Reina McMillan wanted the responsibility all season.
At the biggest meet of her life she finally got it.
A junior distance runner for the Parkway North girls track and field team, McMillan was given anchor duties for the Vikings 1,600-meter relay team. She would be the last leg of the relay as the Vikings tried to finish off a historical performance at the Class 4 state championship track and field meet at Washington High on May 25.
“I've been wanting to run the last leg for the whole season,” McMillan said.
When senior Evie Marshall, the regular anchor, said she wasn't feeling her best at the end of a long, tiring meet, coach Moyenda Anwisye huddled with his staff and made some adjustments. One was to put standout junior sprinter Alicia Burnett in the third leg and slot McMillan in the fourth.
“We knew we had two cracks at it in the end,” Anwisye said.
The Vikings needed both of them. After the first two laps Burnett was handed the baton in eighth place, last among the field. The fastest 100- and 200-meter sprinter in the state, Burnett burned her way around the track in 55 seconds and lifted the Vikings into second place. McMillan's mission was clear when she received the stick – win.
“(Burnett) passed it on to me and when she did, I was ready,” McMillan said. “I had to catch (the leader) so I just went for it.”
With a nearly 50-meter gap between herself and front-running MICDS, McMillan tore out of the exchange zone and started gaining ground. It took more than half a lap before she managed to draw even. When she did it only made her go faster.
“A whole bunch of energy went into my body,” McMillan said. “I saw the finish line. This is the moment I've been waiting for.”
McMillan crossed the finish line in first and stopped the clock at 3 minutes and 59 seconds, a team-best by seven seconds this spring. MICDS was second in 4:01. It was the second relay state championship for the Vikings that day and the cherry on top of what became a historical state meet as Parkway North won the Class 4 state championship with 73 points. Webster Groves was second with 53 points followed by Parkway Central (49) and MICDS (39). It's the first state championship for Parkway North in any sanctioned sport.
“We made history that day,” McMillan said.
The Vikings were among the handful of favorites heading into the state meet. The times and marks the athletes registered during the spring painted a promising picture of what could come. But nothing is promised and Parkway North had to step on the track and earn it that day. And it wasn't the meet the Vikings prepared for all season, either. When a tornado did significant damage to Jefferson City High two days before the two-day championships were set to be held there it forced the Missouri State High School Activities Association to make alternate arrangements. Instead of holding the meet at central location the Class 3, 4 and 5 meets would be spread across three separate venues and it would be a one-day meet, not two.
“The team that can handle the stress is the team that will have success that day,” Anwisye said.
The Vikings handled it with aplomb. They started the meet by breaking the one relay record that had eluded them all season. The team of McMillan, sophomore Madline Ryan, freshman Tabitha Bevan and Safiya Ratliff finished the 3,200-meter relay in 9 minutes and 37 seconds. It was five seconds slower than state champion Liberty (9:32) but in taking second the Vikings crushed the school's 3,200-meter relay record by nine seconds. It was the last relay record on the books that the current team hadn't claimed.
Now they have that one, too.
Anwisye said a big boost for that relay team was Ratliff who scored big points with a tough-luck runner-up finish in the 1,600 to Ladue's Lila Bensky by two-tenths of a second. Ratliff's third-place finish in the 3,200-meter relay all but sealed the team's overall state championship victory.
“She was the spark plug for our 4x8,” Anwisye said. “She's been amazing all year.”
Burnett handled her business by winning the 100 in a new all-class record of 11.58 seconds. She won the 200 in 23.83 and helped the 800 and 1,600 relays to wins as well.
The points came from all sorts of places. Senior Rylea Smith took fourth in the javelin with a throw of 137 feet, 2 feet to score five points. McMillan was third in the 800 (2:19).
“It took everybody's effort,” Anwisye said. “To me it's all very humbling and exciting.”
The final point totals put the Vikings ahead by 20 but Anwisye said it was a gut wrenching day at the track as Webster Groves and Parkway Central kept the pressure on with their strong performances.
“We got a lot of push from Webster Groves and Parkway Central,” he said. “Kudos to them.”
With the school's first championship in the fold and a strong contingent of underclassmen in prominent roles Parkway North is in a place it has never been before – eying a repeat. Can the Vikings defend their title?
“We still have to do the work, the season is a grind,” Anwisye said. “We have to be about the small things.”
INCARNATE WORD'S REGULAR MAKES HISTORY
It won't be easy, but Incarnate Word will have to make room on its crowded gymnasium walls for a new banner.
This one for track and field, Scout Regular made sure of it.
A junior hurdler and jumper for the Red Knights, Regular claimed the Class 4 state championship in the 100-meter hurdles on May 25 at Washington High. Regular won in 14.13 seconds, a personal record, and became the first track and field state champion to call Incarnate Word home.
“It feels good,” she said. “It was a goal of mine.”
State champions are nothing new to Incarnate Word. The Red Knights set a new state record when they won their 10th basketball title in March to join their record nine soccer championships. Toss in 11 volleyball titles, two behind record holder Hermann, and Incarnate Word can make the case its the most dominant athletic program in the state.
For all of the hardware in the trophy case, it never had a track and field champion. Now it does and Regular is hoping to join the other champions hanging on the walls.
“I wanted my own banner,” she said.
She said the school hung one up to honor Ellie Wehrmann, who won multiple state titles as a swimmer. With that precedent in her mind, Regular wanted to do something no one had managed before. And she did it using the same facilities previous track athletes used at Incarnate Word, which is to say she didn't use any track facilities at the school because it has none. When Incarnate Word's track team practiced on a track it was at North Tech. When they practiced without a track it generally meant running the hallways.
“It's kind of hard,” Regular said. “We make it work.”
The 5-foot-6 Regular earned all-state recognition in the long jump where she finished fourth. She jumped 18 feet, 3 inches despite battling an injured ankle. She'd have liked to have won but after taking sixth in the long jump as a sophomore Regular was happy she improved as a junior.
“I haven't been jumping as well as I'd like,” she said. “It felt good that I placed higher than last year.”
Regular also competed in the 300 hurdles and with the 1,600-meter relay team. Neither event brought home a medal but there was valuable experience in competing in those events at the state meet. That can be a big help going forward as Regular chases her next goal.
Now that she's the first champion in school history, she's aiming to be the first Red Knight to win multiple championships on the track.
“Hopefully next year I'll win in more events,” Regular said.
LADUE'S BENSKY WON AT THE LINE
If Lila Bensky looked twice she'd have lost.
A recent Ladue graduate, Bensky had no time and no strides to spare as she raced to victory in the Class 4 1,600-meter run.
Bensky, 18, won the state title when she crossed the line in a personal best time of 5 minutes and 11.69 seconds to narrowly hold off Parkway North's Safiya Ratliff who finished in 5:11.94 on May 25 at Washington High.
It's the first state title for Bensky who had no idea just how narrowly she won until it was over.
“I didn't realize how close she was to me. I was more involved in 'Oh my God I need to get across this line,'” Bensky said. “When I looked at the pictures and saw the times I was like 'Oh my gosh she was really on my tail.'”
The 5-foot-7 Bensky knew the pack was charging hard down the home stretch. She gave a quick peek early and then focused on what was in front of her.
“I knew there was a good group of girls kicking behind me,” Benksy said. “When I looked back on the home stretch, I realized she was coming. I didn't know how close she had gotten to me at the end. I was completely clueless.”
Bensky's first title gave her all-state recognition for a fourth time in her career. She finished in eight in the 3,200 this season. As a sophomore she was fifth in the 3,200 and eighth in the 1,600.
The view from award podium is usually good but Bensky said standing atop it was a dream come true.
“It was insane. I was speechless afterwards,” she said. “I couldn't believe it. I was really, really happy about it.”
Bensky will continue her running career at Elon University in Elon, North Carolina.
WEBSTER'S EXTENDED RUN OF SUCCESS
After 21 years of not finishing in the top-four, the Webster Groves girls track and field team have put together a sustained run of success unlike any in its history. Before the 2017 season the Statesmen had four top-four finishes in their history, all since 1980. With its second place finish this season it gives Webster Groves three consecutive top-four finishes.
“It's a big accomplishment,” Webster coach Heather Kelley said. “I'm really excited and proud of them.”
The Statesmen didn't overwhelm the field with their numbers but the ones who competed made an impact. Senior thrower Nia Lyles won her second shot put state title as she won with a put of 45 feet, 3.75 inches. Senior Gold Kaanagbara was seventh (38-10.75). Lyles also earned all-state honors with a seventh-place finish in the discus (122-3). Junior distance runner Emma Kelley was the runner up in the 800-meter run when she finished in 2:19. She also took part in the 1,600 relay which finished third and the 3,200 relay which took fifth.
Junior hurdler Angelina Arinze won the 300-meter hurdles in 43.6 seconds.
The biggest surprise was the incredible growth of freshman Eliza Maupin who joined the Statesmen at the start of spring practice with a limited track background. Over the course of the season the 6-foot-3 Maupin found her stride. She won the Class 4 high jump state championship when she cleared 5 feet, 8 inches, a new school record. Maupin also set the school record in the long jump when she went 17 feet, 3.75 inches at Parkway Central's Henle Holmes Invitational.
“She kind of came out of nowhere,” Heather Kelley said.
Maupin is a nice bridge to the next wave of Statesmen. Webster graduated several stalwart athletes including Molly Nash who ran on the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 relays and both its top throwers in Lyles and Kaanagbara.
There will be a strong returning group led by Emma Kelley, Arinze and Maupin who will be try to keep this streak of trophies alive and well.
Two freshmen played big roles in the 3,200 relay as Zinnia Castro and Nora Welch helped the Statesmen finish in 9:48, 22 seconds better than their seed time at the state meet.
“That was a good way to start the day,” Heather Kelley said.
• Liberty senior Nolan Bone won the Class 4 pole vault championship when he cleared 15 feet, 9 inches. It's tied for the second-best vault this spring in Missouri.
The Liberty girls 3,200-meter relay also brought home a championship as they won their race in
Liberty girls 3,200-meter relay won state in 9 minutes and 32 seconds, 30 seconds better than their seed time.
• MICDS senior Josh Sutton defended his title as the fastest man in Class 4. The Tulsa-bound standout won the 1000- and 200-meter state titles. He finished the 100 in 10.85 seconds to beatSt. Dominic senior Jack McCormick who was the runner up in 11.06. Sutton took the 200 title in 21.85 seconds, nearly a half second faster than Summit's Jacob Brunsman who was the runner up.
• Jacob Brunsman did not leave the state meet empty handed. A Summit senior, Brunsman won the 400-meter state title in 48.08 seconds, finished second in the 200 (22.23) and third in the 100 (11.08). He also anchored Summit's 1,600 relay to an eighth-place finish an all-state recognition in 3:26.
• Festus senior Max McDaniel went out in a blaze of glory. The reigning Class 3 cross country state champion, McDaniel won the 1,600- and 3,200-meter races. He finished the 1,600 in 4 minutes and 21 seconds and the 3,200 in 9:27.
Adding to the Tigers distance success was the 3,200-meter relay which won in 7 minutes and 59.06 seconds to edge Bolivar, which was second in 7:59.65.
• Washington senior Claire Ayers kept the Class 4 800-meter state championship in the Blue Jays hands for at least one more year. Ayers won the half mile race in 2 minutes and 16 seconds. Former Washington standout Mikayla Reed won the 800 in 2018 before joining the University of Missouri track team.
Ayers earned all-state recognition in the 1,600 as she took fourth (5:14).
• Parkway Central earned its fourth state trophy with its third-place finish in Class 4. All four of the Colts' top-four finishes have come since 2008. Their highest was a second-place finish in 2009.
Senior jumper and sprinter Eliana Liebman was outstanding as she earned three medals. Liebman was fourth in 400-meter dash, third in the long jump and fourth in the triple jump.
Freshman standout sprinter Kayelyn Tate was the runner up in the 100 and 200.
• In his first year with the program, Hazelwood East coach Martise Scott brought home a state championship. After a lengthy and successful run at McCluer South-Berkeley, Scott took over at Hazelwood East this spring and made an immediate impact. The Spartans won the Class 4 400-meter relay in 48.67 seconds. The team of senior Arlydia Buford, junior Chaya Dorsey and sophomores Alicia Smith and Sydney Martin managed to hold off Parkway Central which was the runner up in 48.93 seconds.