KANSAS CITY, Mo. — John Watts grabbed the Class 4 District 8 championship plaque. Fittingly, Platte County’s lanky junior could hold up the hardware the highest, and he did more than anyone else to earn the Pirates’ first district title since 2011.
For the first time this season, Platte County finished ahead of Kearney in the team standings of a meet.
Watts won two individual events (long jump and 400-meter run) and ran on a pair of winning relays. He even capped the day with a bit of a relaxed smile while anchoring a 4x400 team that also included seniors TJ Guillory and Deandre Rollins and junior Matthew Phillips to a victory in the final race Saturday, May 13 at Park Hill District Stadium.
“It’s pretty exciting to see all the hard work and everything we put in at practice every day pay off,” Guillory said. “We finally got a good team win, and everybody came together to make it happen.”
Platte County finished with 210 team points after the 4x400 win with Kearney in second both in that race and the standings (201 points).
The run to the title started early with senior Bryce Bearden and sophomore Jacob Laures going 1-2 again in the pole vault, while sophomore Xavier Keith and junior Michael Smith did the same in the shot put.
After a slow start, Bearden set a school record in the pole vault for the fifth time this season, clearing 14 feet, 10 inches to better his previous mark by 1 inch. Keith (52-0) and Smith (46-6½) set career bests to gobble up valuable points.
In addition, Platte County junior Mac Leet won the morning triple jump with a personal best (43-9¼). He went on to win the high jump (6-0) with junior teammate Tre Reece fourth then finished third to Watts in the long jump.
Mostly a high jumper in an injury plagued junior season, Leet has rapidly developed in the triple and long jumps to become an even bigger contributor this season.
“I’m really impressed,” said Leet, who has also run on the 4x400 this season. “At the start of the season, I thought about doing triple jump, and the goal I set for myself was 44 feet. But then my shins started hurting, and I didn’t know if I was ready to do it.
“(Last week), coaches asked me if I could do it to bring some points to my team, and in that situation? Of course. It’s the teammate thing to do.”
Platte County’s title push received a huge boost from its long-distance crew.
Starting with a second-place finish for seniors Jonathan Anguiano, Jared Maksudian and JD Crawford and junior Devin Richardson in the 4x800, the Pirates kept pace with Kearney even with sophomore Keegan Cordova unavailable while out of town.
Nick Bjustrom, a junior, entered the 1,600 and set a personal best at 4:40.71 to finish third, while Crawford took Cordova’s spot in the 800. Crawford ended up fourth in a tight finish at 2:03.58 — just 0.18 of a second out of second place — having not run an open 800 yet this season.
Jackson Letcher, a sophomore and returning Class 4 Missouri State Track and Field Championships qualifier, then wrapped up Platte County’s team title, finishing third in the 3,200 in the penultimate race of the meet.
“It’s pretty incredible,” Maksudian said. “I didn’t see one person give up on a race. They were just grinding and kept on sprinting.”
The big performances came from all over the track and field.
Platte County’s Kevin Neal, an experienced senior, survived in his three events (third in the triple jump and fourth in the 110 and 300 hurdles). Derek Kohler, another senior, turned in a personal-best in the discus (135-8) to finish fourth and extend his career for at least another week.
Cade Goettling, yet another senior for Platte County, wound up fourth in the javelin (145-0) with a mark just off his career-best to finish one spot ahead of junior and school-record holder Dakota Schmidt, who battled elbow issues late in the season.
“We’ve got a lot of depth,” Platte County coach Gabe Middleton said.
Platte County also received the needed victories.
Okwar Jale, a senior, came in second in the 110 hurdles but took the 300 hurdles title while still looking to reach state for the first time. Watts went 21-3¼ in the long jump to beat out Kearney junior Logan Hachman for the title, while Leet was third at 20-2¾.
Watts also set a personal-best in the 400 at 50.50, having run the event only three times this season. Phillips closed well behind Watts, finishing in second at 51.75 to beat out Kearney senior Jacob Marshall for the runner-up spot.
Those extra points helped make up for disappointment in the 4x100 when Guillory and senior Ahmad Holt dropped the baton on the first exchange.
However, the 4x200 of Holt, Guillory, Phillips and Watts had already qualified for this week’s Class 4 Sectional 4 meet in Blue Springs, Mo. with a win, posting the second-best time of the season (1:31.57). The 4x400 also looked solid while back at full strength after missing Rollins a week earlier in the Suburban Conference Blue Division Championships.
The race was especially important for Guillory, who has been on both ends of a late-season injury the past two seasons.
As a sophomore, Guillory went onto the 4x400 team in the postseason after David Fulk bowed out due to injury concerns. Platte County went on to finish fourth at state.
Guillory blew up a hamstring while running the 200-meter final in Class 4 District 8 competition a year ago, ending his season. Now he’s looking forward to making another state push in multiple events, especially the 4x400.
“I didn’t get to finish it out last year so I’m pretty excited I even made it this far,” said Guillory, who also finished third in the 200 to advance to Sectional 4. “(The 4x400 is) my favorite event. It’s the worst, but I like it the most because everyone gets excited about. I think it’s our best event so I want to go all the way with it.”