LATHROP, Mo. — Eric Brown remembers the feeling of clearing 6 feet in the pole vault for the first time, a height many high jumpers feel comfortable attempting.
The North Platte senior made a late switch to track and field from baseball for his final two seasons, and despite a steep learning curve, he’s developed an eclectic group of events. The expectations have changed a bunch from last spring to now, leaving Brown disappointed with a third-place showing in the pole vault Saturday, April 30 in the KCI Conference Championships.
“It was certainly scary at first, but now I can do as high as I want, no problem,” he said. “Sometimes it makes me smile to think about my first jump of 6 foot and how excited I was for that and now I’m going 10 easily every time.”
Brown typically opens his meets in the 4x800-meter relay and squeezes in three different types of jumps — long jump, triple jump and perhaps his best event: the pole vault. He’s also experimented with the open 800 and 3,200 but seems settled at this point.
In addition to staying busy in track and field, Brown ran cross country in the fall and helps lead North Platte’s academic team as an All-KCI performer. So how does he find time to maintain his varying interests?
“I don’t have Netflix, and if I did, that’d be it,” he said.
In a day of altering weather patterns at the KCI meet, Brown looked poised to challenge for a conference title in the pole vault.
However, a stiff head wind developed right as the top competitors hit 10 feet. Brown ended up in a three-way tie for second but placed third on tiebreakers. Lathrop’s James Knifong took the title as the only one to clear 10-6. Brown added a fourth-place showing in the triple jump (39-7½) while running a leg on the fourth-place 4x800 team with Caleb Crumley, Dylan Stockman and Kyle Ewing.
Brown enters the postseason with hopes of reaching the Class 2 Missouri State Track and Field Championships. He qualified for the Sectional 4 meet in two events last year — pole vault and the 4x800 — and his personal best of 10-6 in the pole vault would’ve put him on the edge of advancing last season.
With Class 2 District 8 competition this Saturday in Higginsville, Mo., Brown knows he’s down to his last few weeks of competition and remains content with his decision to switch sports last year.
“I started out knowing absolutely nothing, and looking where I’m at today, I’m so happy I chose this over baseball,” he said. “I’m glad, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Brown’s two individual medals helped North Platte, which only had one qualifier for the Class 2 Missouri State Track and Field Championships a year ago, to a fifth-place team finish with 69 points. The Panthers came in one point ahead of sixth-place West Platte in the eight-team field.
Gentry Scrivener struggled in discus but added a third-place showing for North Platte in the shot put (42-10½).
West Platte’s 4x800 team finished just in front of the Panthers to start a strong day in distance events. Daniel Cicha, Andrew Cicha, Max Davies and Dylan Lock were third in the longest relay, while Daniel Cicha won the conference title in the 3,200 with a season-best time of 10 minutes, 57.27 seconds.
The Bluejays also placed three in the top eight of the 1,600 with Davies, a freshman, setting a personal best for a second straight week. He came in second at 5:01.50 to edge Daniel Cicha for the runner-up spot, having now shaved about 16 seconds off his previous best in the past two meets.
West Platte’s girls won a pair of events and again displayed their newfound depth.
Rachel Heili, a sophomore, took medals in three events and ran the opening leg of the 4x800 relay, which set a season best 10:42.22 to help the Bluejays beat Lawson by more than 18 seconds. Heili then came in third in a tightly bunched 1,600 race in a season-best 5:56.61.
After the mile, Heili still had to run the 800 (fourth) and a leg of the 4x400 (fourth).
“I just try to give my all in every race,” she said. “I know what I have to do, and I train in practice enough to be ready.”
West Platte junior Sydney Oberdiek won the shot put 34-3½ — one of three Bluejays to score points in the event — in addition to a runner-up showing in the discus. She also took first in the javelin, which did not count in the team scores. Ciara Davies also raced to third in a loaded 400 field out of lane one, narrowly beating her previous season-best with a 1:02.66 finish.
Overall, West Platte scored 94 points to continue a resurgent season, coming in just five back of Plattsburg for third. The Bluejays saw a huge increase in numbers this season with a talented group of freshmen and sophomores, including Heili, Davies, Lea Moose, and Emily Norman, driving improved team finishes.
“It’s nice to hear the results being read at meets, and we have someone placing in every event,” Heili said. “Last year, we were a lot more spread out. That’s what makes track fun is having a team and people cheering for each other.
“We’re building a program.”
Third a year ago, North Platte dropped back to sixth this year.
However, the Panthers’ relays were again strong with a pair of victories in the middle distances. The team of McKenna Fulton, Emmie Lee, Brittney Gerling and Erin Manville held off Lawson in the 4x200 in what turned into a photo finish. North Platte came in at a season-best 1:53.49 despite a slightly shuffled lineup to hold off the Cardinals and talented anchor leg Nikki Smith by .05 of a second.
The 4x400 of Manville, Gracie Roach, Emmie Lee and Maddie Lee closed the meet with another win, showing off North Platte’s options in relay events excelling even after the loss of standout sprinter Regan Nash to graduation.
“We just had to step up a little bit and try different things. We’re finding out what we can be good at,” said Fulton, who won the second of three heats in the 300 hurdles at 53.15 to score a surprise runner-up finish. “We knew it was going to be a struggle, but I think that’s what motivated us even more.”
Roach grabbed a second-place medal for North Platte in the high jump, part of a tie for second at 4-8.