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Kemper's New Balance Outdoors Nationals Steeplechase Title Highlights Postseason Finishes For Idaho
Idaho's best track and field athletes competed one final time at postseason meets
Published: 6/21/2024 9:00:32 AM
Marlowe Hereford
Contributing Writer


Dozens of Idaho high school track and field athletes kept training after last month's state championships to prepare for postseason meets in Oregon, Washington and Pennsylvania.

Those meets concluded over the weekend, as did the 2024 outdoor track season for hundreds of high school athletes around the country. For recent Boise graduate Noe Kemper, his 2024 season and high school career officially ended with two personal bests and one national title in three races at two meets.

On June 15 at Franklin Field in Philadelphia, Kemper entered the championship section of the New Balance Outdoor Nationals boys 2k steeplechase finals seeded No. 1 of 14 runners thanks to his Oregon Relays winning time of 5:53.08 from April. The 14 runners completed the first 400 meters in 72.4 seconds and jostled for position to begin the second 400. Kemper moved to the lead after crossing the water barrier for the second time, picking up the pace with each remaining lap. 

He went through 1,200 meters in 3:31.15 and ran the last 400 meters in 64 seconds to win in a meet record and personal best 5:43.50. That is the fastest time in the U.S. this season in the event as of June 15 and No. 3 all-time in the U.S.

"The field was the best one I've ever run in by quite a bit," Kemper said Thursday by phone. "The first lap and a half didn't go how I wanted it to. I did go out super slow. I think people were waiting to see who was gonna take it. The one time I had in my head which was the national record, 5:40, it wasn't a goal of, 'Hey, I think I can get this.' It was, 'Set yourself up so if you have a good race, this is gonna be in reach.' The last lap, I would've had to run a 60, 61."

Kemper said he wasn't aware of being on meet record pace until he heard the announcer say so during the race. Winning also felt different at New Balance than it did last summer when he won the event at Nike Outdoor Nationals at the University of Oregon's Hayward Field.

"I thought, 'Oh, if I'm not gonna get the national record, I gotta pick it up to see if I can get the meet record,'" Kemper said. "After the race, I was just like pretty happy, pretty excited because last year at Nike when I won, it was really surreal. I did not expect that at all. This was totally the opposite this year, going in as the favorite with 5:53. I was pretty sure I could run faster than that. I was trying not to think it was my race to lose."

Kemper concluded New Balance Outdoor Nationals and his high school track career by competing in the boys 800 finals on June 16, finishing 11th in 1:50.30, the second fastest time of his career. 

Three days before New Balance Outdoor Nationals, Kemper placed fourth in the boys 800 final at the Brooks PR Invitational in Renton, Wash., in a massive personal best 1:49.62, which is No. 10 in the U.S. this season. Kemper is now the second Idaho boy to ever break 1:50, joining 2016 Rocky Mountain graduate Michael Slagowski (1:48.36). Kemper moved up along the outside in the final 350 meters of the bell lap to ultimately place fourth.

"After Arcadia (in April) when I ran 1:50.68, I felt like it was totally there," Kemper said of going sub-1:50. "l was pretty excited to go out to Brooks and have that opportunity to run in that field and break 1:50. The goal was to place well in that field. I think I ran that race kind of exactly how I was planning to with getting out fast and kinda settle in toward the back."

The boys 800 final included nine runners, and the top five broke 1:50 including freshman Cooper Lutkenhaus of Texas who won in 1:47.58.

"He was going around me at the same time I was moving up," Kemper said. 

The Brooks PR Invitational is an invite-only meet. Kemper and recent Skyline graduate Nelah Roberts joined Mountain View's Lexy Halladay and Borah's Nathan Green as recent Idaho athletes to be invited to the meet. Brooks provides plenty of free gear to invited athletes, which Kemper said included spikes, a shoe which Brooks has not yet released to the public, a backpack, warm ups, a T-shirt, long sleeve shirt and the uniforms the athletes competed in on race day. 

After the meet, the athletes took a ferry out on Lake Washington. 

"To me, honestly, the overall experience was more important, getting to meet a bunch of people and hang out with the athletes," Kemper said.  

Kemper said he took time off after last month's Idaho 5A state championships and completed five workouts before Brooks. He met twice a week with Boise assistant coach Dusty Black and also worked with Boise hurdles coach Kristi Hulquist as he trained for steeplechase, which is not a sanctioned high school track and field event in Idaho. New Balance Outdoor Nationals was his third time competing in steeplechase this spring. While he said he also enjoys the 800 and 4x400, he called steeplechase his favorite event.

"I definitely had a lot more confidence going over the hurdles in this race compared to the other ones," Kemper said. "That was definitely a big factor in my PR. I love doing as many events as I can. I think I'd say steeplechase is my favorite one. It kind of brings a lot of things together."

Kemper is in the middle of taking a little more than a week off from running to rest from his extended track season. He will continue his academic and running careers at Dartmouth, where he will rejoin 2022 Boise graduate and Idaho's all-time boys 400 record holder Liam Murray. He leaves for Dartmouth in late August and begins school September 16.

The same weekend as New Balance Outdoor Nationals was Nike Outdoor Nationals in Eugene, Ore. Spencer Van Orden, who will be a junior at Highland in the fall, made the podium twice and gained two personal bests by placing third in the boys championship 400 hurdles finals in 51.94 and fourth in the boys championship 110 hurdles in 13.87. His 400 hurdles time is the fastest on record in Idaho and his 110 hurdles time is No. 2 all-time in Idaho.

Furthermore, Van Orden's 51.94 is the No. 6 fastest time in the U.S. this season for boys 400 hurdles, his second time cracking the top 25 in the U.S. in an event this spring. Last month, his 300 hurdles personal best of 37.15 from the 5A District 5-6 championships was No. 19 in the U.S.

His No. 6 ranking in 400 hurdles is a special point of pride for Van Orden, who broke both of Highland's boys hurdles school records and became Highland's only boy on record to ever sweep hurdles state titles.

"I'm really glad I was able to get my name on the top 10 overall, not just for sophomores," Van Orden said Wednesday by phone. "This high school track season, I've been hit with the, 'You're No. 3 sophomore in the nation. How's it feel?' It feels great every time but it just feels infinitely better to be in the top 10 overall."

Van Orden said he entered the meet with redemption in mind after being disappointed with how he did last July at the USA Track and Field Junior Olympic National Championships, which were also at Hayward Field. He said he was stretched 'pretty thin' last summer as he competed in state, regional and national Junior Olympics over a five week span from mid-June to late July and was actually driving to Oregon on race day.

"I only ended up working out two or three times a week with work and stuff," Van Orden said about Junior Olympic Nationals. "Come race week, I was not ready at all. I underperformed big time. This time, I had more redemption in mind, showing off what I can do and that I am capable of performing at a big meet."

Having competed at Hayward Field twice, Van Orden said he was still in awe upon arriving at the venue, which hosts the U.S. Olympic Trials for track and field starting this weekend.

"It was a beautiful venue," Van Orden said. "I swear I walked in and heard angels singing as soon as I looked at the tower."

Upon placing in the top six in his two finals, Van Orden received All-American honors and a pair of detailed medals.

"They're both almost the size of my hand," Van Orden said. "They're shaped like Oregon. They have the big 'NON' and Nike swoosh on them and all different colors."

Competing at Nike Outdoor Nationals also allowed Van Orden to learn about his confidence levels. He began the season running 40 seconds flat for 300 hurdles and surprised himself by breaking 38 seconds last month. He said 110 hurdles were his weaker event as a freshman and it was difficult to imagine taking a second off his best time. 

With his sophomore season over, he said he exceeded all his expectations this spring.

"Looking back, I probably should've had a lot more confidence in myself," Van Orden. "I just kept dropping time and completely exceeded all of my expectations. Coming to the national meet, I totally expected to choke again like I did my freshman year. I got third (in 400 hurdles) and made the podium."

Van Orden said he has a 'love-hate' relationship with hurdles, especially the 300 and 400 hurdles, but acknowledges that he is good at them. He did not take any time off after last month's Idaho 5A state championships but is currently taking a week off from running before resuming lifting, running and swimming. Idaho's all-time boys 300 hurdles record holder said next year, he wants to lower his personal bests and has his eye on Idaho's all-time 110 hurdles record of 13.67 set by Emmett's Landon Helms in 2022.

"Next year, I'm getting it," Van Orden said.

Joining Van Orden with top-10 finishes at Nike Outdoor Nationals were Jacob Shade, Kaiden Kimble Turner, Parker Simmonsen and Braden Ankeny of Rocky Mountain, who won the boys 4x100 in 41.72, recent Centennial graduate Kai Twaddle-Dunham (fourth place boys championship discus, 191-11), Timberline's Nadja Burkholder (second place girls emerging elite triple jump, 37-8), Marsh Valley's Lydia Townsend (sixth place girls emerging elite pole vault, 11-3), Bishop Kelly's Owen Kane (10th place boys emerging elite triple jump, 43-7), Timberline's Ethan Kirkendall (seventh place boys emerging elite 400 in 49.47), recent Coeur d'Alene Charter graduate Nathan Russell (10th place boys emerging elite 800 in 1:54.90), Nampa Christian's Avery Reece (seventh place freshman girls 100 in 12.74), Coeur d'Alene's Wyatt Carr (third place freshman boys mile in 4:22.50), Coeur d'Alene's Max Cervi-Skinner (sixth place boys championship 5k in 14:40.44), Coeur d'Alene's Zackery Cervi-Skinner (fifth place boys emerging elite 2-mile in 9:15.39), McCall-Donnelly's Caleb Beaman, Lennox Bowling, Matthew Daniels and Van Vinson (seventh place boys championship 4x200 in 1:30.76), Boise's Jack Sheesley (10th place boys championship 2-mile in 9:04.23) and Rocky Mountain's Emme Hamm, Brighton Heywood, Halle Heemeyer and Belle Draney (fifth place girls championship 4x800 in 9:21.82).

Like Kemper, recent Skyline grad Nelah Roberts also competed at the Brooks PR Invitational on June 12. She did not receive an invitation until June 5, exactly one week before the meet, when Skyline head cross country coach Sean Schmidt corresponded with Brooks PR meet directors and learned that someone had withdrawn from the girls 2-mile. He then told Roberts that a spot in the meet she had been dreaming of and training for all season was available. Her reaction was two-fold because she'd been on her two-week break from running following last month's Idaho 4A state championships.

"I was like, 'Crap. I'm not in shape,'" Roberts said June 13 by phone. "I kinda had to go for the experience and fun of it almost."

Roberts placed 12th of 12 girls in 10:52.16 in the 2-mile final, which included five sub-10 minute times led by a meet record and No. 2 U.S. all-time 9:41.76 by winner Allie Zealand of Virginia.

Roberts said she knew it would not be her ideal race due to the quick turnaround between accepting an invitation and competing. She completed two hard workouts before flying to Seattle.

"It was basically just hold on and see what happened," Roberts said. 

Schmidt and his wife Shannon traveled to Renton to watch Roberts in her final high school race as did Roberts' older brother Harrison and sister-in-law Karlie. Two days after Brooks PR, Roberts and her family were scheduled to depart Seattle for an Alaskan cruise to celebrate her graduation from Skyline. 

"I thought it was a really just perfect ending to it all, being able to come to a really cool meet and experience that with them," Roberts said.

Like Kemper, Roberts enjoyed receiving Brooks gear and the opportunity to better get to know some of the best high school athletes in the country before and after the meet. She spent time with Chloe Huyler (Oregon), Jane Hedengren (Utah), Rebecca O'Keefe (Washington), Lily Alder (Utah), and reigning Nike Cross Nationals individual champion Addy Ritzenhein (Colorado) while in Seattle.

Idaho's all-time girls 3,200 record holder (10:14.68) and only four-time girls individual cross country state champion, Roberts ends her high school career having competed in EastBay (now again called Footlocker) Cross Country National Championships once, Nike Cross Nationals (NXN) twice, Nike Indoor Nationals once, Nike Outdoor Nationals once and Brooks PR once. Roberts, who will compete for BYU in the fall, said she was grateful for all the meets she was able to compete in over four years and for the athletes she met while there.

"Even though my race was not ideal, it really is so fun and so cool to have another opportunity," Roberts said. "I am so grateful for the opportunity and being able to hang out with all the girls."

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