JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Joplin was on front-page headlines in newspapers in mid-Missouri — and across the state — on Saturday.
May 22 marked the 10-year anniversary of the tornado that shook the town and made memories, good and bad, for people for a lifetime.
On a day where many shined the light on good things that have happened since then, it was perhaps fitting that a Joplin team came out on top at the MSHSAA Class 1 Track and Field Championships at Jefferson City High School.
For the group of seven College Heights Christian girls track and field athletes at state, many were in a range from toddlers to second-graders when the tornado happened.
“It was very traumatic for our community,” College Heights Christian senior Allie Fiscus said. “We had friends impacted and it really brought us together and I think our team resembles that togetherness. It feels pretty good (to win), I feel we are only known for the tornado. It is good to put a new face on the town and let people know we have grown and we’ve been able to come together and show what the best of us can do.”
The team title for College Heights is the first in program history and only the second trophy total under the guidance of coach Daniel Lewis.
College Heights finished with 62 points, a 19-point cushion over Princeton. The Cougars took first in four of their eight races, winning the 100 and 400 dashes and the 400 and 800 relays.
All four of those broke school records while claiming state titles.
This team title is the second this school year for the school after winning the Class 1 cross country title in November – also the first in program history.
Grace Bishop and Jayli Johnson were on both the cross country and track and field teams.
“It is a crazy feeling coming from cross country to this and both times I didn’t think it was possible,” said Bishop, who was a runner-up in the 3,200-meter run in the first race of the day-long competition at Adkins Stadium. “The hard work really paid off and we have been really blessed. It’s a really great way to go out as a senior.”
Some newcomers to the team helped College Heights reach the podium for the first time since a fourth-place finish in 2004.
Sophomore Addie Lawrence won two individual titles and ran the anchor leg on the two relay championships. She won the 100 in 12.50 seconds and later in the day added first in the 400, posting a sub-1-minute time in 57.50.
The 100 dash was her first chance to run at state after COVID-19 wiped out her freshman season.
“I was really nervous being my first meet but I had fun talking to the girls (in the 100) and then getting out there and competing with them,” Lawrence said. “It was a good race and I’m really proud of everyone that did it.”
She was part of a 4×100 and 4×200 relay teams that had the same lineup: Johnson, a sophomore, started before handing off to Fiscus and then to sophomore Lauren Ukena before closing with Lawrence.
The 4×200 race ended with the Cougars winning in 1:47.44, almost four seconds ahead of Cass-Midway.
The tricky part of the relay titles came in the 4×100, where the team members realized the exchange zone diamonds at the Licklider Track were in different spots than they were used to in Southwest Missouri.
“It was pretty tough and a little frustrating,” Johnson said, who took sixth place in the 200-meter dash. “We were getting flustered. We practice handoffs so much and we had to come out and said ‘we gotta figure this out.’”
The team did, running 51.23, a few strides ahead of Albany, which finished in 51.70.
The Cougars ran 4:22.14 in the 4×400 to finish third, and the group running was Johnson, Ukena, Bishop and sophomore Katie Moss.
Bishop was fourth in the 1,600-meter run but was as high as second in the race. In the 3,200-meter that she took second, she led for five of the eight laps before Marion County’s Delaney Straus surged ahead to win a second straight two-mile title.
Bishop, Johnson and Lawrence are also two-sport spring athletes for College Heights — which meant long days that included practice before school or track practice after a soccer practice.
“We are not even at track (practice) every day but we went to double practices almost every day and that is a testament to our hard work,” Bishop said.
Lewis, the architect of four cross country and one track and field title for the boys, knew this group would be special.
He thought last year could’ve turned into something big but the season never got off the ground. Lewis has long held the belief this was a special group.
“We knew it was coming,” he said. “In middle school they were breaking all of our records and I was coaching them then and I knew we would be here.”
The group set four school records and also secured the school’s first-ever championships in sprints and sprint relays.
MSHSAA CLASS 1 STATE TRACK MEET
Top 10 girls teams: College Heights Christian 62, Princeton 42, Tarkio 33, Rock Port 32, St. Joseph Christian 30, Midway 28, Marion County 28, Delta 26, Drexel 25, Valle Catholic 24.