by Michael Smith
Last season, the Grain Valley boys and girls track teams earned all-state honors in six out of seven events they qualified for.
Every Grain Valley competitor earned at least one medal at the 2022 Missouri High School Track and Field Championships.
This season, the Eagles will look to do the same as the boys team qualified for state in three events and the girls did in two during last weekend’s Class 5 Sectional 4 meet at Columbia Rock Bridge High School.
For the boys, junior Stylz Blackmon qualified in the shot put, sophomore Blayden Pruett made it in the javelin and the 4x800 team of Nathan Allan, Landon Barnes, Rylan Smith and Carson Hill punched their ticket to state.
For the girls, junior Izabella West qualified in the triple jump and sophomore Alyssa Carver made it in the pole vault.
All of the Eagles who qualified for state will be making their first appearance at the event.
Carver just missed out on going to state and sectionals last season at the district meet because she was tied for fourth place but lost a tiebreaker due to having one more attempt than the eventual fourth-place finisher.
At this year’s sectional event, she finished third with a height of 3.29 meters in the pole vault. Currently, she is seeded fifth in the event and it appears she will have a good chance to earn all-state honors.
All season, she finished first in nearly every meet she’s competed in. Sectionals was one of the rare times she did not.
“I just didn’t have my best day,” Carver said. “It was a challenge to have to push through on an off day against tougher competition.
“I was slow and my vault wasn’t moving. I didn’t do as good as I did at the other meets.”
Carver said she thinks she has a good chance to earn all-state honors.
“Probably not,” Carver said when asked if she thinks she has a chance to be a state champion. “There are girls ranked higher than me. So unless they had a really off day and I had a great day, I don’t think I can win it, but I can definitely place.”
While Carver is a seasoned competitor in the pole vault, West competed in the triple jump for the first time this season. At the beginning of the season, the junior was trying to figure out what event was the best fit for her. One day at practice, she turned some heads when practicing the triple jump.
That ended up being her permanent spot for the season.
“Izabella was with us as a freshman and last year she decided not to come out,” Grain Valley girls track coach Nick Small said. “She came back this year and has been committed.”
“She popped off in practice at the triple jump, and we’re like, ‘Hey! I think we can do this thing.’”
West had one of her best performances at as sectionals as she took third with a distance of 11.31 meters.
“I was a centimeter off from my personal record,” West said, “and that was my first jump, so I was pretty happy about that.”
“I was aiming to win it but there is a girl who jumps a meter further. I have exceeded my expectations, especially since I started the triple jump in the middle of the year.”
Pruett is one of those competitors that just took up throwing a javelin. His throw of 152 feet, 8 inches netted him a third-place finish at sectionals.
“I didn’t throw the best I could’ve,” Pruett said. “It was enough to get me through to state.”
His recent success it partly due to changing the focus of his technique., focusing more on his footwork than his arm movement.
“I have been working on my steps more and not so much my power,” Pruett said. “It helped a lot doing that instead of trying to muscle it.”
Blackmon is looking forward to his first state appearance, as he ranked 12th right now in the Class 5 shot put event. His throw of 49 feet, 2 inches was good enough for second place at sectionals.
“At the beginning of the year, it was my goal to get (a throw of 15 meters),” Blackmon said. “I have been progressing steadily throughout the meets. I would definitely say I threw really well at sectionals. Me and Coach (David) Allie have really been working on my technical issues.
“I just want to swing through and leave it all out there.”
He said putting more of a focus on track, while still playing basketball and football was a big reason for his breakthrough 2023 campaign.
“I came in as a sophomore and I really didn’t think much of track,” Blackmon said. “I thought it was something I could just do. I really didn’t think I could get anywhere with it.”
“But coming into my junior year, I was the best shot put thrower we had. I had a throw of 13 meters coming in. I have come back bigger and stronger and realized I could make it far in this.”
The 4x800 team, which took fourth at sectionals at 8:12.25, had a little luck on their side near the end of the race. A runner from Liberty Wentzville was on pace to get fourth but “got wobbly and tired” as he was closing in on the finish line.
Smith pushed hard at the final leg of the race to take fourth and qualify just ahead of Blue Springs (8:13.9) and Liberty Wentzville (8:16.63).
“We were 5 to 10 meters behind fourth place at the time,” Grain Valley boys track coach Erik Stone said.
“The kid in front of us was running out of his mind and was running a really good split, then his legs gave out on him. He fell completely to the ground.”
“I spoke to Coach Small after the race and said, ‘Rylan could have easily given up. Thinking, ‘OK. We’re fifth.’ Blue Springs was on our tail, too. But we were able to get fourth and that was awesome.”
Added Hill: “It was a very nerve-wracking finish.”
Allen said the best is yet to come for his relay team.
“We were not satisfied,” Allen said. “We were in the mindset to survive and advance. We are going to work on getting that time down and running our best at state.”
The Missouri State High School Track and field championships will begin at 9:30 a.m. on Friday and will end on Saturday at 4:40 p.m. Blackmon, Pruett, Carver and West will all compete on Friday and the 4x800 relay team will compete on the track at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.
Grain Valley junior Izabela West will compete in the Class 5 triple jump event at the Missouri State High School Track and Field Championships Friday at Adkins Stadium in Jefferson City. She qualified by taking third at sectionals with a leap of 37 feet, 1.75 inches. Photo credit: Michael Smith
Grain Valley sophomore Blayden Pruett will compete in the Class 5 javelin event at the Missouri State High School Track and Field Championships Friday at Adkins Stadium in Jefferson City. He qualified by taking third at sectionals with a throw of 152 feet, 8 inches. Photo credit: Michael Smith
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