Matt Marzolf took the baton from sophomore David Bushey and looked like he was shot out of a cannon.
The senior standout led the Blue Springs High School boys 1,600-meter relay team to a dramatic come-from-behind victory in the final race Friday night of the 10th annual Gary Parker Invitational.
The Wildcats’ boys win followed a Blue Springs girls’ victory in the same event, to wrap up an invitational that was not as successful as past meets, but still provided many highlights and memorable moments for coach Joe Cusack’s boys and Jennifer Reeder’s girls teams.
For the first time in the past decade, a boys team other than the Wildcats claimed the team trophy as Columbia Battle (77) edged Kirkwood (75.67) for the team title. Trinity Catholic was third (57.5) and the Wildcats were fourth (56).
Grain Valley finished 13th (34), Blue Springs South 16th (12) and Fort Osage 18th (8) out of the 21-team field.
Battle also won the girls championship, topping Lee’s Summit West 108-104. The Blue Springs girls were also fourth (51), Fort Osage was 12th (28), Grain Valley 13th (26.5) and Blue Springs South 15th (19) out of the 20-team field.
Cusack had a lengthy discussion with Kirkwood coaching legend Roberta McWoods – whose team tied his Wildcats for third place at the state meet last year – and Battle coach Brian Hancock after the meet.
“This is the 10th Gary Parker Invitational and the first time the Blue Springs boys have not won the championship, and I want to thank Coach Hancock for bringing his teams from Columbia and Coach McWoods for coming all the way from St. Louis,” said the gracious Cusack, whose mother and father came all the way from their home in Joplin, Mo., to watch the meet.
“It’s an honor to shake their hands and congratulate them on all their success tonight.”
Hancock and McWoods each coach the boys and girls teams from their respective schools.
“We came here to compete against the best, and when you win the first championship – other than Coach Cusack’s boys – in the past 10 years that makes it very special,” Hancock said.
McWoods, who has coached at Kirkwood 34 years, asked Cusack to speak to her team after the meet.
“I have so much respect for Coach Cusack and all he has done for track in the state of Missouri,” McWoods said. “He brings his team to our meet and it was such an honor to come down here and see some of the best teams from the state – including his boys. You can tell what this sport means to him by the way he talks about to all the other coaches – and tonight, to our team. That was very special.”
The way the meet ended was special for Cusack and Reeder, whose girls enjoyed bookend victories as they opened the meet with a victory in the 3,200 relay.
“The Rusty Hodge Invitational (at Blue Springs South) was canceled because of bad weather and we really didn’t ramp up our relay teams when we competed at Springfield on a really cold and rainy night,” Reeder said, “so tonight was the first time we really concentrated on relays and I couldn’t be happier!”
The team of Alyna Thibault, Gwyn Deterding, Reese Howard and Tessa Valdivia won the 3,200 in 9:52.18.
The team of Talia Pfeifer, Niya Harris, Thibault and Deterding won the 1,600 in 4:09.49.
“We used a combination of sprinters (Pfeifer and Harris) and distance people (Thibault and Deterding) to win the 4x400 and it really worked. The 4x400 is one of the most exciting races of the night, and it was a great way for our girls to end the meet.”
Marzolf, who is still hoping to earn a college scholarship, dedicated his two gold medals to his coach and teammates.
“I was in the open 400 (49.48) and the 4x400 (3:26.17) and my goal was to win two gold medals for Coach Cusack and my teammates,” said Marzolf, who was joined on the 1,600 relay team by senior Taylor Gartica, junior Alex Hughes and Bushey, a sophomore.
“When I get the baton and see the back of the heads of guys in front of me, I just see that as a challenge and it makes me work that much harder. I knew we had to win this last race for Coach Cusack and we were able to do it.
“We didn’t win the meet, like we have the past nine times, but we got him a win in the final race of the night and I am so proud to be a part of that.”
Senior Gabe McClain, who was second in the 1,600 and sixth in the 3,200, praised Marzolf’s performance.
“I’ve been on top the past few meets and didn’t compete like I had hoped tonight,” McClain said, “but I am so proud of Matt. Did you see the way he took off in that 4x400? The minute he got the baton, you just knew he was going to win. It was a special way to end the night.”