LADUE — Daniel Harris eyed a sour apple sucker.
The John Burroughs boys and girls track and field coach, Harris uses bubble gum-filled lollipops to soothe or celebrate. When things are good grape is the choice. When things aren't so good it's cherry.
Sour apple usually doesn't make it out of the bag but these are unusual circumstances.
Three years worth of work are in jeopardy and there's nothing Harris can do about it.
Burroughs senior sprinter Madison Fuller is returning to the state meet for the first time since 2016. Then a freshman sensation, Fuller powered her way to Class 3 championships in the 100- and 200-meter dashes. When she walked off the track that day, Fuller had no idea how hard it would be to make her way back to the state meet.
“I had high hopes for the coming years, but it hit a couple of lows,” Fuller said.
Fuller tore her hamstring early in her sophomore season and was unable to compete. She and the Burroughs coaching staff made some adjustments to her training regimen with the hopes it would help her remain healthy as a junior.
It nearly worked.
With an emphasis on rest and recovery during the season, Fuller made it through the district meet. She advanced to the sectional meet and qualified for the state in the 100. While running a relay for the Bombers at the sectional, Fuller reinjured her hamstring. She scratched out of the 200 and was unable to compete the following week at the state meet for the second consecutive season.
Fuller came all the way back only to have another obstacle stand in her way.
“There was a low point that you hit when you're injured that you really want to be out there,” Fuller said. “I knew with all the recovery work I was going to do that I was going to get better and look ahead and think of things like state this year, going out on a high and making sure it was what I dreamt it would be.”
The 5-foot-9 Fuller has given herself that opportunity. Healthy this spring, she dominated at the district and sectional meets as she swept all three of her open events. At the sectional she set personal records in the 100 (11.71 seconds), 200 (24.13) and 400 (56.33). She is at the peak of her powers headed into this weekend's state championship meet.
Only Saturday's state championship meet isn't the meet Fuller spent the last year preparing for. When a tornado caused significant damage to Jefferson City High's Adkins Stadium late Wednesday night, it forced the state meet to be moved. The Missouri State High School Activities Association devised an alternate plan that split the Class 3, 4 and 5 state meets between three different sites and turned the normal two-day schedule into a one day. A revised schedule was released Thursday afternoon that included preliminary races for the 100 and 200 with about a 20-minute rest period between.
Instead of racing four times Saturday, Fuller will have to run six times.
Which is why Harris was considering that sour apple sucker.
“It's vastly different than what (the athletes) were prepared to do,” Harris said.
The revised schedule has put Harris in a twist. Fuller put in so much time and worked tirelessly to earn her chance to compete at the state meet. But her long-term health is Harris' primary concern. Fuller also has a college career to consider as she signed with Vanderbilt in the fall.
Fuller and Harris will have to weigh how she feels in the moment against the bigger picture and see where they land.
“Every athlete wants to accomplish what they set out to accomplish,” Harris said. “It will be an event by event decision.”
Saturday will test Fuller in ways no one expected. She went to Harris early on and asked what he thought about adding the 400 to her repertoire. He wasn't exactly enthused about putting more on Fuller's plate, but he understood why she wanted to try.
“I think it's why she asked of me what she asked,” Harris said. “'Coach can I really become that workhorse sprinter? I want to prove I am resilient enough to overcome what has been the injury bug the last two years to do something special as I head on in my collegiate career.' Who would I be to get in the way of that?”
Fuller's goal is to sweep all three of her open events while her teammate, sophomore Kylie Goldfarb, takes a shot at winning the 800 and 1,600. Goldfarb is the top seed in both. Goldfarb and Fuller then will join forces on the Burroughs 1,600-meter relay team in the last race of the meet. Should the Bombers dynamic duo accomplish their goal, a state trophy is in their future. They might even have an outside shot at defending their team championship.
“Kylie and I have definitely have expectations,” Fuller said. “We know we've worked hard over the season. It's great. There's so much positive energy with that.”
Positive energy tends to follow Fuller. Even after she was unable to race at the state meet last year she traveled with the team and did what she could to help her teammates with encouraging words and feedback. This season she's been a model leader on how to overcome adversity and remain focused on your goals.
“The way of being an inspiration to others, Madison has fulfilled that in every way,” Harris said. “Madison is not super vocal on our team. But Madison is very much lead by example and she'll give you that one kernel of wisdom that just permeates everyone else. They're just soaking it in and saying 'Yeah, if she can do that there's some things for me to learn from that.' To have that kind of example is contagious.”
If Fuller could rewind her senior season she would, as would Harris. Her time at Burroughs has flown by and while she's been working toward the state meet she's not welcoming the end of her time as a Bomber. It's a journey that has had painful moments but immense amounts of joy. Fuller is going to miss it.
“I'm sure there will come a point at the end of state when it's wrapping up that I'll take a look around,” Fuller said. “This is what I've been a part of the last four years and I've been so lucky to have great teammates and a great coaching staff and everyone around me.”
WHAT TO WATCH FOR SATURDAY
• In Class 3 at the University of Missouri's Walton Stadium, Trinity is loaded up and aiming to claim its first state track and field championship. The third-place finisher last season, the Titans bring a wealth of talent back to state, including three qualifiers in the 100-meter hurdles. Teams are only allowed to enter three athletes in one event if they hit a qualifying standard.
Cardinal Ritter brings a talented crew into the championship meet as well. The runner-up last season, Ritter doesn't have quite the firepower of Trinity but will be in the hunt for a state trophy.
• In Class 4 at Washington High, Parkway North is a heavy favorite to win the state championship. Junior star sprinter Alicia Burnett, who won the 100, 200 and 400 as a freshman at Fort Zumwalt South, is the top seed in the 100 and 200 and is expected to run on the Vikings' 800 and 1,600 relays. Junior distance runner Reina McMillan is the top seed in the 800. The 3,200 relay also should score.
Parkway Central will be in the mix for a team trophy and the championship. The Colts have a dearth of athletes including two in the 100 and 400. Senior Eliana Liebman is hoping to score big in the 400 as well as the long jump and triple jump where she is seeded second. Parkway Central's 800 relay is the top seed with a one-second advantage on Parkway North.
• In Class 5 at Battle High in Columbia, Pattonville will be trying to make the move up the podium after a runner-up finish last season. The Pirates returned a solid core of athletes and have won a multitude of meets this spring. Senior Brooke Jenkins is in position to score in both the long jump and triple jump. Senior thrower Diamond Richardson is seeded to earn all-state recognition in the shot put and discus The Pirates have the top-seed 800 and 1,600 relays.
Nerinx Hall junior sprinter Courtney Williams will attempt to claim state titles in the 100, 200 and 400. She's the top 400 seed, second-fastest 100 seed and third-fastest 200 seed.
McCluer North junior Michelle Owens ran the fastest wind-legal 100-meter hurdles race in state history at the sectional meet when she finished in 13.79. She'll be out to defend her championship in record-breaking fashion.