The St. James track team made some major strides in 2017, especially for the boys.
St. James won several meets throughout the season and made a number of appearances on the podium at State. Head coach Joe Campbell said that he thought this season could be special going all the way back to 2016.
"It really that started last year," said coach Campbell. "We had a lot of success in multiple events and a lot strong kids coming back, so I was pretty confident that this year was going to be better than last year's team and it was."
And this year was strong. The Tigers set a slew of records in both boys and girls events this year, which is something that has become a bit of the norm in St. James
"Really this started four or five years ago with starting to set records. It was three a year, then four a year, then six a year and then I don't know what it was this year, seven or eight. It's becoming a tradition that we expect the teams to be faster," said Campbell. "The boys 4X100 was two hundredths of a second off the school record, which they set last year, which broke the record that was set two years ago or three years ago. It's becoming a norm for kids to see these records and say we can beat these. I know there was a drought for about 12 years where we didn't set one school record, nonetheless six or seven year after year after year."
St. James also won a number of meets, including repeating as champions in the Linn Invitational and the St. James Invitational. While the wins were major highlights, coach Campbell also loved what he saw in the meets where it matters most: the Four Rivers Conference Meet, Districts, Sectionals and State.
"For the boys, it was Linn. To win that two years in a row was a big deal. It's a 20 school meet and they did a really great job. Also of course winning our home meet for the boys and girls for the third straight time was a big deal for us," said Campbell. "For the boys, what was really more important was getting second and the conference meet and second place in Districts and third in Sectionals were really the highlights against some great competition."
State obviously outshines the rest and Campbell was proud of his team across the board. While he had a number of great athletes participating, his favorite part of the State meet was seeing Dawson Lynch medal for a final time as a senior.
"Well highlights of course were that we had a couple of athletes that we expected to medal and had a shot to win between Grant and Trey, but I think the highlight for me was Dawson making finals in the 400 and getting on the podium at fourth place because he worked so hard and he really ran well at the State meet," said Campbell. "He overcame some injuries late in the season, so we're very excited about that. And of course the 4X100 is always exciting because those kids are all so fast and our kids all stepped up and ran two hundredths of a second off the school record. A year ago we never thought we'd be back there at State and running that fast again with three different kids than we had last year, so that was a highlight."
That 4X100 team that Lynch is departing has been the lynchpin of the boys team at St. James for a few years now and it's going to see some new faces next year. The competition on the relay teams is a sign of the growth for the St. James track program.
"It's getting these kids experiencing State when they're freshmen and sophomores like we've had with the 4X100 over the last several years," said Campbell. "They expect now that the relay team is going to be, if not State caliber, really good in the the 4X100, the 4X200 and the 4X400. It's contagious, winning is contagious and being successful is contagious and we're very excited about that here with this team."
Lynch and the 4X100 team didn't have the easiest road at State. The relay was pushed back several hours because of a thunderstorm, then Lynch had to turn around and run the 4X100 immediately followed by the 400m dash.
"That's the best thing about the second day of the meet, the best kids don't always win because they don't have the mental fortitude and the self discipline to run the third, the fourth or the fifth race on the second day," said the St. James head coach. "Dawson really did that and came through."
That mental fortitude is also something that he wants Grant Conway to take away from this year's State meet. Conway was busy with the relays and both hurdles events and he likely will be again next year.
"We talked about that last year when he missed the finals by one place in the 300 hurdles, it was a learning curve for him," said Campbell. "Now this year, of course the desire was to win, but he placed in both races and now what he can take away from that is how early do you need to warm up? How do I manage eight hours of sitting around? And I think he learned that this year. Now the goal coming back next year is to place higher in the 300 hurdles and I'm sure to win the 110s."
Coach Campbell saw a lot of improvement this track season ob both the boys and girls side of things.
"One is Isaac Altis, he drastically improved in the 4X400 and was able to run really fast sprints for the boys. Also getting some of these juniors to come out such as Carter Keeney and Cade Snitker was a big improvement and then getting Theon Hope from Rolla coming back to St. James, those four or five kids really made the difference in points," said coach Campbell.
"Kasey Strong really improved in the pole vault. She was already good last year, she was just more consistent and even stronger this year and obviously made the State meet. Multiple girls, some of which were recovering from injury, Sarah Walls was a senior that continued to get points for the team and be a strong person for our team. Raina Forstrom improved from last year. Then we had a couple injuries and a couple of illnesses that hurt our team and I think they're going to come back next year and be as strong if not stronger as a team. Then as a new runner, of course was Heather Pankey. She came on and really did some great things."
While several athletes made strides this season, there will be some big shoes to fill next season. The biggest shoes being Lynch in several relays and sprints and Trey Marshall in the triple jump.
"I think some of the freshmen this year have already down they can run at that level between Nick (Halbrook) and Mason Parker and Dawson's younger brother Dayton, those three are really the finest three kids that we've had as freshmen in the 400 distance that I've ever had. It's going to be a drop, but I think they're going to step it up and we're gonna be back there next year I hope," said coach Campbell of potential replacements for Lynch in the 400m dash and relays.
"Well with Trey, we're going to lose his 10 points a meet in the triple jump, but Ivan Fuhring can step up and score more points along with next year's sophomore (Austin) Ridenhour did a great job in the triple and the long jump and also Keyshawn Smith did a fine job and scored a lot of points occasionally in the long jump, so between those three and I'm sure there are going to be some others coming up, I think they're going to make up for Trey's departure," said Campbell of his jumpers. "They can't replace his winning the event I don't think, but the combination of them doing well in the two jumps can absolutely replace the points in the track meet."
Campbell's biggest takeaway from the season was simple: it's more fun to win as a team.
"I think winning and doing well as team is more fulfilling than individuals doing really well," said Campbell. "In the past we've always had great individuals that did well, but winning as a team and doing well as a team, where it's not just the winners and the medal winners, but it's also the sixth and seventh and eighth place winners that don't get the recognition, but are the reasons why we can win these meets because they're getting combined 20 or 30 points that allows us to compete at the track meet. That's really important for those other kids that don't get the medals, that don't get in the paper, that don't stand on the podium, but they're just as important to this team as the winners."