Grain Valley girls dominate for Middle Six title
As the sun set over Fort Osage's stadium, members of the Grain Valley girls track and field team posed for a memorable photo.
The special memory was captured after one of the most dominating performances in the history of the girls program as coach Brian Winckler's squad dominated Friday night's Suburban Middle Six Conference Championships.
Junior Avery Huffman, an all-state softball player, earned three gold medals and her teammates shared that success as the Eagles soared to first place with 247 points.
William Chrisman was second at 88, followed by Truman (81), Fort Osage (74), Raytown (48) and Belton (29).
"This is such a great group of kids – grounded, supportive of each other, even better kids than they are athletes. I just couldn't be prouder of them," Winckler said as he congratulated each member of the team with a fist bump. "The neatest thing about this group is how much they support each other – and I'm talking about girls from the sprints or the distance events or hurdles supporting the kids who are throwing or jumping.
"It's just a blessing to coach a group like this."
As if to back Winckler's comments, freshman McKenah Sears, who won the javelin with a personal-best toss of 37.48 meters, said, "You have to talk to Avery! She's the best! She had a great meet!"
She wanted to put her teammate in the spotlight before talking about her success in the javelin, which has an amusing side story.
"We're at a meet early on and our coach (Everett Sheppard) puts me in the javelin, and I thought it was a mistake, because I'm throwing the discus," Sears explained. "Well, it wasn't a mistake and I've been throwing it ever since and having a lot of success. Tonight was great, for me and our team."
Huffman torched the field in the 400 meters (1 minute, 0.92 seconds) and was part of the winning 800 (1:50.35, with Emma Jane Ogle, Maddie Rogers, Madeline Morris) and 1,600 (4:08.75, with Emma Jane Ogle, JayOnna Perry, Jordyn Weems) relay teams.
"Tonight was so much fun," Huffman said. "It's awesome to score that many points and win our conference meet. I think we were all feeling it tonight because we had so much success in so many different events. I love the 400, but my favorites are the 4-by-2 and 4-by-4 relays because I get to share those events with my teammates."
The Eagles claimed eight other wins as well. Ella Casey won the 3,200 (12.38.23), running side by side with teammate Gabby Valverde (12.38.85) all of the race. Jordyn Weems won the 100 (13.30) and anchored a win in the 3,200 relay with Peyton Bell, Casey and Lexie Nicholson (10:19.52).
JayOnna Perry continued her season-long dominance in the 300 hurdles with a win in 46.67 seconds. Gabbi Keim took the 100 hurdles (17.91), Abby Castle won the pole vault (2.95 meters) and Lilly Ogle prevailed in the 1,600 (5:31.43).
It was also a big night for William Chrisman senior Jacque David, who won the shot put (12.87 meters) and discus (41.90) in her final conference appearance.
"I'll be honest with you, I really wanted to come over here and win those two events," said David, who was an all-state basketball player on the Bears’ final four team this past season. "I missed last season (the entire 2020 spring season was canceled because of COVID, but she was also rehabbing a torn ACL from basketball).
"This season, I've been happy with improving every week, but this week I was determined to win the shot and discus, and I feel blessed to have won them both."
Throughout her career, coach Tyler Rathke has been her mentor and biggest fan.
"Like Wyatt (Leutzinger), Jacque has been a rock in our track program and I'm so happy for her tonight," Rathke said. "She has worked so hard to come back from that injury and she's getting better and stronger every week."
William Chrisman's 400 relay team of Melahnia Francises, Aniyeja Weathers, Princess Menyon and Comfort Dweh won the event in 52.52.
Truman's Laila Tatum won the high jump (1.50 meters) and Fort Osage's Dawn McIntyre won the long jump (5.19 meters).
In one of the most competitive events of the night, Fort Osage's Paige Franks edged Grain Valley's Ogle in the 800, 2:31.44 to 2:31.84.