Park Hill might have lost a record-setting pole vaulter, but the Trojans still have plenty of standouts back that have a chance to compete for Class 5 Missouri State Track and Field Championships medals.
Papay Glaywulu, a senior, returns for his final chances to leap to the top of the podium, while senior Grant Downes finally hopes to crack the top eight in the hurdles. Overall, the Trojans boys have just three state qualifiers back, but coach Rob Self sees a strong group with plenty of contenders ready to breakthrough.
A state medalist in the triple jump as a freshman, Glaywulu has shown flashes of the brilliant potential that landed him a scholarship offer from Oklahoma University. However, he’s suffered through two straight disappointing state trips.
Last year, Glaywulu fouled on the first two attempts at state in both the triple and long jumps, and his third jump in both events left him 12th overall and out of the top nine spots needed to advance to finals.
Downes missed the finals in the 110 hurdles by 0.30 of a second in his second trip to state in the event. He also advanced to state with freshman Kolby Heinerikson in the first state javelin exhibition, which did not count for team points.
Heinerikson finished seventh with a throw of 155 feet, 9 inches to collect a medal, while Downes finished 17th.
Park Hill ended up 13th in the final Class 5 team standings thanks to the efforts of Chris Nilsen, who set the national high school record with a pole vault of 18 feet, 4 ¾ inches in Sectional 4 competition before winning a second straight state title. He also medaled in the high jump along with fellow departed senior teammate Alijah Gee.
DJ Johnson and Ronnie Bell could add talent to the sprints and jumps, giving Park Hill plenty of depth to try and improve on last year’s finish.
Park Hill’s girls return a junior standout and a crop of sprinters that hope to build on last year’s success.
Taiya Shelby competed at state in four events and placed fifth in the 400 for her lone medal. In addition to running the 200, her breakout sophomore season included running legs on both the 4x100 and 4x200 teams.
Gigi Hopkins and Sephora Koudou return from those quartets, and Self also hopes the 4x400 can improve with Shelby leading the way.
“The girls sprint group is going to be pretty good; all of the relays should do pretty well,” he said. “We’re trying to find a couple other pieces; distance has some talent coming back. Our field looks pretty good so overall it’s going to be a good season for both boys and girls.”