Despite a change in lineup, Park Hill repeats as 4x400 champs

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — There aren’t very many times when a fifth runner is part of a relay team photo, but it made perfect sense for Park Hill.

The girls 4x400-meter relay team won the Class 5 championship in the event for the second year in a row to cap a medal-filled weekend at the MSHSAA Track and Field Championships held on May 25-26 the Licklider Track Complex at Jefferson City High School.

The championship was the second for the Trojans and Taiya Shelby stood on the medal stand for both of them.

She was joined by Manuela Ngo Tonye Nyemeck and Caleia Johnson on the 4x400 team that set a new Class 5 record, finishing in 3:35.61. They easily beat second-place Pattonville by eight seconds and broke the class record set by Lee’s Summit North (3:50.99) in 2015 — the first year of the current five-team state structure.

 CODY THORN/Citizen photo Park Hill’s Taiya Shelby, Caleia Johnson, Manuel Ngo Tonye Nyemeck, Teresa Thomas won the Class 5 4x400-meter relay to defends its state championship on Saturday, May 26 at the MSHSAA State Track and Field Championships. Joining them on the medal stage is Jena Hahlbeck, a member of last year’s team that was unable to run in the event this year.

CODY THORN/Citizen photo
Park Hill’s Taiya Shelby, Caleia Johnson, Manuel Ngo Tonye Nyemeck, Teresa Thomas won the Class 5 4x400-meter relay to defends its state championship on Saturday, May 26 at the MSHSAA State Track and Field Championships. Joining them on the medal stage is Jena Hahlbeck, a member of last year’s team that was unable to run in the event this year.

After taking their team photo for MSHSAA, the team stayed on the top step and Jena Hahlbeck joined them for another photo. Hahlbeck was part of the championship team last year but an injury forced Johnson, a freshman, to take her spot.

“Jena got a little injury but she has been running with us,” Shelby said of her senior classmate. “I wish she could’ve run the last race. She is still a big part of the team on and off the track.”

The only loss for the 4x400 team this year came in the KU Relays. Hahlbeck ran on the 4x400 team twice this year as she battled nagging injuries throughout the year.

 CODY THORN/Citizen photo Park Hill’s Taiya Shelby reacts after winning the 800-meter dash on Friday, May 25 at the MSHSAA State Track and Field Championships.

CODY THORN/Citizen photo
Park Hill’s Taiya Shelby reacts after winning the 800-meter dash on Friday, May 25 at the MSHSAA State Track and Field Championships.

Park Hill assistant coach Josh Buford said, “We got five tremendous girls and we have a tremendous leader. Taiya just leads the group and takes them to a new high. They work hard and push each other and they have a leader that drives them to be better.”

Shelby’s last race as her fourth medal in the two-day event, which started with a rain delay on Friday and ended in a scorcher — near 100 degree temps — on Saturday.

Shelby won the 800-meter dash on Friday, shocking many who expected Lee’s Summit West’s Jana Shawver to repeat. The Kansas signee had the fastest time in the state entering the finals, but Shelby made a pass on the final lap with about 50 meters to race past Shawver.

Shelby finished in 2:12.58, ahead of Shawver’s 2:12.99. The Park Hill senior was nearly a second faster than the defending state champion on the final lap.

A second-place finish for Shelby came on the 4x200 with Thomas, Johnson and Kristen Birmingham, another freshman. The team ran 1:40.74, setting a new school record, but came in behind Hazelwood Central.

Shelby ran 55.64 in the 400-meter dash on Saturday to place third, coming in behind district/sectional foe Kaitlyn Lewis of Liberty (second) and Nerinx Hall’s Courtney Williams, who won in 55.43.

“It is probably the weekend of my life, with all these races,” said Shelby, who was still pondering a college choice between Nebraska and Vanderbilt the week leading up to state finals. “I’m not going to give up. I will always think positive and keep pushing.”

The only other all-state medal for Park Hill came when Thomas took eighth in the 100 dash. The Trojans’ 4x100, 4x200 and 4x400 all set new state records.

Other state qualifiers for the girls were: Johnson taking 11th in the 200; Birmingham was 10th in the high jump; LaShunda Tapp was ninth in the shot put; the 4x100 team of Hahlbeck, Birmingham, Johnson and Thomas took 10th and Simone Smith was 15th in the triple jump.

The Trojans had two qualifiers on the boys side — Kolby Heinerikson and Payton Stanfield.

Stanfield was 14th in the 300 hurdles, while Heinerikson was 12th in the 110 hurdles.

Heinerikson, a junior, earned his third straight all-state medal in javelin, placing sixth with a heave of 167 feet, 7 inches. He was fifth last year and seventh as a freshman.

“It is not what I wanted,” he said. “Top three would’ve been great, but the guys performed well.”

There were two state records at state that were broken that were previously held by Park Hill athletes. Lee’s Summit KC Lightfoot, a Baylor signee, vaulted 18 feet to break Chris Nilsen’s all-class record of 17 feet set in 2015. In the triple jump, Ritenour’s Diamond Riley broke an all-class record with a jump of 40-10, which broke the mark set by Dierdre Fortman in 1995.