KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Days after wrapping up the track and field season, two Park Hill track and field athletes put pen to paper to continue their careers at the next level.
Taiya Shelby chose to go to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, while Jena Hahlbeck will stay closer to home, following in the footsteps of family members to attend Park University.
They two were members of the 2017 4x400-meter relay team that won the Class 4 championship. Shelby was on the team again this year and helped Park Hill repeat in the event, while also winning the 800-meter dash title.
Track coaches Josh Buford and Rob Self praised what each athlete brought to the table.
“When I took the whole girls program over three years ago, these two were there and they helped lay a spectacular foundation,” Self said.
Buford said, “They meant a lot not only to the track team, but also basketball and in our school. They are about as good as it gets from academic to leadership. I will miss both for their leadership. You had a large impact on a lot of these young ladies standing back here from doing a great job, day-in and day-out.”
Shelby, who was also heavily recruited by Nebraska, decided the day before leaving for the state track and field championships she would join the Southeastern Conference school. Her last official visit was to Vandy on May 8.
“It was a hard decision,” she said. “There were a lot of good at both schools, but it came down to Vandy giving me everything. It is a very good school academic and I’m big on academics and they are in one of the best conferences. Great school. Great conference. I really liked the people, the coach and team. They were all very nice. Overall, that was the best choice for me.”
She will run in the 200-, 400- and 800-meter runs, but didn’t rule out doing more to help the Commodores.
Hahlbeck battled injuries throughout the season and wasn’t able to return to the 4x400-meter team much. She ran in the race twice, the last time in sectionals, but the Trojans had a standout fill-in freshman Caleia Johnson, who was a regular on the team throughout the regular season with holdovers Teresa Thomas, Shelby and Manuela Ngo Tonye Nyemeck.
Hahlbeck officially signed with the Parkville school in February, but didn’t have a ceremony until after the season. She chose the Pirates over interest from Division II schools Central Missouri, Missouri Southern and Pittsburg State.
“I had a lot of family go to Park and they liked it,” Hahlbeck said. “And I like my mom and my family. I don’t think I could’ve left my mom. That was a big factor.”
She will run for the cross country and track and field team at Park and will run 800-meter and up next spring. She missed most of this track and field season after recovering from fracturing both of her tibias and feet from overtraining.