VIRGINIA — Eveleth-Gilbert looks ready to send two athletes to the state track and field meet this weekend: One with plenty of experience and one ready to dive right into the state’s toughest competition.
Junior Natalie Fultz, making her third straight appearance at state looks to improve upon her fourth place finish last year in the 300 hurdles with another strong effort this weekend. In addition, she’ll also be competing in the high jump for the first time and is ready to see how high she can go.
She’ll be joined by sophomore Josh Creer-Oberstar, the section champion in the boys’ high jump who cleared six feet, two inches at sections last week to send himself to his first state meet.
Fultz is seeded seventh heading into the hurdles with a time of 46.72 and 18th in the high jump with a mark of five feet, flat. Creer-Oberstar heads in to the high jump seeded 11th with his mark of six feet, two inches.
With both athletes competing in the high jump, the pair have enjoyed having another jumper to bounce off of late in the season.
“We can kind of relate to each other in a way,” Fultz said Wednesday at Virginia’s Ewens Stadium. “He has the higher heights, for sure, but it’s nice to go in with someone you know that’ll be rooting for you.”
“It helps going in the same event as her,” Creer-Oberstar said. “I think we’ve both really helped each other improve this year heading into state.”
While Fultz has high expectations for herself at least in the 300 hurdles, she had to collect herself during the section finals after a bad fall during the 100 meter hurdles that took her out of contention for state in that event.
“It was rough,” Fultz said. “My mind set totally changed in that moment. After the 100 hurdles, I had to go right to high jump and then straight to the 300 hurdles after that.
“I had to tell myself to get over it, shake it off and just push myself as hard as a I could.”
Fultz completed her turnaround at sections, qualifying in the high jump and taking home the 300 meter section crown. Now, with just two more races to go in the hurdles, Fultz says she’s back in the game and ready to go.
“Last year it was a lot of nerves making the 300 finals for the first time. I wanted to get it over with. Now that I know what it’s like, the nerves are still there, but I’m ready to ask myself if I can do better this year and improve on what I’ve done.”
For Creer-Oberstar, a fourth place finish in the high jump at sections in his freshman year laid the groundwork for this year’s section title. The biggest difference? A large amount of mental work.
“It was a lot of work this year,” Creer-Oberstar said. “I had to put in a lot of work, a lot of mental work this season. I can say, going into sections, I was so nervous at first that I had to change my mentality once I got there. I told myself that I wasn’t leaving without the win. I wasn’t going to miss out on state.”
That mental work is at least half the battle when it comes to the high jump, according to the sophomore.
“There’s so many things that can change at a meet that you don’t have to deal with in practice. I had to change my steps and my run-up just minutes before I jumped at sections. There’s a lot of things that can change up that you need to think about.”
E-G boys’ head coach Jon Wagner and girls’ head coach Deanna Kerzie agree on one thing with they’re athletes: They have a lot of energy that they need to burn before their events start.
“Josh is an extremely versatile and talented athlete for us,” Wagner said. “For that reason, I keep him real busy at meets going from event to event. He can do almost anything for us. But now, he’s just doing one event and he has to find a way to scatter his energy and come into the high jump warmed up right and in the right mind set.”
Kerzie agreed with Wagner’s thoughts and said the same was true for Fultz.
“The hardest thing about state is having too much time to think,” Kerzie said. “She’ll be high jumping earlier in the day and then doing hurdles later in the evening so she’ll have to get herself warmed up again and then get in the right mind set for a different event.
“I think with her past state experience she should be able to handle it just fine.”
As Creer-Oberstar makes his first appearance at state, Wagner has the same advice for him that he would give any first timer at state.
“I tell them to enjoy this moment,” Wagner explained. “Enjoy the moment. There’s no pressure. You do the best you can do and if you do well, that’s great. If you fall short, that’s fine too. It’s a learning experience. State should never be a negative experience.”
For Fultz, Kerzie said she helped find a silver lining for her veteran hurdler after her fall in the 100 race.
“In the prelims for the 100 hurdles, Natalie broke the school record in the event. She didn’t make it to state in the 100 after the finals but I kind of surprised her with the news of the broken record at our banquet to giver her a little boost. She told me then that now she wants to do even better next year so she can break it again.”
With all said and done, the two jump-happy athletes are more than enthused they get to end their season at state with a teammate.
“I’ve very proud of Josh,” Fultz said. He’s pushed very hard this year and he’s earned it.”
“I’m glad Natalie made it again,” Creer-Oberstar said. “It’s nice to have another person to do this with and I know she’s going to do really well in both events.”