It was a little off-putting when Madison Hulsey and her Lee’s Summit West teammates discovered they had been relegated to the slow heat. Hulsey and the Titans were state champions after all, possessors of the best 3,200-meter relay time ran in Missouri this season.
But this was after all the New Balance Outdoor National track meet, and West was just one of several state champions gathered June 16 for the final high school competition of the season in Greensboro. N.C. The Titans’ time, good as it was, just wasn’t good enough for the elite heat.
“At first we were kind of upset that we were in the lower heat because we thought we wouldn’t be pushed as much and it would be harder to run a fast time,” Hulsey said. “But we’re kind of used to running out in front at the end of races so we thought maybe this would be a good thing.”
It did turn out to be a good thing for Hulsey, Audrey Parson, McKenna Butler and Jana Shawver. They won the “slow” heat with at time of 8 minutes, 58.74 seconds, making them the first girls high school foursome in Missouri history to crack nine minutes. It was also the fourth-best time run in the nation this season and third-best at the meet, which earned them All-America status.
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And it was also a staggering 15 seconds faster than the 9:13.37 they ran in winning the Class 5 girls 3,200 relay the month before in Jefferson City.
“It’s not normal for a team to come out of the slower section, but our girls kind of defied the odds,” West girls track coach Jesse Griffin said. “They ran exceptionally well.”
Hulsey, Parson, Butler and Shawver all played big roles in West’s third-consecutive Class 5 state championship season and were used to running against top-flight competition, but the New Balance Outdoor National can still be a daunting meet. Of the 27 3,200 girls relay teams that met the qualifying standard, the Titans ranked 15th.
“We didn’t make the cutoff to get in the fast section and we were Missouri state champions,” Griffin said. “That kind of puts things into perspective. Everybody’s good at that meet. All of those teams are state champions.”
Griffin still thought a top-six finish to make All-American status and even a sub-nine minute time was possible, but all four Titans would have to run close to their best 800-meter splits of the season.
And the Titans delivered.
Hulsey ran the second leg in a personal-best 2:12.35. Butler’s 2:19.7 split in the third leg was also a PR. Parson’s 2:17.08 leadoff leg and Shawver’s 2:09.59 anchor leg were the second-best times of their careers and their best of the season.
“Audrey’s and my goal was to get the baton to McKenna in under 4 and a half minutes,” Hulsey said. When we did that we were super happy. When we got it to Jenna we told her you have a shot, (at breaking nine minutes) you can do it. It was pretty cool to see her finish and see the time under nine.”
West finished eight seconds ahead of the second-place team in their heat. Teams from the Neumann-Goretti, Pa. (8:53.19) and Gahanna Lincoln, Ohio (8:58.31) track clubs had the top times in the second heat.
According to the MileSplit database, the Titans’ time was the 34th best recorded in the girls 3,200 relay since 2000.
“I’m very proud of them for actually executing and stepping up,” Griffin said. “Once the gun goes off, I can yell at them all I want, but it’s really in their hands.”
Griffin could have another 3,200 relay team going after that mark next year, and the year after that as well. Shawver, a two-time all-American who will compete next year for Kansas, was the only senior. The other three were sophomores, and next year Hulsey will be Missouri’s fastest returning runner in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200.
“We have a bright future if we can find one other girl to run pretty fast,” Hulsey said. “We’ll be able to stay competitive.”