant Knigge ran with Johnson, Purcell and Hicks. Knigge has since graduated and is now pole vaulting at Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, Iowa. With Knigge's departure, Bogert stepped in to fill the void.

Bogert, however, was no stranger to the group. He ran for Knigge when the Coyotes won the 2014 Class D-11 District Championship. As a junior, Bogert is the youngest member of the group. The other three are seniors.

The steady rain that pelted the Burke Stadium track with varying degrees of intensity for roughly 45 minutes had only recently abated when Johnson took to the starting line. NSAA volunteers were at various points around the track hurriedly squeegeeing puddles of water toward the infield between laps.

The field was off at the sound of the gun, with dozens of track cleats slapping against the wet track. In his customary style, Johnson went to the lead and was just a few yards in front when the pack first crossed the line. Johnson maintained that short advantage over the field of 16 when his work was done.

"I ran my best and then handed off to Sam," said Johnson. "He got off to a good start so I started to feel really good."

While an exhausted Johnson yelled encouragement, Bogert was off. The junior from Potter maintained the lead over his first 400 meters before trouble came calling on the final turn of lap two. Anselmo-Merna began to close fast and held a short lead when Bogert passed to Purcell.

"I felt pretty good when Jake handed off to me," Bogert said. "But man, that guy came from out of nowhere. What a great kick he had."

Though the Coyotes lost the lead, Johnson and Bogert had the team on a school-record pace. The veteran Purcell looked relaxed as he wrested the lead back for the Coyotes on his first lap. He extended it to several seconds before yielding to the final leg. It was up to Hicks now to finish what the others had started.

"It was surreal," Hicks said. "When I crossed that line I couldn't believe we actually did it – even though we've been thinking about it and working toward it since last year."

When Potter-Dix crossed in 8:21.92, it wasn't just a gold medal – it was another school record.

Stephen McKay

Jake Johnson, right, hugs Cooper Hicks after claiming the Class D state title in the 4x800.


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