Jan. 20—CHEYENNE — Emma Hess experienced all of the expected nerves as she backed into the blocks for the 55-meter hurdles final at the 2023 Wyoming Class 4A state indoor track and field meet.
Her standard pre-race thoughts ran through her mind, but were joined by a looming worry about stumbling that hadn't existed before she faltered slightly and had to keep herself from falling to the track during the preliminaries.
All of that concern went away as soon as the shot from the starter's pistol rang out. Seconds later — 8.82 seconds to be exact — Hess had run one of the cleanest races of her life and claimed a state championship.
"I had never fallen in a race before, but I had a pretty big stumble in the prelims that was nerve-wracking," Hess said. "You can't look away or stray from what you're doing in that race because it goes by so fast.
"You have to be in kind of a zone, and that's where I was during the final. Adrenaline took over, and I just ran."
Hess also placed fourth in pole vault (10 feet) and long jump (16 feet, 10 inches) and 10th in triple jump (32-1) at last year's state meet. She fully expects to compete in the 55 hurdles, pole vault and long jump at this year's 4A state championships, but that fourth event is still up in the air for the well-rounded Hess.
"We'll have to see how the year progresses," Central indoor coach Bruce Mowry said. "She's really athletic and has the ability to learn the skills of different events quickly. She's also athletic enough that she can turn those skills into good performances pretty quickly.
"We know what her first three events are going to be. The question is whether she's triple jumping again, high jumping or running a relay."
Hess has excelled at multiple events from the time she competed in one of Laramie County School District 1's elementary school meets as a fourth-grader. Hurdles has always been her strongest event.
That continued into junior high and high school. She was fourth at state in the 55 hurdles her sophomore year. She also placed sixth in 4A in the 100 hurdles during her freshman season outdoors.
Pole vault didn't come into the mix until her two years at McCormick Junior High. Longtime friend Kalea Reisdorfer — who was two years older than Hess — repeatedly urged Hess to try the event. She got further prodding from a McCormick coach who had heard she had been a gymnast and knew the skills would translate to pole vault.
"A lot of it comes from kipping up in the bars and the way you swing your legs in pole vault," Hess said. "I've always been super into things that are fun that also seem kind of scary, and pole vault seemed like one of those things."
Hess and the rest of Central's pole vaulters only get to practice that event once a week during the indoor season. They'll lay runway down the middle of Central's Fieldhouse and go to work on Tuesday nights.
She spends Thursday night's fieldhouse practices working on hurdles, long and triple jump. The other days of the week are spent honing her sprinting skills by running through Central's hallways.
"It's difficult to practice indoor track at this level because we really don't have the facilities," Mowry said. "Indoor track used to be a sport that kids who didn't participate in basketball or wrestling did because they wanted to get a little extra practice for the outdoor season.
"Now, we have so many kids who are committed to track that the participation numbers have exploded, and practice space is hard to come by."
The indoor track season was supposed to start Jan. 13, but Natrona County was forced to cancel its meet due to air temperatures more than 20 degrees below zero and accompanying questionable travel conditions. Central hosts its annual Kevin Salverson Memorial Invitational at 10 a.m. today.
Hess is eager to get this season started. She isn't satisfied with just one state title.
"Having a state championship has made me a lot more excited and motivated," she said. "I have a title to defend. I'm working hard because I know there can be some girl who kind of comes out of nowhere. I can't have the mindset that, 'Hey, I've done it before, and I'm just going to do it again.'
"I have to be good this year. I'm more motivated to keep that title in my name. The feeling of winning was great, and I want that feeling again."
Jeremiah Johnke is the WyoSports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-633-3137. Follow him on X at @jjohnke.