The Grain Valley and Warrensburg girls track and field teams were neck and neck for first place going into the final event at the Class 4 District 7 meet Saturday at William Chrisman High School.
That’s when Eagles head coach Brian Winckler had to make a tough decision. He asked some of his best distance runners, who were a little banged up and tired, to run the 1,600 (4x400) relay.
It paid off as Avery Huffman, Jay’Onna Perry, Gracie LaForge and Kailey Larson won the event with a time of 4:07.20 to help the Eagles take first place over Warrensburg 132.5-127.
The Grain Valley boys team took finished second behind Grandview 162-139.5.
After the 4x400, an exhausted Larson, who runs track and plays soccer, laid in the grass on her back with her arms folded on her abdomen, trying to catch her breath.
“They are an amazing team, I wouldn’t trade them for the world,” Larson said. “I love them a lot, I really do.”
That 4x400 win helped ensure Grain Valley’s victory.
“We knew it was going to be a close race with Warrensburg. They are very balanced and a very good team,” Winckler said. “We had some girls who sacrifice themselves and run races they wouldn’t normally run to achieve this.
“Hats off to those girls (in the 4x400) for laying it out for the team.”
One of those was Perry, who ran the 200-meter dash for the first time and took fifth (26.83 seconds). She also was second in the 100-meter hurdles (15.52) and edged Warrensburg’s Liberty Brown by .04 of a second to win in the 300 hurdles (45.74). She also passed three other girls on the second leg of the 4x400 to put the Eagles in first.
“I was thinking, ‘Dang, I have to go up there and catch her,’” Perry said of catching Brown the 300 hurdles race. “I was getting closer and closer and I was like, ‘OK. I can do this.’”
The 4x800 team of Lilly Ogle, Morgan Scott, Annalynn Earley and Valerie Holcomb also qualified for sectionals with a first-place finish at 10:23.64.
“They are like my sisters, I couldn’t ask for a better team,” said Holcomb, who also advanced in the 1,600 (third, 5:41.46) and the 3,200 (third, 12:48.48). “They really push me to do my best and I love them.”
Other Grain Valley girls to qualify were the 4x200 team of Huffman, Larson, Jordyn Weems and LaForge (fourth, 1:49.50); Morgan Scott in the 800 (second, 2:22.25) and the long jump (17 feet, 1.25 inches); Abby Castle in the pole vault (9-6); and LaForge in the triple jump (33-8).
For Oak Grove, Lilli Weir advanced in the javelin (first, 139-8) and the discus (fourth, 113-11)
Grain Valley just missed out on a district sweep of first place but will advance to sectionals in 15 events.
The Eagles efforts were highlighted by sprinters Tyler Luke and Mason Rogers. Luke took second in the 100 (10.88), first in the 200 (22.12) and helped the 400 (4x100) relay team along with Rogers, Nate Booker and Logan Pratt win (43.50).
“I felt good on the track, I couldn’t have asked for much better,” Luke said. “We have great chemistry (on the 4x100). It was a good day. I was happy with my times.”
Rogers, who said he keeps in touch with Grain Valley’s former star sprinter Zack Ehlen, showed similar speed to the 2017 graduate. He took first in the 100 in a school record 10.72 seconds and helped his 4x200 team take second by passing two others on the final leg (1:31.44).
“My goal was to win the 100, but I knew I needed to come out and perform to do that,” Rogers said. “I just had a good day today honestly.
“I talked to (Ehlen) a little bit before the season because we both do baseball and track. He gave me tips how to have fun with it honestly.”
Boys coach Marc Cleveland was certainly impressed by his sprinters.
“There is no one that comes out of the blocks like Mason,” Cleveland said. “He’s so fast. It’s a good bunch of kids. We actually rested Tyler Luke in the 4x200 and saved him for the 4x400. We have enough sprinters to do that. That’s uncharted ground for us.”
Jaiden Yarber also had a big day as he took third in the 110 hurdles (15.42) and won the 300 hurdles (40 seconds). He also teamed with Luke, Kevin Gutierrez and Kendall Schrader to take third in the 4x400 (3:31.49).
“I felt really good about how I ran the race and my technique,” Yarber said of his win in the 300 hurdles. “I PR’d (had a personal record) in both hurdles.”
Other to qualify for sectionals were the 4x800 team of Collin Clemens, Jaxson Jarman, Jake Sanders and Cylas Brewer (second, 8:48.16); Royce Fisher in the 800 (second, 2:03.94), 1,600 (second, 4:33.83) and the 3,200 (fourth, 10:27.03); and Cole Hays in the pole vault (first, 13 feet).
“I feel pretty good,” Hays said. “There is something we call ‘hips up.’ It’s where we have to get our hips up and go over (the bar). I’ve improved by two feet by just getting that up.”
Qualifying for Oak Grove were Nathan Foster in the 400 (third, 51.41) and Brennon Warrick in the javelin (third, 136-9).