It’s May 21, 2022 and the Chase County girls take a lap around the track after winning their second consecutive Class C State championship. It’s their fourth in the last six years.
It’s not a victory lap, it’s meant to be a moment of unity among the team. The past few years, the pre-meet and post-meet lap has taken on an extra emotional meaning for some.
During the district track meet the seniors led the first opening lap around the track. After the meet was over, the juniors, soon to be seniors lad the final lap around the track. When that concluded, the seniors had the rest of the team rally around them in a circle as they talked about what track has meant to them.
In a small, western Nebraska town, the Chase County girls track and field team has accomplished an extraordinary amount. That’s included the aforementioned four state championships. And based on the structure in place, that run might not end any time soon.
“It’s a part of who we are, we could get last place and that lap is still going to happen,” said Troy Hauxwell, coach of the Chase County girls track and field team. “It gets pretty emotional listening to the seniors talk to the younger kids, as a coach standing back and watching the senior’s talk and they’re crying and seeing some of the pictures taken during those speeches because they know that’s the last time they’re going to be together.”
Hauxwell was originally born in McCook, Nebraska before he graduated from Republican Valley High School and from the University of Nebraska-Kearney in 1996. From there he became athletic director at Bethune, Colorado as well as coach for football, basketball and track and field.
In 2012, after 15 years in Colorado, Hauxwell and his family decided that they wanted to be closer to home and the McCook area. They moved to Imperial, where Hauxwell was an assistant on the track and field team.
Imperial has some major advantages. The junior high track and field team takes on a much larger importance as the staff tries to prepare the girls for the High School team. Hauxwell gives major attribution to the high school staff and junior high staff past and present for the time and energy sacrifices that they’ve made in order to get the student-athletes prepared and ready to perform.
Hauxwell said he believes that the culture that their high school team has built has trickled down into the junior high teams. They practice at the same time and on the same track as the high schoolers and see how they act. The junior high teams have had a great deal of success on their own as well. So for Hauxwell, culture has become one of the biggest factors in building his team.
“We know that we have to be different from every other team, this has to be a place where people feel like they are wanted the second that they walk into the locker room and you’ve got to be there to support them regardless of their performance,” Hauxwell said. “Your identity is not tied to your performance in any way and your performance, good or bad, does not affect how much we as teammates, staff and the community loves you.”
Hauxwell took over as the head coach of the girls track and field team in 2015 from Albert Zuege, who was a state champion in 1961 and had been the head coach since 1987. During the Zuege tenure, the girls track and field team captured 15 conference titles.
Zuege made the decision to retire and asked the coach of the boys track team and son, Carl Zuege, who he thought should replace him as coach. Carl and Albert both agreed that Hauxwell would be an ideal fit due to the amount of detail that he put into coaching high jumpers as an assistant for three years.
Albert passed in the summer of 2021 and for his family, it was an easy decision of where his memorial money would go. It was donated to the track and field team and would be put to good use, allowing the team to get a complete new set of hurdles for the upcoming year. These hurdles came with a logo with Zuege’s initials that will be placed on them for the upcoming season.
“We’re really excited about that,” Carl said. “There’s probably not a much better place that he would rather have his name or initials put on.”
Hauxwell said one of the biggest advantages of Imperial, a town of 2,022 people. is the that there is no fast food. Grocery stores are usually closed early on Sundays as well.
If there is not a sporting event of some kind going on, there’s not a lot happening. It’s not uncommon to drive all the way through town and not see one car on the road. Without the distractions, teammates get together and create stronger trust and relationships.
Dan Lenners became an assistant coach on the track and field team in 2001. He pointed out that while some towns may be known as a football or basketball school, Imperial has always been known as a track school. The junior high and high school success has led to a continuous rotating door of athletes ready to compete. Lenners said Hauxwell stepped seamlessly into the head coach role in 2015 and made his own little tweaks to the program as well.
“One thing that Troy has done is a lot of mental imagery with the girls,” Lenners said. “He really challenges girls and stuff with motivational speeches and really develops that will to compete for each girl.”
Bruce Vires played many roles within the school system in Imperial including principal, activities director and assistant track and field coach dating back to the 1970’s. Many things have changed over that time period, one of the biggest being the number of girls who go out for track compared to the 1980’s.
“We used to send the girls track team to a meet in a van,” Vires said. “It’s become more of a social thing now and obviously you need to have talented athletes to go out and compete. Now they have the recognition of being state champions and winning all those many meets in a row and so people want to be a part of that.”
The Chase County track and field team has a rich history that continues to add more accolades as the years pass. During the Hauxwell tenure alone, the girls team has gone 707-13 in meets. And eight of those 13 came in the 2015 State meet. It’s a run matched by few others.