The Bulldogs brought home second and third place honors in two events at the 98th running of the Howard Wood Dakota Relays on May... Bulldogs Place High in Howard Wood Dakota Relays

The Bulldogs brought home second and third place honors in two events at the 98th running of the Howard Wood Dakota Relays on May 5-6 at Howard Wood Field in Sioux Falls. Earning top places at any meet is an achievement, but it’s even sweeter when you consider this year’s Howard Wood featured over 3,000 athletes from across North and South Dakota, and 32 meet records — some dating from the 1970s– were toppled. Organizers said that in itself is a record. It now stands as the most broken records in one year at the Howard Wood Dakota Relays. 

The competition at the 2023 event could easily be called fierce or talented. Even so, senior Simeon Birnbaum from Rapid City Stevens stands out. Birnbaum won the special event 800-meter run and the 1600-meter run. He set a new record in each race. Birnbaum is better known for becoming the 17th high school athlete in U.S. history to run a mile in under four minutes. He accomplished the feat at the Brooks PR Invitational in Seattle in 2022. Birnbaum is considered the best distance runner in South Dakota history.

The girls competition was also peppered with outstanding athletes and state champions. Gracelyn Leiseth from Hamlin is a national champ.  At this year’s relays, she won the shot put with her throw of 52′  .5″.  Earlier this spring, she set the national indoor record at 52′ 6.25″  The Lady Charger had also already claimed South Dakota’s all-time record in the discus with a throw of 171′ 8″. It ranks at No. 2 in the nation. Leiseth is considered the best female hurler this area of the country has ever produced.

Being surrounded by elite competition, however,  did not deter the Milbank team from bringing home some hardware. Eric Townsend, head coach for MHS, said, “Three of the boys relays placed in the top eight. The boys 3200-Meter Relay team of James Batchelor, Bryan Meyer, Garrett Mertens, and Payton Brown placed third.  With their time of 8:10.36, they moved up to No. 3 on the Milbank High School Varsity Honor Roll. The boys Sprint Medley Relay team made up of Jayden Johnson, Meyer, Mertens, and Brown earned second place. Their time of 3:39.09 moved them up to No. 5 on the MHS Varsity Honor Roll. Brown, Batchelor, Meyer, and Mertens also claimed the sixth-place finish in the 1600-Meter Relay. Jayden Johnson took ninth place in the boys pole vault event.

The girls Medley Relay team of Laney Forrette, Maurina Street, Siera Wenzl, and Bianca Berry took 11th place. Their 1600-Meter Relay team of Street, Isabella Anderson, Ellie Neugebauer, and Wenzl took 12th place. Street, Berry, Zayda Townsend, and Neugebauer captured 14th place in the 3200-Meter Relay.

Townsend said the Howard Wood Dakota Relays were a big part of an even  bigger week. The teams’ schedule included four meets — Valley Queen Cheese, Sisseton Twilight, Howard Wood Relays, and the Webster Quad. (Find results for all four events here on The Valley Express.)

What’s next  for Milbank?  The Northeast Conference meet for the pole vault division takes place in Webster on Wednesday, May 10.  The Northeast Conference meet for all other events takes place on Thursday, May 11 in Groton. That meet starts at 11 am.   
“Both teams (MHS boys and girls) are in a great position to make a run for another Northeast Conference team championship, Townsend commented. “I hope we have our best meet of the season and bring another championship back to Milbank.”


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