Platte County senior Jacob Laures waited hours for his turn to compete in the Class 4 Sectional 4 meet on Saturday, May 18, but the weather kept him in a holding pattern for almost two more full days.
After a second delay due to lightning, officials postponed the remainder of the meet to Monday with 2½ pole vault competitions left. That gave Laures the chance to cap the meet with another historic performance even if the entirety of the Pirates’ team made up the majority of those in attendance to see him reach new heights.
Laures won the event with a vault of 13 feet — his opening height. He then progressed all the way to a new school record of 15-4 to claim his first sectional pole vault title and advance to the Class 4 Missouri State Track and Field Championships in the event for a third straight year.
“We are all starting to peak at the right time, and Jacob is definitely leading that charge,” Platte County coach Gabe Middleton said of Laures, who medaled with fifth- and seventh-place finishes in his two previous trips to state. “He has been a hard worker his whole career, but to just see him put everything together, be healthy and perform at his highest level when it matters the most is awesome to see.”
“Today was fun, and when he cleared (15-4), his whole team erupted.”
Platte County’s record-setting senior contingent of Laures, Xavier Keith and Keegan Cordova, an infusion of impact underclassmen, a crop of breakout performers and a deep lineup of relays has the Pirates in a position to continue its run of strong team performances at state. They were fourth in the final Class 4 sectionals, and both of their championship performances came during Monday’s short portion of the meet.
Laures locked up his title on his second attempt and then cleared 14-0 on his second try. From there, he upped the bar to 15-1 in an attempt to better the school record of 15-0 he set late in the regular season, topping Bryce Bearden’s 2017 mark of 14-10.
At districts, Laures employed a similar jump in height but missed on three tries at 15-3. This time, he cleared 15-1 on his first try and then went over the bar at 15-4 on his third and final try.
Moments earlier, Platte County’s 4x400-meter relay team of senior Blake Reynolds and Cordova, junior Will Hay and sophomore Walker Grimes won the sectional title in a season-best of 3 minutes, 27.35 seconds, topping Kearney by just under a half second. The Pirates will now look to medal at state in the event for a sixth consecutive season.
“They did what they have done all year,” Middleton said. “I still think we can clean a few things up and go faster this weekend, but they are running great.”
Despite minimal returners from last year, Platte County qualified three of four relays for state overall with a combination of strong performances and a little luck.
Just like in the 4x400, Cordova is the only holdover on the defending state champion 4x800 team that set a school record of 7:50.03 last season in winning the title. This year’s quartet of juniors Donny MacCuish and Sullivan, sophomore Blake Bjustrom and Cordova appeared in danger of missing this year’s cut.
Instead, Bjustrom took off on the third leg with the simple goal of passing the baton to Cordova — school-record holder in the open 800 — in a state spot. Bjustrom turned in a 2:04 split, and Cordova started his two laps safely in fourth.
Cordova then picked off one runner and brought Platte County to the line in a season-best 8:18.16, nearly a full second ahead of the bang-bang finish between Grandview and Grain Valley for the final spot. Grandview sophomore Reggie King won the dash at the line for fourth but never threatened Platte County’s placement.
“That’s probably the most nervous I’ve ever been mid-race,” Cordova said. “I was a little scared about what I needed to do because I knew Grandview, Reggie, was fast. Huge leg from Blake giving me that baton ahead of Grandview. I didn’t have to fight Reggie; I didn’t have to chase him down. He was chasing me.”
Platte County’s 4x200 team of seniors Carter Utt and Reynolds, sophomore Spencer Cupp and freshman George Steinmeir finished its race in a season-best 1:31.68 but crossed the line in fifth. The showing was impressive with Steinmeir a race-day substitute for the second leg.
Shortly after the race, Platte County’s quartet found out they would be the final state qualifier after fourth-place Ruskin was disqualified for an exchange outside of the zone.
“I knew we had a chance but then after the race we got fifth,” said Utt, who ran on the seventh-place 4x100 team with senior Cade McNicholas, Cupp and sophomore Colby Rollins later in the day. “Placing fifth, I was pretty upset because I knew that was my best chance of moving on to state. It’s my senior year, and I wasn’t ready for it to be over. I’m glad it’s not.”
“To have that time and a freshman like Steinmeir step in and cut our season-best down by 2 seconds, that was crazy, and I was just happy with the PR.”
Cordova and Hay — key cogs in the 4x400 — also led Platte County’s individual qualifiers in track events.
A state medalist in the 800 last year, Cordova advanced back for a second straight year despite coming in second to Kearney senior Mason Marshall in the event for the first time this season. Cordova won the District 8 title in a photo finish between the two last week, and they were even faster a week later.
Marshall won in 1:58.53 with Cordova just behind in 1:58.62 — about a second and a half off his school record from last year’s state meet.
“Honestly, this year, I started with some injuries, and my mileage was low,” Cordova said. “I was a little concerned about where I was gonna be at this point in the year. Last week, I started crushing workouts again and definitely boosted the confidence coming into this and then came into this and performed just like I know I should be able to. Makes me feel a lot better.”
Hay qualified for state in the 300 hurdles as a sophomore but upped his event load to three in another breakout season.
Early in the day, Hay dashed to the finish line in the 110 hurdles to place fourth in 15.65 and grab the final state spot. He then came in third in a rain-soaked 300s race where turned in a time of 40.20.
Both hurdle events resulted in season-best times, and he now sets his sights on state medals after just missing a spot in the 300 hurdles final a year ago.
“I think it’s a whole different mentality this year from last year — definitely a better one,” Hay said. “I wasn’t sure about (the 110s). I knew the guy beside me, I’d have to beat him or beat someone down (the line). Toward the end, I was kicked it on because I knew I needed to qualify.”
In addition to Laures, Platte County will also have Keith and Rollins at state in field events.
Keith continued his strong season in the shot put with a third-place finish at 53-5 ½. However, he remained off of his school-record distance of 56-0 he set earlier in the season to break a mark that had stood since the 1970s.
That leaves one more competition for Keith to return to form. He missed all of last season away from the team but is now a three-time state qualifier looking to better his seventh-place medal from 2017.
“That’s what state is for: to go big or go home,” Keith said. “You have to realize that everybody that’s going to be there wants to go big. I have to go hard and try to end up where I want to be.”
Rollins also didn’t participate in track and field last year — self-reported as due to laziness. He’s made an immediate impact this season and set another personal-best in the triple jump on Saturday.
In the fourth spot going into his fourth and final jump, Rollins improved his position with a jump of 42-11¼, a mark he celebrated with an exuberant reaction. He could also move back into the 4x200 for state but gave way his spot to Steinmeir to focus on his back-to-back triple jump and long jump competitions at sectionals.
“You just see the self-confidence grow when they perform well in big moments,” Middleton said. “And he’s been kind of a big-moment guy, especially the last two weeks. He had to PR almost on his last jump to get to sectionals, and then today, he has a big 42-11 on his last triple jump to qualify for state. Love the emotion from that kid.”
The combination of proven state-medal winners and a strong collection of relays has Platte County thinking about making a push in the state team standings this weekend. The Pirates were eighth in 2017 and ninth in 2018, mostly a credit to an accomplished crop depleted after last season.
While expectations externally might have been down this year, internal belief and development have changed the prospective for those on the team.
“We lost a bunch of people and then up come these underclassmen,” Hay said. “It’s a whole new generation. It’s awesome, and I get to be one of the upperclassmen and help lead the way.”