BISMARCK - A year ago, Morgan Milbrath was the toast of the high school state track and field meet.
The nine-time state champion was approached by the same dizzying amount of strangers Friday, but the greetings switched from ceaseless congratulations to heartfelt sympathy.
Milbrath won four individual events as a junior in 2012, but entered this weekend with a nagging hamstring injury suffered in late April.
Minot High School senior Morgan Milbrath starts a 200-meter preliminary heat in the state meet Friday at the Bismarck Community Bowl.
She was entered in just two open events with hopes of being added to relays. The North Dakota State University signee didn't qualify for today's 200-meter final and labored her way to the ninth and final spot in the 400 final.
"It's just, like, I know I can run faster ... but my body just keeps telling me no," Milbrath said. "I think that's the hardest, probably, battle is trying to deal with my own mind and trying to see what I really can do and can't do."
Before the hamstring strain, Milbrath was often able to pull away from the field midway through the 400. She won the event last year in 55.36 seconds, but was unable to find the trademark gear that made a mockery of so many of her past races. She finished in 1:02.02 Friday to extend her career another day.
"It might not look great to everyone out here, but it felt great," Milbrath said. "I haven't ran the 400 since I got hurt, so it felt good to finish a race and just to be able to come out here and actually compete is, honestly, an honor.
"I just want to thank everyone for their prayers and everything that they've given me to try to help me through this."
Her sunny disposition trumped any frustration as she flashed bright smiles at peers and meet officials, who tracked her down after races to offer appreciation.
Fans still saw the name Milbrath in the No. 1 spot following the second 400 preliminary heat. It was sophomore Madison Milbrath, who ran 59.63 to finish second overall and earn one of the center lanes frequented by her older sister.
"It was tough knowing that my sister couldn't be at the best of her abilities at this point in time, but it was still exciting to get out there and run our races the best that we could," Madison said.
And with Morgan unable to win the heat, who better to win and secure a spot in the senior's last final than her sister.
"It helps so much to see that she's really filled into her role and really started to shine," Morgan said. "I can't be any more proud of her as a big sister."
The hamstring's impact on Morgan's speed was more apparent in the 200, where she finished fifth in her heat and three spots out of the finals with a time of 26.99. She won the event last year in 24.33 and holds the state record with a 24.32 set in 2010.
"Having her complete her first race was a load off her shoulders, I think," MHS coach Michelle Hoff said. "I just wanted her to be able to run her senior year and I know that it's not what we planned, but at least she was able to compete."
Before the 400 heat, all eight competitors held hands as they walked toward the starting blocks. Morgan knew she wasn't at her best, but camaraderie is as much a part of her as speed and she appeared as ready as ever to encourage her opponents.
Morgan will smile again today and there will be no shortage of athletes, coaches, officials and fans to shake her hand and return some of the electricity she always brought to the track.
MHS girls in sixth place
The Majettes sit in sixth place heading into the final round of events today.
Sophomore thrower MacKenzie Gleason was the team's top point-earner with six from her third-place finish in the discus. Classmate Jessica Drady was sixth in the event for three points.
Gleason's throw of 128 feet, four inches was a personal best by 12 feet.
"Our throwers did very very well today," Hoff said.
The 3200-relay team of junior Jayden Moum, Madison Milbrath, freshman Meg Super and senior Samantha Huether picked up the team's final four points of the day. Huether made up considerable ground on the final leg and the Majettes finished fifth in 10:04.12.
The Majettes' young sprint relays failed to qualify for today's finals in the 400 and 800.
"The sprint relays definitely didn't go as planned," Hoff said. "Ultimately, you need to get the baton around the track quickly and we didn't get there today."
MHS has competitors in all but one of the remaining open races and are not far off third place. Bismarck Century leads with 56 followed by Bismarck High at 43. West Fargo is third with 20, Grand Forks Central is two points ahead of the Majettes with 15 and Fargo North has 14.