JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Chris Nilsen tried to reconcile the joy of his second state championship while also balancing the disappointment.
Park Hill’s record-setting senior didn’t reach the desired height in the pole vault, but his effort of 16 feet, 9 inches more than held up in the Class 5 Missouri State Track and Field Championships at Adkins Stadium over the weekend. No other competitor cleared higher than 15 feet, 6 inches Saturday, May 28, but Nilsen came up 3 inches short of last year’s state meet record he set.
Nilsen admitted he wanted to go back over 18-0 after doing so earlier in the year in the Suburban Conference Red Division meet before setting an all-time national record at 18-4¾ last week in Sectional 4 competition. However, the win and all of his accomplishments in a now storied career helped ease any frustrations with not performing to his full capability in his final high school competition.
“Today, I just came for the win,” Nilsen said. “Height was second to winning right now. I wanted to go out with a bang. I got my national record, got No. 1 in the world, still going to college. I’d say it was a pretty good meet today.”
Nilsen came in earlier than usual during the competition, delayed until Saturday morning after thunderstorms stopped the meet Friday with 13 vaulters still alive.
Sunny, windy conditions greeted the competitors early in the morning, and Nilsen said the postponement forced him to limit his warmup time to conserve energy. He cleared 15-6 on his first try and then won the competition after going over 16-0 on his first attempt.
From there, Nilsen went up to 16-9 and then to 17-3, where he missed all three attempts.
A sizable crowd clearly focused in on the end of the pole vault hoping to see another record performance. Nilsen made those efforts routine the past two years during a meteoric rise from a 12-3 vaulter as a sophomore to national record holder.
Nilsen slowly upped the school record last year before clearing a state meet record 17-0 to close the season. He upped that mark to 17-1, 17-6½ (a KU Relays record), 18-0 and 18-4¾ as a senior despite limited chances to vault.
Already signed to vault at South Dakota next year, Nilsen could still reach the U.S. Olympic Trials qualifying standard of 5.65 meters (about 18-5½), but he won’t be able to reach that height while vaulting for Park Hill.
“I’m just kind of happy high school is over for good at this point,” Nilsen said. “On to bigger things, I guess.”
Nilsen went on to repeat as a state medalist in the high jump and shared the fourth-place spot on the podium with senior teammate Alijah Gee.
Park Hill’s top two jumpers cleared 6-0, 6-2 and 6-4 on their first try but couldn’t get over 6-5. That left the duo part of a five-way tie for fourth, but with no misses at the first three heights, Nilsen and Gee were the top finishers in the tiebreakers.
Gee assured his first state medal after clearing 6-4. He advanced to state for the first time after missing last year’s District 8 competition to attend his grandfather’s funeral.
That made the final competition even more special for Gee.
“I did it for my grandpa,” he said. “He cheered for me, rooted for me whatever I did, regardless of what I did. It just means a lot to me that I can be on this type of platform and perform well. I know he’s looking over me.”
Park Hill’s hopes of a top-four finish and team trophy fell apart over the weekend. The Trojans ended up tied for 13th with 19 points but needed another 22 to have a shot at hardware — an effort that would’ve taken nearly perfect results.
Instead, junior Papay Glaywulu fouled on the first two attempts of the triple jump Friday evening and the first two attempts in the long jump on Saturday. His third jump in each competition left him short of the top nine and the finals.
Glaywulu ended up 12th in both events after entering as a contender to win two state titles.
Grant Downes also missed the finals in the 110 hurdles by 0.30 of a second. He came in sixth for the second heat at 15.37 and just missed his personal best time of 15.34 set two weeks earlier in District 8.
Hunter Lund, a junior, rounded out Park Hill’s individual qualifiers, placing 13th in the 3,200.
Downes and freshman teammate Kolby Heinerikson also participated in the first Class 5 state javelin exhibition. The top 17 throwers from the regular season all qualified for the field, but the competition did not score team points for the individuals who placed.
Heinerikson finished seventh with a throw of 155-9 to collect a medal, while Downes finished 17th.
Park Hill’s final medal came from Taiya Shelby in the 400. Participating in four events, the breakout sophomore ran on two relays Friday morning before qualifying for the 400 final later in the afternoon.
The rain washed out the 200 preliminaries, leaving her with two races and two chances at a medal on Saturday.
After qualifying seventh, Shelby placed fifth in the 400 at 57.20, which ended up being a slower time than the day before. She then missed the medal cut in two timed heats of 200 with the top eight times earning all-state honors.
Park Hill’s 4x100 of Amanda Alexander, Gigi Hopkins, Sephora Koudou and Shelby finished 11th in preliminaries while the 4x200 of Alexander, Jena Hahlbeck, Shelby and Koudou was 12th. Both teams ran slower than their season-bests to finish outside of the top eight.