The Francis Howell North boys track team has derived much of its success the last few years from its outstanding distance runners.
But on Friday the Knights captured their third consecutive Gateway Athletic Conference South team title thanks to its sprinters.
In his first year running track, senior Stefen Whitehurst won individual championships in the 100- and 200-meter dashes. In both events he was closely shadowed by teammates Reed Lunsford and Jared Kaufman, who finished second or third behind Whitehurst in both races.
“When we took 1-2-3 in the 100 and 200, that was just fabulous,” Howell North coach Dr. Greg Hennenfent said. “Stefen came to me as a senior this year and told me he wanted to run after I had been trying to get him for a while. I told him he had the natural talent to do it.”
“I didn’t come into this year feeling as (satisfied) as I wanted to be as a student-athlete,” Whitehurst said. “Competing in track and doing good like this has really proved to myself (I’ve removed) a big barrier in my life.”
Whithurst was one of the anchors of Howell North’s team title, as the host Knights tallied 165 points to win the meet comfortably. Lunsford also contributed an individual title for the Knights, winning the 400 in 51.95, while both runners also contributed to the winning 800 relay team for Howell North.
Senior Kyle Morse eased to his second consecutive conference pole vault title, as a conservative jump of 12-feet was good enough for gold. Morse participated in three relay events in the hopes of assuring the Knights a team title. As districts and sectionals loom, Morse will let loose and try to meet or exceed his season-high height of 14-4.
“Based on the seeds I knew I didn’t have to jump very high to win so the goal coming into the meet was focusing on track events to score points for the team,” Morse said. “We knew we had a good chance to win it so I saved all my energy for the track.”
Fort Zumwalt West placed second as a team with 122 points and was paced by senior Steve Markivee, who won championships in two field events including the long jump (21-1) and triple jump (42-8.25).
Junior Kenny Cushing helped Wentzville Holt finish third as a team, as he raced to individual titles in the 800 and 1,600 and ran a leg of the Indians’ winning 3,200 relay team. Holt also topped the field in the 400 relay.
Cushing’s victory in the 800 was particularly impressive, as Howell Central junior Zach Taylor seemingly had the race in the bag until Cushing found an extra gear the final 200 meters. He reeled Taylor in and crossed the finish line in front by two strides.
“That’s usually my strategy: stick with the guy in front of me and go really hard the last 200 and test his will,” Cushing said.
Troy finished fourth as a team and got its top performance from senior Brian Cooper, who swept the discus (151-07) and shot put events (51-6.75). Cooper still owns the area’s top discus throw this season of 172-3, which he set last Friday at the Warrenton Invitational. His season-best shot put throw of 56-9 is second among St. Louis-area athletes.
Also winning individual events for Troy was junior Josh Jones in the high jump (6-5) and junior Chad Holloway in the 110 hurdles (15.83).
Fort Zumwalt South got its lone championship from junior Eric Roberts, who finished the 300 hurdles in 41.94, while Francis Howell junior Trey Berry topped his field in the 3,200 in 10:01.22.
Underclassmen rule the day as Howell wins on girls side
If Friday was any indication of what the future holds for girls track in the GAC South, there will be some familiar faces atop the podium the next several years.
Francis Howell, which placed dead last at last year’s conference championships, bounced back to capture the girls team title with 160 points on Friday.
“We thought we had a good shot (to win),” Howell coach Nate Tower said. “We knew everyone had to do well for us and we met or exceeded expectations in every event. The girls just did outstanding in every single area.”
The Vikings were led by sophomore Leah Krause, who won and set personal-best times in the 3,200 and 1,600 and finished second to freshman teammate Valeska Halamicek in the 800. Both runners also contributed to Howell’s gold-medal winning 3,200 relay team.
Howell freshman Whitney Adams, who stands just 4-11, laid the foundation for a great four-year career by capturing the championship in the 400.
Adams finished second in the 100 to Holt freshman Nataliyah Friar, who won four individual gold medals including the long jump, triple jump and the 200. Friar’s mark of 37-07 in the triple jump now stands as a new school record.
“My goal is to get more medals than my mom,” said Friar, whose mother attended Mehlville High School. “She had a total of 85 and I’m trying to get up there with her.”
Like their male counterparts, the Zumwalt West Jaguars settled for second overall in the team standings with a final tally of 130 points. They were led by junior Dahlia Dyson, who won both the discus (140-11) and shot put (40-2.5) while setting personal bests in both events.
“I really tried to come out today and get as many team points as I could,” Dyson said. “That was my main goal because it’s all about team here at conference and we’ve never won it before. This year we’ve all worked so hard that we knew we’d be close.”
Zumwalt West Sophomore Kylie Ellison captured the championship in the high jump while senior Fiona Brooks helped Howell North finish third as a team with first-place finishes in the 100 and 300 hurdles.
Brooks’ teammate, sophomore Danielle Meyer, won the pole vault with a mark of 8-6.