Jesse Griffin didn’t take 13 athletes from his Lee’s Summit West girls track team all the way to California just to see how they measured up against high-school track and field’s elite. They were the elite.
West came back with another champion and four top-10 nationally ranked performances from last weekend’s Arcadia Invitational, a meet that invites only the nation’s top high-schooler athletes to compete in suburban Los Angeles.
Griffin knew that the girls who made the trip, most of whom formed core of the Titans’ back-to-back Class 5 state champion squads, would do more than have some fun in the sun. But he still seemed surprised at how well they stacked up.
“It’s much better than I expected at the outset of that meet,” Griffin said. “Not that I’m selling our girls short, but the athletes at that meet and the teams at that meet are the very best of the best in the United States.”
West senior Makayla Kelby, who has been one of the nation’s best at the shot put and discus for some time, embellished on that reputation by defending the discus title she won last year. Kelby, the only Missouri athlete to ever win an event at Arcadia, won with a personal-record toss of 168 feet 6 inches, the second-best mark recorded in the United States this season.
Kelby, who has signed with the University of Washington, followed her discus title with a second-place finish in the shot put. Her 45-11¼ toss ranks fourth nationally.
“She basically elevated her level of performance like she’s never done before,” Griffin said. “She was relaxed, looked like a veteran thrower and just elevated her game.”
Senior Jana Shawver turned in another elite performance when she placed second in the invitational 800-meter run. Shawver, who will compete next year for Kansas, placed second with a time of 2 minutes, 11.41 seconds that ranks eighth in the U.S.
Griffin said Shawver, like Kelby, stepped it up against the top-notch competition.
“She had a burst of speed that was at a different level than she’s ever had before,” Griffin said. “She had a different gear with about 250 meters to go and just elevated above a very elite field.”
Shawver also teamed up with Audrey Parson, Madison Hulsey and Addie Mathis to take third in the 3,200 invitational relay. Their time of 9:16.81 is ranks No. 1 in Missouri and No. 4 in the country this season.
In the 6,400 relay, Hulsey and Mathis joined Harley Hardin and McKenna Butler to take second in 21:26.94, the eighth-best U.S. time in that event. Jessica Haney took second in the high jump with a 5-6 leap that ranks first in Missouri.
Just how elite was the competition? Butler, Hardin, Hannah Brown and Kailyn Persinger placed seventh in the seeded 3,200 relay with the sixth-best time in Missouri. And Parson, who finished 21st in the open 800, ran the third-best time in the state this spring.
“I like taking our girls to those types of competitions when we get a chance because it pushes them,” Griffin said. “They get the opportunity to work in a pack of great athletes and that makes them have to adjust and elevate to a higher level.”
The Arcadia Invitational became the center of a controversy in Blue Springs, where distance runners Victor Mugeche of Blue Springs and Tori Findley of Blue Springs South were denied permission to compete. According to MileSplit USA website, the district was concerned about missing class time and questioned the need for them to travel that far to find top competition.
Griffin said he has never had trouble getting permission from the Lee’s Summit R7 School District, which also allowed Lee’s Summit pole vaulter KC Lightfoot to compete last month in the Texas Relays. The girls who made the trip had to pay all their own expenses.
“I think our school district is very supportive of allowing the athletes in our district if they’re at a national level to compete,” Griffin said. “It’s the direction that Lee’s Summit schools are going.”