by Michael Smith
The Grain Valley boys track and field team had a solid 2022 campaign.
It especially thrived in the relays and the Eagles medaled in every event they qualified for in the 2022 Missouri State High School Boys Track and Field Championships.
The 4x400 team of Mason McCain, Logan Pratt, Jace Weems and Keagan Hart took eighth overall and the 4x200 squad of Hart, Weems, Caleb Larson and Pratt finished seventh.
McCain, who graduated last year, took seventh in the 800-meter run. Of the five boys that competed at state last season, three return to attempt to make another state run in 2023 as the Eagles bring back 17 letter winners from last year’s squad.
This season, the Eagles aim to qualify more athletes for state and earn more all-state honors.
“I think we can qualify more people this year,” Hart said. “We have a couple more athletes coming out this year. The guys have really been recruiting athletes to try out.”
“This year’s motto is podium mentality. Last year, we had so many fifth-place finishes. We want to have that mentally in the back of our head to make it to the podium. We have more competition in practice so we think that will motivate the guys.”
A prime candidate to take Pratt’s spot in both relays is senior Noah Olah, who was a speedy wide receiver for the football team. On the 4x400 a candidate to fill in McCain’s spot is sophomore Chase Anderson
“Everything is about the same as last year, we might switch some things around,” Hart said of the relays. “We want to place higher this year because we are bigger, faster and stronger.”
“We have some people that can come in and really step up. They are here every day to work for it.”
Hart said it will personally help him to focus on just track and field this season. Last year, he participated in baseball and track at the same time. He will not be playing baseball this time around.
He also still plans on competing in the individual 400-meter race as he was just one place outside of the top four at the Class 5 Sectional 2 meet, which would have qualified him for state.
“Last year, I wasn’t able to get in many practices (for track),” Hart said. “I was tiring out a lot. We ended our baseball season earlier than we wanted to last year, so there was a couple of weeks that I could attend track practice at the end of the season.”
“Those couple of weeks helped and I feel even faster than last year.”
In other events, junior Stylz Blackmon will be the Eagles primary shot put competitor. Last season, he finished just two inches short on his throw in the shot put from qualifying for sectionals.
In 2023, the 6-foot-4 junior will be looking for better results.
“I feel really confident in making it far this year, considering last year I was just short by a few meters from making it,” Blackmon said. “This year I am really focused on my technique and listening to my coaches.
“I am working on all the steps and getting them drilled into my head. I want to go out there and have a pinnacle performance every time.”
Blackmon is a part of one of the largest teams head coach Erik Stone has ever had. Grain Valley has a ton of depth as they have around 95 athletes currently practicing with the team.
Some all-conference competitors returning to compete include Anderson in the 400 and Nathan Landon Barnes, Carson Hill, Rylan Smith and Nathan Allen in the distance events.
“We always try to get out,” Stone said. “A lot of kids don’t grow up running like they would playing football. Track is something a lot of kids do to become a better athlete. The guys have done a great job recruiting. I think they do a better job than the coaches because they are peers.”
Others to look out for include DJ Harris in the 100-meter dash, Jackson Stewart and Christian Lanear in the hurdles, Tyler Melton in the high jump, Braylen Harin in the high, long and triple jump events, William Peterson in the long jump and Korbyn Goodwin in the discus.
“Braylen Hardin will be good for us, he does all the jumps,” Stone said. “He could possibly make some noise. Rylan Smith had a good cross country season, he can be a good distance guy for us. He’s a really hard worker. We also have Landon Jaynes. I am not sure what he can do yet but he’s a tall, lanky kid who has the build of a jumper.”
Grain Valley will compete in its first meet Friday at the Raymore-Peculiar Invitational.
Senior Keagan Hart, left, will try to help guide the 4x200 and 4x400 relay teams to all-state honors for the second straight year and Stylz Blackmon will be the team's primary shot put competitor for the boys track and field team. Photo credit: Michael Smith