KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Taiya Shelby started receiving congratulations before the time even became official.
After beating Liberty junior Kaitlyn Lewis in a 400-meter race for just the third time, Park Hill’s standout junior found out she ran a personal-best of 55.91 seconds during the Class 5 District 8 meet Saturday, May 13 at Park Hill District Stadium. Shelby shaved nearly a full second off of her previous top time.
Shelby continued her progression during the past three years from Class 5 Missouri State Championships qualifier to state title contender. She went into the district race looking to lower her time and also to win.
“Both, but mostly to beat her,” said an exhausted Shelby, who soon found out she need to go even lower to catch Charmaine Forest’s school record of 54.85 set while winning a Class 4A state title as a junior in 1987. “I’ve gotten tired of getting second by very little. The time really surprised me. I felt like I was going good, but it really did surprise me. I didn’t expect 55.”
Shelby’s run highlighted a big day in the sprints for Park Hill, which finished third behind Liberty North and Liberty in the final team standings.
In the 400, Park Hill sophomore Manuela Ngo Tonye Nyemeck also advanced to sectionals in third place. Shelby came in second to Lewis in the 200 with junior teammate Sephora Koudou about a second behind in third place.
Koudou won the 100 (13.03) with Park Hill freshman Teresa Thomas tied for second at 13.11 but wound up third when the time was drilled down to the thousandths of a second.
Thomas, Shelby, Koudou and junior Jena Hahlbeck won the 4x100 with Park Hill South’s Emily Day, De’Jaria Guillory, DeQuaria Guillory and Katherine Herrera also qualifying for sectionals in fourth. Park Hill’s Koudou, Jordan Birmingham, Gigi Hopkins and Iyanla Roberts were second to Liberty North in the 4x100 with Park Hill South’s De’Jaria Guillory, DeQuaria Guillory, Day and Alexandra Hammond right behind in third.
The last drama came from Park Hill’s 4x400 team, which entered with the second best time in the state.
After a solid first leg from Thomas, Nyemeck went to give the baton to Hahlbeck when they mishandled the exchange. Hahlbeck picked up the dropped baton, and officials determined there was no disqualification.
Shelby then anchored the Trojans to a victory in 3:59.16 — about 5 seconds off their school-record time set the previous week in the Suburban Conference Gold Division Championships.
Even Park Hill’s 4x800 team of Brooklynn Niebaum, Grace Fink, Abigail Fette and Madison King finished fourth out of six entrants, outracing Liberty by 12 seconds for the final sectional spot. The Trojans also have field representatives in freshman Lashunda Tapp (second, shot put), senior Tessa Mussman (third, pole vault), freshman Kali Day (third, javelin) and senior Ariet King (third, triple jump).
King advanced to Sectional 4 in a pair of events after setting a personal-best in the 300 hurdles.
After missing the sectional cut in the event each of the past two seasons, King turned in a 47.02 to beat Park Hill South sophomore Jasmine Case by 2 full seconds. King was all smiles after the race, feeling like she experienced a breakthrough in her best event.
“It was much faster than I thought I was going to do,” King said. “Finally, in my last year I got first place and a 47.”
Case qualified for sectionals in three events for Park Hill South, which finished fourth in the team standings.
Alecia Westbrook, another sophomore, took second in the high jump at 5-2 for the Panthers while Case cleared 5-1 during a jumpoff to claim the fourth and final spot. Case also finished second in the 100 hurdles with junior teammate Dymeria Guillory — a Class 5 state medalist in the event last year — sneaking into the sectional field with a fourth-place showing.
Park Hill South’s distance team again led the way despite a lineup shuffle.
The Panthers’ 4x800 of seniors Jasmine Crawford and Lexi Maddox and juniors Justine Aiello and Emma Roth opened with a win in the 4x800 with a season-best 9:46.76. Roth did not enter the 1,600 despite setting a school record in the event three times this season.
Instead, Park Hill South focused on the best chances to advance runners to state.
Crawford came in second in the 800 at 2:20.27 after a recent run of career-best performances, including going sub-2:20 for the first time. Roth finished one spot behind her in third while Park Hill’s Hahlbeck was fourth.
“(The 4x800) is something we’ve focused on for four years, so this year, we have the team put together so it’s kind of been our focus,” said Crawford, who went to state on the 4x800 team last year along with Maddox and Roth while also competing at sectionals in the 800. “(In the 800), I’d been riding the 2:20 line, 2:20 barrier, for so long so to finally dip under that was a big thing for me and a big confidence boost, especially so late in the season.”
Marti Heit, a junior, rounded out the day for Park Hill South, finishing an easy first in the 3,200 at 11:50.28. She holds the school record in the event after exchanging it with Maddox earlier this season.
Maddox finished fifth in the race and did not qualify for sectionals.
Roth, Crawford, Aiello and Stevie Williams — a recently formed quartet — also advanced for Park Hill South with a third-place finish in the 4x400 out of five teams. The group ran together for the first time and shaved nearly 11 seconds off of the previous season best, finishing in 4:08.60.