It wasn’t just a good day for Donte Buckner and his Blue Springs High School 1,600 relay teammates – Matt Marzolf, Josh McCullough and Xavier Hall – it was a great day.
When Buckner arrived at the high school for an early-morning Friday practice session, he was holding onto the first-place Rusty Hodge Invitational trophy the Wildcats had won Thursday night. It was their sixth consecutive Hodge Invitational championship trophy and one of the most meaningful.
Buckner was a last-second replacement as the anchor leg of the 1,600 relay when Cade Musser went down with a lower body injury while running in the 400 relay earlier in the meet.
“It was a shock, it came out of nowhere,” Buckner said, when asked about anchoring the elite relay group that finished the invitational meet at Blue Springs South High School. “You never want to see anything bad happen to a teammate, and when Cade went down in the 4x100, we were all in shock.
“Then, I found out I was going to be running the anchor of the 4x400 and I was nervous, but I was excited, because I knew my guys would take care of me out there.”
When asked about bringing the prized trophy to school on Friday, Buckner grinned and said, “It was just a one-night stand, but it was nice to look at it all night. That’s a race and a championship I will never forget.”
Blue Springs head coach Joe Cusack and sprint coach Tom Lester felt like the timing was right for Buckner to compete in his first varsity event.
“Imagine, you’re anchoring one of the premier relay teams and it’s your first varsity event ever!” Lester said. “We wanted to put the speed guys in early so we had Matt and Josh lead off, then Mr. Everything Xavier ran No. 3 and they gave Donte a nice cushion and he finished it off just like we’d hoped he would.”
Added Cusack, who has led the Wildcats to three state titles in the past four years, “We are so proud of that young man (Buckner). We asked a lot of him and he really came through. Before this year, he was high jumping and Coach Lester believed he could be a sprinter, and if Coach Lester believes in you, then everyone is going to believe in you.”
Coming to the high school on Friday was something Buckner’s teammates enjoyed, as Hall picked up the first-place trophy and said, “I might just take this home tonight. Sounds like a good idea.”
Hall won the 300 hurdles and McCullough and Marzolf finished 1-2 in the 400, so the stage was set for a successful 1,600 relay to close out the biggest early-season meet in the metro area.
“After Matt and I were 1-2 in the 400, we felt real good about the 1,600 relay,” McCullough said. “We had so much confidence in Donte. We were going to give him a big lead and he took it from there.”
Added Marzolf, “This relay team is a team within the track team, actually, the track family. We are a family, and when you’re part of a family, you don’t want to let anyone down, and we really got it done Thursday night.”
Musser, who was headed to the training room, happened to walk by the 1,600 relay team members as they were talking about their big night and said, “You guys are studs! You got it done for the team last night!”
Blue Springs finished with 140 points and Lee’s Summit North was second with 111. Blue Springs South was ninth with 34 points, Grain Valley was 10th with 27, William Chrisman was 13th with 15 and Fort Osage was 14th with 7.50.
First-place finishers for the Broncos were Thomas Nyles, 100 (10.89 seconds), Keyon Mozee, 200 (22.67) and Devon Richardson, high jump (6 feet, 9 inches) and triple jump (46-07).
On the girls side, a strong overall effort by coach Jennifer Reeder’s Wildcats helped Blue Springs claim its second consecutive girls title, topping Jefferson City 119.33 to 90.
“We don’t have the superstars,” Reeder said, “but we’re consistent across the board and our girls work so hard. I am so proud of all of them.”
Blue Springs’ Sarah Coy won the 100 hurdles (16.12) and Natalie Sheehy won the pole vault (9-06).
William Chrisman boys and girls coach Tyler Rathke was thrilled with the performances of Daniel Carson, who set a school record in the shot put (57-11), and Camryn Holloman, who won the triple jump by nearly 2 feet (35-01).
“We’re going to see great things from Daniel and Camryn this year,” Rathke said. “Daniel finished second in this meet, but broke our school record and that was one of his goals this season. For a Division I football player (going to Texas) to show the dedication and determination he has shown this year just goes to show what type of athlete Daniel Carson is.
“And Camryn is just a junior, and we’re looking for big things from her this year and next year.”
She echoes her coach’s sentiment, adding, “This team is so special. Coach Rathke has done the impossible – he has made track cool and fun and everyone wants to be around him and be a part of his team. We’re just going to keep getting bigger and better.”