Special to The Citizen
With a combined 47 years of coaching experience, Park Hill South boys track coach Clay Lenhert and girls coach Andy Keefer’s squads are not lacking for returning talent heading into the 2018 season.
After qualifying all four relay teams for state a season ago, the boys team will lean on the experience gained in those events in building toward another successful postseason, which last year included winning the Class 5 District 8 meet and finishing third at sectionals before concluding the season with a 21st place showing at state track and field championships in Jefferson City.
“Our goal is to perform well as a team at conference and get as many people into the postseason as possible,” said Lenhert, who has been at the helm of the Panthers for 27 years.
Leading the returners are seniors Melvin Walker Jr. and Eli Guzman, junior Christian Ludtke and sophomores Christian Dupree and Connor McCauley, who were all key contributors to those relay teams, with Dupree and Walker claiming sixth place finishes at state in both the 4x100-meter and 4x200-meter relays and qualifying alongside McCauley in the 4x400-meter relay after winning district titles in the 4x200- and 4x400-meter relays.
Dupree also claimed a second-place finish in the 400-meter dash at state while Guzman and Ludtke were part of the district champion 4x800-meter squad that won the district title before taking 14th at state.
Senior Ewan Frick also returns after taking second at districts a year ago in the 3,200-meter run while junior thrower Addison Snowball took fourth in shot put and eighth in discus, respectively, at the district meet before just missing out on state bids.
The Panthers did, however, lose state qualifiers Dillon Thomas (4x100- and 4x200-meter relays), Nylo Clarke (4x100, 4x200- and 4x400-meter relays), Brendan Briody (800-meter run, 4x800-meter relay), Jacob Prososki (4x800-meter relay) and Grant Hudson (110-meter hurdles) to graduation.
A year after finishing fifth in the Suburban Red Conference, Lenhert is looking to see his team move up the standings in 2018.
“It’s a great conference,” he said. “We try to treat it with respect and perform as well as we can as a team.”
On the girls side, Keefer’s team is looking to build off third and fourth place showings in the Suburban Red Conference and at the Class 5 District 8 meet, respectively, and will be led by a pair of school record holders in seniors Emma Roth (1,600-meter run) and Marti Heit (3,200-meter run).
Heit won the district championship in the event last season before taking 12th at state while Roth finished fifth in the 800-meter run at state and was part of the fifth-place-finishing 4x800-meter relay team, along with returning senior Justine Aiello, who won both district and sectional titles.
The Panthers will be without 2017 graduate Jasmine Crawford, who finished second in the 800 at state and was part of the relay team, and Jasmine Case, who moved out of the district after finishing fifth at state in the 100-meter hurdles and also qualifying in the 300-meter hurdles as a sophomore.
Park Hill South return additional state qualifiers in senior Dymeria Guillory (100-meter hurdles) and junior Alecia Westbrook (eighth place, high jump) as well as seniors Keely Danielsen (seventh place in the 1,600-meter run at districts) and Katherine Herrera (eighth place in triple jump and 10th in long jump at districts).
With the KU Relays in April circled as one of the biggest meets of the year, Keefer — who has five district championships and six conference titles in 20 years — knows the meets leading up to the postseason are key to ensuring his team is peaking at the right time.
“If we get every athlete to perform to the best of their ability, the rest will take care of itself,” he said.