There’s a magic number in Scott Christensen’s head at the beginning of every spring season. The Stillwater boys’ track and field coach has kept records from the past 25 state championship meets, and almost all of the data implies the same thing: A team needs to score 70 points in order to take the state title.
Christensen, who has been at the school for more than 30 years, owns multiple state championships. After doing some number crunching, the Ponies’ coach is confident they can win it all this season.
“If you get to 70 points, you’re going to win 19 out of 20 years,” Christensen said. “This whole program is based on history and evidence and performance. There’s no opinion involved. It’s hard evidence; it’s science.”
Last season Stillwater finished the state championships with 48 points, good for fifth place. The core of athletes from that team returns, suggesting Stillwater could yield a better result this June.
If that happens, it will likely be in large part because of the efforts of senior Isaac Hale. The versatile athlete is a standout in the high jump and runs in the 4x400 meter relay. He also is one of the team’s top pole vaulters.
“I kind of pride myself on being a jack of all trades,” Hale said. “I’m guessing I’ll probably score most of my points in high jump.”
Christensen said he expects Hale to produce 12 or 13 points in the state meet, based on how his current marks compare to results from previous years. He’s never reached more than 6 feet, 5 inches in the high jump but hopes to clear 6-8 in his final high school season.
“If I really apply myself I think I can do it,” Hale said. “It’s really important to get it nailed down, to know exactly how well we need to perform. It’s just good to have it all planned out before the actual meet, because it takes a lot of pressure off.”
Another component of Christensen’s time-tested winning formula is a strong runner in the 1,600 meters, and Eli Krahn is just that. The junior took first in the race at the two most recent state championships, setting the American record for a ninth-grader in 2013 at 4:09.38.
Krahn had a stress fracture in his foot for almost all of the most recent cross-country season, forcing him to sit and watch while his teammates ran to third place in the state meet.
“It was hard to watch the team go on to state and regionals without me,” said Krahn, who is now healthy.
Another key Stillwater contributor also recently recovered from a foot injury after the cross-country season. Allen-Michael Burback spent much of the winter in a walking boot. Once the senior recovered, he regularly met with a strength trainer to ensure he makes it back to the state finals of the 800 meters in his senior year.
“We have a lot of expectations for him,” Christensen said, adding that he expects six to eight points from Burback at the state meet. “He’s got some work to do.”
It might seem odd to some that Christensen calculates what he needs from each of his athletes at the state meet to be victorious. But for a coach who’s won championships and has a strong background in biology, there’s nothing more telling than hard evidence.
“Otherwise you’re just shooting darts at a dartboard. I mean, in order to know what you think you can score you’ve got to look back at history,” Christensen said. “This year happens to be a year where we can get to 70 points.”
Jack Satzinger is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.