Still the reigning champs: Park Hill girls win 3rd straight 4x400-meter relay

Dennis Sharkey
Mound City News

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Winning a state championship in any event is a feat but the Park Hill girls’ 4x400 meter relay team has done it three times in a row after taking the top spot at the Missouri Class 5 State Track and Field Championships on Saturday, May 25, at Muriel W. Battle High School in Columbia, Mo.

The team of junior Teresa Thomas, senior Manuela Ngo Tonye Nyemeck, sophomore Kristen Birmingham and sophomore Caleia Johnson posted a winning mark of 3:54.70 which was nearly two seconds faster than runner-up.

It’s Birmingham’s first season on the team and her second time on the medal stand during the day. Birmingham didn’t have much time to rest between the high jump, where she placed fourth with a mark of 5-04, and running the third leg of the 4x400 relay.

DENNIS SHARKEY/Mound City News  Park Hill’s 4x400-meter relay team of Caleia Johnson (left), Manulea Ngo Tonye Nyemeck (second from left), Kristen Birmingham (back) and Teresa Thomas (far right) celebrate on the medal stand after winning a third straight Class 5 4x400-meter relay championship on Saturday, May 25 at Muriel Battle High School in Columbia, Mo.

DENNIS SHARKEY/Mound City News

Park Hill’s 4x400-meter relay team of Caleia Johnson (left), Manulea Ngo Tonye Nyemeck (second from left), Kristen Birmingham (back) and Teresa Thomas (far right) celebrate on the medal stand after winning a third straight Class 5 4x400-meter relay championship on Saturday, May 25 at Muriel Battle High School in Columbia, Mo.

“I feel great knowing that all the hard work we put into it this season paid off,” Birmingham said while still catching her breath.

Johnson was on last year’s team that won by more than eight seconds over the runner-up. It was also her third trip to the medal stand on the day after placing fourth in the 400 meter dash with a mark of 57.57 and fifth in the 200 meter dash with a time of 25.38.

Johnson, who ran the anchor on the 4x400 team, was handed a slight lead for the last lap and pulled away the last 100 meters of the race. 

“It feels great. I can’t believe we did this,” Johnson said. “We pulled together at the end and had a great race.”

Nyemeck  is the lone senior on the team and was also making her second trip to the medal stand after capturing eighth place in the 400 meter dash. Nyemeck  said this is the best way to end a successful high school career.

“I’m a senior so this is the last time running with my girls.” Nyemeck  said.

Nyemeck  said she and her teammates faced adversity for much of the year like the weather. Rain showers were in the forecast all day but never developed. Instead it was bright and sunny for Nyemeck .

“The weather has not been on our side this whole entire season,” Nyemeck said. “I’m really proud of our girls for pulling this out.” 

It is also Thomas’ third straight championship on the 4x400 relay team. Like her three other teammates it was also not the first time she stood on the medal podium in 2019. Thomas also placed fourth in the 100 meter dash with a time of 12.40 and sixth in the long jump with a mark of 17-05.75. 

In 2017 Thomas started out the 4x400 relay in the blocks. She moved to the second position last year but was back in the starting blocks this year. There were some pre-race jitterbugs for the junior.

I was beyond nervous starting out,” Thomas said. “I knew there were people coming for us.”

Thomas started out in second place but made the handoff close after the first lap. Once she saw her teammates keeping the pace and extending the lead she knew it was over.

DENNIS SHARKEY/Mound City News  Park Hill’s LaShunda Tapp took fifth place in the Class 5 shot put event on Saturday, May 25 in Columbia, Mo.

DENNIS SHARKEY/Mound City News

Park Hill’s LaShunda Tapp took fifth place in the Class 5 shot put event on Saturday, May 25 in Columbia, Mo.

“They don’t understand who we are,” Thomas said about other teams they race. “When you try and run against us you are set up for failure.”

Nyemeck agreed with her teammate and said there’s no doubt who the best is.

“We are super stars,” Nyemeck  said. “With an exclamation point.”

The only other Lady Trojan to make the trip to the state championships was junior LaShunda Tapp who placed fifth in the shot put with a toss of 41-01.75.

Senior Kolby Heinerikson was the only Trojan athlete to make the trip to Columbia. Heinerikson missed his bid for a fourth consecutive medal in the javelin throw. His mark of 158-8 was good for 10th place.