Despite steamrolling through every meet they entered this season, Lee’s Summit West girls track coach Jesse Griffin didn’t see a second state title as inevitable.
Griffin has been through this enough to know he can’t take anything for granted at the state track meet. Some athletes will step up and shine. Some might succumb to injury or the pressure.
“You expect the unexpected at this meet and it’s very, very difficult,” Griffin said. “I’ve been on staffs where we scored zero points here.”
There were some surprises, and disappointments, for West’s girls during the two days at Jefferson City High School. But in the end, the Titans swamped the field again. They scored 109 points – the most ever for a girls or boys team in a state meet – and easily defended their Class 5 state championship.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
West defended it the same way it dominated the competition all season – with sheer numbers. The Titans had qualifiers in all 17 events and scored points in all but one. Four individuals – Makayla Kelby (discus), Jessica Haney (high jump), Erin Sermons (400-meter dash) and Jana Shawver (800-meter run) brought home gold medals, as did the 3,200 relay team.
What secured the victory, Griffin said, were the unexpected points. Junior Mariah Brackens-Smiley made it to the 100 final and ran a personal-best 12.44 seconds to place seventh. Haney, who barely made it out of sectionals in the triple jump, reached the final in that event and placed seventh.
“We had a couple of events we probably weren’t supposed to score in, and we had girls who stepped up and scored in those events,” Griffin said. Those were a bonus.”
Shawver also anchored the Titans’ state-champion 3,200 relay, joining Hailey Hardin, Audrey Parson and Alex Marko to win in 9 minutes, 15.60 seconds. But the Titans fell short in the other relays, placing second in the 800 and 1,600 relays and fifth in the 400.
“We had to shift some people around on the relays because of injury,” Griffin said. “We did what we could in those relays.”
Still, it didn’t keep West from eclipsing the team-point record of 107 held by Rock Port’s boys, or the 96 they scored last year to set the girls’ record.
“It’s great,’ Griffin said. “It’s hard to repeat, hard to win here. It’s a tribute to the girls who really worked together.”
Best in class
Kelby and Haney both set new Class 5 meet records in winning their events.
Kelby extended the record she already held in Class 5 girls discus with a toss of 163 feet, 9 inches for her third state title. Her winning toss, which was also a new personal best, came in her final attempt in prelims.
Kelby came to Jefferson City thinking she had a 160-foot throw in her and a shot at bettering the 153-3 Class 5 record she set last season.
“I’ve been doing it all practice lately, I just haven’t been able to produce it in a meet,” said Kelby, who also placed sixth in the Class 5 girls shot put. “But I knew this meet was the meet I could do it.”
Haney set a new Class 5 record when she won the girls high jump with a leap of 5-8, defending the state title she won last season when she set the old mark of 5-7. She had to wait out a nearly six-hour weather delay before she could compete, and when she took her first attempt, she slipped on a wet spot in front of the bar.
Haney didn’t slip again, and cleared 5-8 on her first attempt.
“It had to be the weather and conditions I was in because I don’t normally do that,” Haney said. “After that first little divot at the very beginning everything else became very easy because I knew what I had to do.”
Bronco boys third
Lee’s Summit North boys coach Eric Davis laid down a challenge at the beginning of the season: Break the Broncos’ long-time absence from the team podium.
Challenge accepted, and accomplished.
North took third place in the Class 5 boys meet, scoring 47 points to finish behind champion Blue Springs (70) and runner-up Wildwood Lafayette (66). It’s the first time North has finished in the top four since winning the 2007 Class 4 state title.
“I told them it had been 10 years since we had won a team trophy and that’s long enough to wait,” Davis said. “They fulfilled the potential I saw in them at the beginning of the season.”
As it had all season, North got most of its points from its sprinters. Todd Pinkowski won the 400, and Nyles Thomas placed second in the 200 and fifth in the 100. Pinkowski and Thomas also ran on the Broncos’ first-place 800 relay team with John Eldridge and Jamad Jackson, who bounced back from a disappointing time in the preliminaries to win in 1 minute, 27.7 seconds.
“Yesterday we didn’t do as good as we wanted to, because we wanted to dominate both days,” said Jackson, who anchored the Bronco foursome. “But we wound up dominating only one day.”
Davis expects North to dominate against next season. Of the athletes up on the podium to accept the team trophy, only one – sprinter Damond Anderson – was a senior.
“Next year could be a lot of fun,” Davis said.
First time the charm
Caleb Furnell of West had never been to a state track meet before, neither as a participant or a spectator. He made his first meet one to remember.
Furnell, a sophomore, won the Class 5 boys high jump and set a new Class 5 meet record with a 6-8 leap. Being new to it all, Furnell admitted to having a few butterflies in his stomach. But he said they all went away when he skimmed over the bar on his second attempt at the winning height.
“It was a lot of pressure on me,” Furnell said. “I knew if I hit it I would have a good chance of winning. Halfway over I realized all I had to do was to flip my feet up and I was good.”
Furnell’s victory helped West take fifth in the Class 5 boys meet with 36 points. The Titans also had Vonzell Kelley place second in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles.
Worth the wait
The long weather delay made for a long wait for the Class 5 1,600 relay finalists. Originally scheduled for around 4 p.m., the meet’s final race of the day did start until almost 11.
For Lee’s Summit’s Christian Moreno, Evan Sanders, Dante Davis and Kyle Heeney, it was well worth the wait.
Moreno, Sanders, Davis and Heeney capped the long day by winning the final event of the night. The Tigers came in with the fastest time in the state, and they backed it up by holding off Blue Springs down the stretch to win in 3:24.73.
“It was a hard race,” Moreno said. “I think everyone was hurting from sitting around in buses all day. We got to have some fun in the mall, but other than that it was a long day.”
It was even a longer day for the pole vaulters. Just before midnight, Lee’s Summit’s KC Lightfoot won the Class 5 pole vault in another dual with friend and rival Kyle Rogers of Liberty. Lightfoot and Rogers both topped out at 16-6, but Lightfoot won with fewer misses.