Half the battle of the state tournament is getting there. For Perry’s Kaleb Olejniczak and Kato Dougan, that battle was won in back-to-back years as the pair of Bluejays entered the blue oval at Drake Stadium once again this year.

In 2018, the pair were together in the Class 3A 800-meter sprint medley. But on Thursday, May 16, they each took separate paths to get to Des Moines. Olejniczak in the 400 and Dougan in the 100 (which he qualified for in 2018 as well as a sophomore).

“It’s awesome. To be able to qualify in an individual event,” Olejniczak said fresh out of breath. “It was crazy to run.”

Olejniczak entered the afternoon as the eighth-seeded runner after registering 51.45 seconds at the qualifying meet in Carroll the previous week. Placing against that crowded field would be a tough task but gave motivation for the star senior to reach deeper than he had before to climb up the ranks.

With a time of 50.98, he found a new gear in time for his curtain call on the track.

Alas, a number of other runners found that same motivation and snuck past him on the final leaderboard as Olejniczak fell to 12th place overall.

“I just wanted to run a PR. If I didn’t place, I didn’t place. So I ran a PR by almost half a second. That’s all I can ask for,” he added.

Even with the sun out to burn anyone that didn’t bring sunscreen, Olejniczak couldn’t have asked for more. Literally.

He said before the meet, his wrestling coach Mark Weber told him “Nothing better than a little wrestling room heat.” Evidently, the scalding air was enough comfort for him to come through in the end to meet his goal he’s chased for four years.

The afternoon rang familiar for Dougan as well in his dash to the finish. He entered the day as the 24th seeded runner with a time of 11.73. And out the other side, he took 23rd place of the 23 participating runners on the afternoon. But it wasn’t without gain.

Dougan’s time in the 2018 state event found him in the same placement, but at 11.76 this year, he was able to shed 0.05 off the clock from his previous mark a year earlier. He said that was a bit satisfying even if there was more on the table to achieve.

The time doesn’t improve on his personal best this season, let alone reach his peak performance in 2018. But as Dougan joked before qualifying, he chased down that time running with a good wind behind him. At Thursday’s event, he was up against a -2.2 mph wind. In 2018, the wind eased up to -1.0 against him. Despite the stagnant placement, Dougan didn’t go out without a fight, and in more than one way, he showed the improvements he has made over a year.

After competing in the same event the previous two years, it won’t be a surprise to see Dougan back on the blue oval for Round Three as a senior.