by John Unrein
A rainy day on April 16th pushed Lady Eagles track practice indoors. Head coach Brian Winckler assembled his squad in the commons of the high school prior to start of practice. Winckler is mindful of the balance between giving the needed instructions and the willing attention span of student athletes eager to complete their workouts. The pride on Winckler’s face in the form a smile from ear to ear is unmistakable as he requested that seniors Abby Castle and Jordyn Weems provide an interview before they start training.
“Jordyn and Abby have both been very successful in our program for many reasons. They are great kids, great athletes, and are both tremendous leaders. Jordyn and Abby both showed that they were tremendous athletes early on in their freshman year, but they way have both grown as leaders and people in what has helped propel them to the next level,” Winckler said.
“Both of these young ladies have been great to coach because they understand when it is time to have fun and when it is time to dig deep and compete. A lot of kids struggle with the ability of when to ‘turn it on’ in competition. However, both young ladies do a tremendous job of this. This attribute, along with their dedication to practice and the classroom is the primary reason why I know they will be very successful at the next level.”
April 14th witnessed both Castle and Weems sign their letters of intent to continue their careers as student athletes at Missouri Southern University and Ottawa University, respectively.
Castle has excelled as a pole vaulter, recently taking first place in the event at the Fort Osage Invitational. Furthermore, Castle has shattered the previous school record this season of 9’ 9” set in 2019 by pole vaulting an eye popping 10’ 6” at the Gary Parker Blue Springs Invitational. An impressive feat as Castle achieved full extension while narrowly clearing her feet, back, and head while only nudging the bar.
Castle also uses her legs as springs to compete in the high jump. The event is usually filled with contestants that are strong, fast, and flexible. Castle has been able to successfully convert her speed into ankle flexion and leaping from her toes to represent Grain Valley. Both the pole vault and high jump are field events that require extreme focus and a short memory.
“Being a student athlete has led me to be more responsible in knowing that I have people counting on me. I do not like letting people down, even it means more work on my end. More importantly, I do not want to let myself down. I have worked really hard to get where I am right now. I do not know if everyone is aware of what is needed in being a student athlete. I want respect and I am willing to do the work needed for that,” Castle said.
“Pole vault is scary to learn at first. You are propelling yourself into the air with a stick and trusting that you will land on the mat. Track and field requires you to be mentally tough.”
Castle continued, “I was terrified the first time I pole vaulted. Falling has not kept me from doing what I love. The point at which you know the pole is going to lift you over is super thrilling. You look down and see the ground pass by you at a high rate of speed. It is so fun.”
“I am going to miss seeing my teammates the most every day as I reflect on my career here. They are the ones who helped me get to where I am today, even when I wanted to give up or needed encouragement.”
Weems competes in a host of events for the Lady Eagles on the track. The 100 meter, the 200 meter, the 4 x 200 meter relay, the 4 x 400 meter relay, and long jump are the five events Weems is familiar with in the spring. A focus on fundamentals is a nuance that Weems commits to in supporting her team.
Weems has joined teammates Huffman, Ogle, and Rogers to form an impressive 4 x 200 meter relay team. The anchor leg has often been given to Weems to hold a lead or make up needed ground at the end of the race. The quartet received third place medals at the Gary Parker Invitational in the event. Being called on to run the end of one of the most competitive events in track and field is something that Weems takes in stride.
“Being a student athlete leaves you with a lot of responsibilities. You must focus on so much more than just school. It makes you mature fast in that you have to learn time management,” Weems said.
“Sprinting is more than just the natural ability to run fast. You have to learn how to move your arms for example. Steps for a successful baton hand off during a relay race is another. Judging how fast another person is coming in is a big part of that.”
“Maddie Rogers typically hands off to me. The read is on the person getting the baton. The person handing off says ‘ice’ when they extend the baton and the person receiving says ‘stick’ once they have secured the baton.”
Weems finished, “I am going to miss the environment at Grain Valley. I also know I am headed to a good one as well (at Ottawa University). This is where I first started running track and I have been pushed to get better.”