Sacred Heart senior Jacob Faerber couldn't have asked for a better early season test.
He also couldn't have been happier with the result.
Competing against runners from bigger schools, Faerber proved he belonged in the Salina South Invitational by winning the 400-meter dash in 50.57 seconds Tuesday at Salina Stadium.
"I love getting to come to the South meet because of the competition," said Faerber, the defending Class 2A champion in the 400. "As a 2A, you don't get to run against 5A and 6A schools very often.
"I think I'm much more confident in the early season than I as last year."
Though his time was not a personal best — he ran 49.54 in the state meet last year — it was close enough to convince Faerber he's on the right track.
"My goal over the summer was to start a little closer to what I finished last year," said Faerber, who also finished second in the 200 at state by mere thousandths of a second. "Track is one of those things that if you want to be competitive you've got to stay in shape in the offseason.
"My goal in the 400 is to break 48 seconds, and obviously to be competitive in the 200."
It also was a good day for Salina South's boys, whose 109 points tied them with Class 6A Hutchinson for the team championship. The Cougars got individual victories from Isaac Mitchell with a throw of 177 feet, 11 inches in the javelin, and from Jayden Miller with a 142-8 mark in the javelin.
The other South gold medal came from Daniel Atkins, Cris Dominguez, Keetan Munsell and Brandon Rectenwald with an 8:36.16 clocking.
Mitchell's mark was a personal best by a foot over last year's 5A state meet.
"At the beginning of the season it's just remembering (technique) and taking it up again," Mitchell said. "I'm stronger and more prepared this year to keep increasing."
Mitchell, a junior, has gone back and forth this year with senior teammate Payton Webb, who did not compete Tuesday.
"Payton and I push each other every day," he said of Webb, who has gone over 178 this year. "At the pre-state meet (Friday at Wichita State) the runway will be longer, so I hope to break 180.
"That's my goal."
Atkins, in addition to running on the winning relay team, took second to Faerber in the open 400 and third in the 200, while Munsell added a runner-up finish in the 3,200.
"We have a lot of young kids on both the boys and girls side," South coach Justin Ebert said. "Any time you win a team championship, you can't complain.
"Especially at your home meet."
Salina Central's boys, who took fifth with 65 points, got a first-place finish from junior Junior Blake Olmsted with a 12-6 clearance in the pole vault.
"My PR is 13 feet (last year at regionals) so it's good to be back near that height again," Olmsted said of his season best. "I was at 10 feet last year until all of a sudden I jumped 13, and my freshman year I only jumped 8-6, so I feel I'm doing pretty good."
In the girls meet, Hutchinson dominated with 166 points, but Salina Central finished second behind gold-medal finishes from Kyah Arcayan in the 400 (1:01.90), Tabetha Deines in the 800 (2:29.67) and Kadyn Cobb in the 1,600 (5:40.27). Those three also teamed with Elisa Backes to take second in the 1,600 relay, while Backes was runner-up in the 100 hurdles and third in the 300 hurdles.
Arcayan used a strong kick on the back straight to catch Abigail Dickenson from behind.
"Last year I was running 65 (seconds) at this time and now I'm blowing that out of the water," Arcayan said. "I kind of forgot about the stagger so I didn't think I could catch her but then I saw her giving out I decided I had to really kick."
Salina South's girls finished fifth as a team, but produced the only local double winner, when Tori Maxton captured both the pole vault at 10 feet and long jump at 5-0.
Maxton, a sophomore, also won the pole vault with a 10-foot mark last year as a freshman, but it was her high jump victory that blew her away.
"That's a new PR," she said. "I'm really excited that I cleared it.
"I'm kind of in shock because I wasn't expecting it."
Maxton maxed out at 10 feet in the pole vault last year until clearing 10-6 at state. Though she has not yet matched that mark this year, she is confident that it will happen soon.
"I've been much more consistent at 10 feet this year," she said. "Today I was hoping to go for 11 feet, but I couldn't get over 10-6.
"I'm hoping for a PR at the pre-state meet."
Sacred heart, which scored just 29 team points, did get a first-place finish from Jordan Gilliland in the 3,200-meter run with a time of 12:50.87. Earlier, she took third in the 1,600 at 5:57.25.