Sprint to the finish

Silver not satisfactory for LHS relay teams

Lawrence High's Jennifer Taylor, left, trails Olathe East's Lana Thompson in the girls 800-meter run. Taylor was a member of the Lions' 4x400 and 4x800 relay teams, which both snagged silver medals Saturday in Wichita.

? Busting two state records – thereby also crushing two school marks in the process – would be enough for many a high school track athlete.

But don’t let the sweet smiles of Lawrence High’s quartet of baby-faced relay stars fool you. They desperately wanted something more Saturday night.

Both the LHS girls 4×800 and 4×400-meter relay teams came up short of their ultimate goals at the KSHSAA Class 6A state track and field championships, settling for silver medals after their record-breaking achievements served as the impetus for two competing schools to finish just a little bit faster.

“It’s kind of bittersweet,” LHS junior Kristina Taylor said, pointing specifically to the final event of the competition – the 4×400 – that saw the Lions clock a blistering 3 minutes, 55.29 seconds – only to have Leavenworth slide under it at 3:54.61.

“We really wanted the first-place state championship.”

Especially given what happened some 11 hours earlier, just minutes before a severe thunderstorm postponed the second-day action at Cessna Stadium for 2 1/2 hours. Hoping to repeat last year’s golden run in the 4×800 relay, LHS topped the previous program best by 18 seconds with a time of 9:29.50.

The reward was the first silver setback of the day, as another Sunflower League foe, Shawnee Mission South, checked in at 9:20.63.

“Their frickin’ head coach thanked me,” said LHS head coach Jack Hood about the push his kids provided. “I was afraid we were pushing Leavenworth to another one.”

The bulk of Hood’s post-meet comments centered on his shared belief with Kristina Taylor and her teammates that, ultimately, the two relay squads fell short of their own lofty expectations for their weekend in Wichita.

Still, he had to admit watching his all-junior lineup of Kristina Taylor, her twin sister Jennifer, Kaela Severa and Courtney Barber close out this year’s state competition with an old-fashioned fleet-footed showdown was a more than decent way to wrap up his rookie season as the Lions’ head coach.

“It’s a great way to finish a meet,” Hood admitted. “You can have lots of good stuff happen. You can have lots of bad stuff happen. But if you can have that type of effort in the 4×4 … everyone goes home happy now.”

And the truth of the matter is, city track and field fans needed a bit of a happy pill given some of the depressing turns of events Saturday.

It started with the weather, with nearby lightning forcing competitors, coaches, officials and fans to seek shelter in nearby buildings on the Wichita State University campus.

Once the action resumed, the dark clouds continued to hover, taking an especially strong liking to Free State.

Christian Ballard’s bad hamstring hamstrung the boys 4×100 relay – leading to a DNF (did not finish) in an event the Firebirds were thinking gold, while Keron Toussaint’s own faulty hammy limited him to just one event.

Mix in a few lackluster performances elsewhere, and a Free State team considered a lock for a top-five team finish instead managed just 15 team points and a 17th-place showing.

“Yeah, it’s fair to say we left a lot of points on the track,” Free State head coach Steve Heffernan said. “Five days ago, we knew that was a possibility. It wasn’t that the kids didn’t compete. It’s that they couldn’t compete.”

Free State’s top efforts on day two came in the boys discus, where senior Richard Flaig ignored a seventh seed to finish third with a toss of 153 feet, 9 inches, and in the boys 4×400, where Toussaint made his lone appearance count as part of a fourth-place finish of 3:25.04.

Lawrence High rounded out its fifth-place finish on the team leaderboard (33 points) with Barber’s fifth in the high jump (5-0), Kristina Taylor’s sixth in the 400 (58.87), Jennifer Taylor’s sixth in the 800 (2:18.59) and Kelly Renfro’s seventh in the 1,600 (5:15.36).

“How can you walk away from this meet and be disappointed?” Hood said. “Sure, there’s things I wish we could have done better. We’re proud of what we did, but we’re not satisfied with where we finished.”

Olathe East won the boys team title with 57 points, while Leavenworth snagged the girls crown with 78.