McKinlee Morris put down her pencil, stepped outside and picked up a shot put.
A junior thrower for the Crossroads girls track and field team, Morris spent last Saturday morning taking the SAT. That afternoon she went out and put her junior season on the line at the district meet.
The goal was for Morris to finish in the top four in the discus and shot put to advance to the sectional meet. Morris, 17, did better than get through it — she aced it.
Morris doubled up on the district championships as she took the top spot in the discus with a throw of 117 feet, 8 inches. She won the shot put with a toss of 40 feet, 1 inch.
It's the second consecutive year she's won district titles in both events, but the first time she's done it after taking the SAT.
“It was kind of rough. I had to keep my energy up,” Morris said. “That was the main thing. I got through it.”
Morris registered to take the SAT before she and her father — Sean Morris, who is also her coach — realized it would fall on the same day as the Class 2 District 2 meet at Principia. Fortunately for Morris, the test was being administered at Principia. She arrived bright and early, went to work in the classroom then went out and won a couple of district championships.
No big deal.
“She was able to walk out, warm up and get ready,” Sean Morris said.
The defending state champion in the discus and the runner-up in the shot put, McKinlee Morris has extensive experience in her events. She's been throwing for the better part of a decade with her father as her coach. Her older sister, Halee, was an ideal role model. A recent graduate of Florida A&M, Halee nurtured Morris early on and helped inspire her love of the sport.
“It was nice. She was encouraging,” McKinlee Morris said. “When I felt down she was always there to pick me up.”
Taking down the SAT and then winning two district titles is impressive, but that wasn't the best part of Morris's Saturday.
For the first time in a long time, Crossroads will have a true team competing at the sectional Saturday at Park Hills Central. Sophomore thrower Courtnee Martin was the runner-up behind Morris in the discus and finished third in the shot put.
Martin and Morris are the entire girls track and field team at Crossroads.
“I like how we're so close and we get to perfect our craft as there's only two of us,” McKinlee Morris said.
The Current have had success on the girls side before. McKinlee Morris is chasing the third state berth of her career. In 2006, the girls team produced all-state 400- and 800-meter relay teams.
For the first time, as far as Sean Morris knows, the boys team will have multiple opportunities to earn a shot at state.
Seniors Katsuhiko Kishi, Adam Rainey, junior Russell Bigham and freshman Sam Bigham combined to run the 1,600-meter relay in 3 minutes and 50 seconds to finish in fourth place and advance to Saturday's sectional.
Kishi advanced in the 100 with a fourth-place finish in 12.03. Freshman thrower Kendall Gunn finished fourth in the shot put.
“This is a first for us,” Sean Morris said. “We took eight to districts and seven made it out.”
Sean Morris thinks he found the secret to the Currents new-found success — an ice bath.
For the first time this season, Sean Morris subjected his team to the joys of sitting in a cold tub for 10 minutes and soaking to the bone. Since Crossroads' facilities are limited, the track team practices at Cardinal Ritter's track, or in case of rain, at the Demetrius Johnson Charitable Foundation Center, so Sean Morris had to get creative for the boys to take their plunge.
He bought a kiddie pool at the store, brought it to school and loaded it up with ice and water.
It wasn't fun, but the boys reaped the benefits the next day.
“These kids are so smart. If it didn't help, in their mind the next day it worked,” Sean Morris said. “They went and read up on it. They can tell you about the lactic acid and what happened during this process.”
The ice bath may have given them an edge mentally, but Sean Morris said the athletes have put in the work to make it happen.
It's that dedication that helped push them out of the district meet.
“It's good to see them prosper. They put in a lot of work,” he said. “I don't throw. They're the ones that are putting all the work in and buying in and are dedicated to it.”
McKinlee Morris isn't shy about getting to work in the weight room.
At 5-foot-3 she is often the smallest competitor in the ring. Once she lets loose a few throws any question about her size disappears.
“That's the first thing people look at, how small she is but how far she throws,” Sean Morris said. “When we step in the ring she's always the smallest but I can bet anything she's the strongest.”
McKinlee handles her business in the ring the same way she does in the classroom. She's carrying a better than 4.0 grade point average and wading through several advanced placement courses this semester. She said junior year has been a challenge balancing academics and track. A new wrinkle is being a defending state champion. She was motivated to take that next step up in the discus but wants to defend what's hers in the shot put, too.
“It's a good feeling but you have to know in the back of your head people are trying to work and get to where you are,” McKinlee Morris said. “You have to have the drive to keep pushing forward. You can't get too comfortable.”
DQ HAMPERS CLEVELAND'S TITLE DEFENSE
A communication breakdown has caused significant damage to the Cleveland NJROTC boys track team's title hopes. The defending Class 2 champion, Cleveland lost sophomore distance runner Mark Hutchinson after he was disqualified for participating in five events at the Class 2 District 2 meet Saturday at Principia.
Hutchinson was entered to compete in the 3,200-meter relay, the 800, 1,600 and 3,200. State bylaws stipulate athletes can be entered in a maximum of four events. Hutchinson, who has the fastest 1,600 time in Class 2 after he finished in 4 minutes and 34 seconds this spring, did not race the 1,600 at the district meet. He did not make it to the starting line in time.
Because Hutchinson did not compete in the 1,600-meter run, there was some thought on Cleveland's team he would be eligible to then run the 1,600 relay, which he did. That move proved devastating. Because he was entered into the 1,600-meter run, despite not competing in it, he had reached the maximum number of events allowed. After his participation in the 1,600-meter relay was brought to the attention of meet officials, Hutchinson was disqualified from all of his events. He will not get to compete with the Commanders at Saturday's sectional meet or at the state meet the following week.
Following his disqualification, Cleveland was not credited with the points Hutchinson scored in the 800 and 3,200 or the 3,200-meter relay. Nor did the 1,600 relay's fourth-place finish count.
When the meet was scored again following the disqualification, Cleveland was no longer the district champion. Principia had 139 points followed by Cleveland (124), Jefferson (122) and Grandview 88.
A perennial title contender, Cleveland has its fingers crossed it can find its way back atop the podium without its standout sophomore distance runner. There's a chance it can happen, but it's going to be tough.
“We had counted on this young man for 30 points by himself at the state meet,” Cleveland coach LeTorre Swinney said. “We're going short handed, but we still have a legitimate shot. We'll have to perform the best of our abilities. We're going to battle to the end.”
JEFFERSON STEAMROLLS TO DISTRICT TITLE
The Jefferson girls went into the Class 2 District 2 meet at Principia with the goal of breaking 200 total points. They blew by that long before the meet was through.
The Blue Jays racked up 239 points as they cruised to the district championship. Grandview was the runner-up with 104 with West County (47) in third and Principia (45) in fourth.
“That's the most points we've ever scored in a district meet,” Jefferson coach Alex Rouggly said. “It's pretty crazy. Their goal was over 200 and they attained that and then some. They had a great meet.”
Jefferson athletes won nine district championships with distance dynamo Jordan Heacock and jumper Jenna Courtois doubling up. Heacock, a senior, won the 1,600 and 3,200 while Courtois, also a senior, won the long jump and triple jump.
Senior Alexis Armstrong won the javelin and senior Taya Allen won the 100-meter hurdles. Senior Ashley Edmond won the pole vault. The 400, 800 and 3,200 relays all were victorious as well.
The big points came from the Blue Jays depth. They had multiple athletes finish in the top-four and advance to the sectional meet in 1,600, 3,200, 100 hurdles, 300 hurdles, pole vault, long jump, triple jump and javelin.
One of those is senior standout Anna Heacock. An all-state performer and a state champion several times over, Heacock suffered a stress fracture during the indoor season and has only recently started to find her stride. She did not win an individual district title but advanced to the sectional in the 100 hurdles, 300 hurdles and long jump. She did run a leg on the 800 relay team.
“We're at our best at the right time,” Rouggly said.
The Class 2 runner-up the last two seasons, Jefferson would like to get as many athletes as possible through the sectional and then roll the dice again at the state meet for the big prize. The Blue Jays have some youthful additions that can help the cause. Among them is freshman Kiersten Vandeven who took second in the 400 and was part of the 800 relay. Freshman Madison Edmond was second in the pole vault.
Rouggly likes where his team is at mentally as it prepares for its sectional meet Saturday at Park Hills Central.
“We've had a great week of preparation,” Rouggly said. “They understand how important this time of year is. For a lot of them it isn't their first rodeo.”
PARKWAY CENTRAL CONTINUES LEAGUE DOMINATION
The Suburban Conference alignments may have shifted but the results did not. For the fifth consecutive year the Parkway Central girls have won their conference.
The Colts scored 148.1 points to claim the Suburban Green Pool championship Friday at Summit. Webster Groves was second with 104.2 followed by Parkway North (102) and Hazelwood East (81).
It's a particular point of pride for Parkway Central coach Ryan Banta who appreciates having a team that's capable of scoring in almost every event.
“We've been able to work to build a track and field team,” Banta said. “What I'm most proud of is it's a team that's super competitive everywhere.”
The Colts knew coming into this season it could be a special one. They had a core group of returning athletes that, if all went well, could be poised to make some noise at the state meet. A little air came out of Parkway Central's balloon, though, when the district pairings were released and it was thrown in with rival Parkway North. Banta said Parkway North is among the favorites to claim the state championship trophy because of the breadth and scope of its depth.
“They are by far the best team,” Banta said. “They could score points in every event on the track at the state meet. That's unheard of.”
Even though the Colts just bested the Vikings at the conference meet Banta said the postseason is a completely different animal. Every coach approaches the season differently and that can play into what events the best athletes compete in on a given week. Once district meets begin all bets are off.
“Coaches make a lot of decisions about what meets to go after,” Banta said. “Districts is the start of a three-week process.”
Banta fully expects Parkway North to shove all its chips into the middle at the Class 4 District 3 meet at Washington on Saturday. That means Parkway Central will need to be better than it was at its conference meet. Only the top four finishers in each event advance to the sectional.
“The challenge is going to be a difficult one. Our girls are prepared,” Banta said. “I feel comfortable that we'll make a good showing and give our best effort.”
Kennedy Moore could make a significant impact for the Colts. The junior jumper had a significant breakthrough in the long jump as she leaped 16 feet, 6.5 inches to finish as the runner up to teammate Eliana Liebman. Moore has been consistently jumping between 14 and 15 feet but something clicked at the conference meet as she broke 16 feet on three of her four attempts. She also helped the Colts win the 3,200-meter relay, finish second in the 400 relay and was fourth in the 200.
“She's the Swiss Army knife of our track team,” Banta said. “She's a lynchpin.”
TRIAD 2A SECTIONAL MEET PUSHED TO FRIDAY
Potential severe weather pushed back the Class 2A Triad Sectional meet to Friday. The field features Breese Central, Cahokia, Columbia, East St. Louis, Highland, Mascoutah, Waterloo and Triad.
The field events are slated to start at 1 p.m. with the running events commencing at 2:30 p.m.
Those that qualify will compete at the state meet May 16-18 at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.
ILLINOIS BOYS SET FOR NEXT WEEK
Next week marks the start of the postseason for Illinois boys track teams.
The Class 3A sectional in Bloomington will feature Alton, Belleville East, Belleville West, Collinsville, Edwardsville, Granite City and O'Fallon.
In Class 2A there are two sectionals with area teams. On Wednesday the Herrin sectional will have Cahokia, Columbia, East St. Louis, Freeburg, Masoutah and Waterloo. The other 2A sectional with local teams is set for Friday at Springfield Lanphier. That meet features Civic Memorial, Breese Central, Highland, Roxana, Triad and East Alton-Wood River.
The Class 1A sectional at Gillespie will run on Thursday and features Alton Marquette, Bunker Hill, Metro-East Lutheran and Madison. On Friday Nashville will host a 1A meet that includes Althoff Mater Dei, Carlyle, Dupo, Okawville, Red Bud, Wesclin and Gibault.