Inclement weather plagued the 6A State Track and Field Championship meet at Cessna Stadium in Wichita on Thursday. Rain and lightning pushed the start time from the meet back several hours and periodic spurts of rain popped up throughout the day.
Junction City traveled down to Wichita that morning with 14 events qualified to compete and while there were a few highlights, the Blue Jays struggled through the conditions and tough competition throughout most of the day.
“I’m very, very pleased with getting the numbers down here that we did but we’re also disappointed,” head coach Randall Zimmerman said. “We can use all of the excuses in the world but we really just didn’t perform today for the most part.”
The day started with one of the highest points of the day for Blue Jays as juniors Joem Toala and Tyler Atkins both competed in the opening track and field events respectively.
Toala, who came into the meet as the fourth highest seeded in the shot put, took the opening lead on the first throw with a toss of 36’11.75”. However, the eventual state champion, Gardner-Edgerton’s Kendra Wait, blew past her on her second throw, taking the lead with a throw of 41’2.5”.
Mentally, that throw set Toala back for a second but, after regathering herself, she went into finals and topped her previous best throw by almost a foot, landing a 39’4” distance on the first throw of final to cement her second place finish.
“Knowing what was set early (the 41 foot throw) I had to not let that get to me and do what I can do instead of comparing myself to her,” Toala said. “It was a good way to close out the season.”
Toala also finished 14th in the discus with a throw of 91’02” after coming in seeded seventh overall. Mental preparation is one thing that Toala wants to improve heading into next year.
“I want to work on not digging myself into a hole in my mind,” Toala said. “I want to focus on the things that I was taught in practice.”
Meanwhile, just several feet away on the track, Atkins was preparing to run the 3200. The junior went in with high hopes of setting a personal best and after ending the first lap in 11th, Atkins made his way up through the pack and settled into seventh place.
“I was really nervous,” Atkins said. “This was my first time at state for track but I knew if I just got out strong and just held on that the competition would push me to where I wanted to be and that’s exactly what happened.”
Atkins hung around the middle and held his position, staying at seventh for the next five laps before making a move late to pass Manhattan’s Dan Harkin right before the finish line to grab sixth place, a medal and a personal best time of 9:26.95.
“I was just sticking with them,” Atkins said. “I knew if I just stuck with those four people that it would help me get through the race.”
Later in the day, the rain picked up right before the 1600 and both Atkins and freshman Brynna York had to brave the elements to get through the race.
York finished 13th with a time of 5:47.02 and Atkins finished 10th with a time of 4:32.12 which was just short of a personal best time.
“It had just got done raining hard and my legs were definitely still tired from the 3200 but I honestly wasn’t even expecting to get to state in the 1600 so I just went out there and tried my hardest and I was only a second off of my PR,” Atkins said.
Joining Atkins and Toala on the medal stage was senior Marcello Bussey and the boys 4x100 relay team.
The 4x100 team of Thelonius Jones, Bussey, Austin Smith and Randall Banks Jr. came into the meet with the top seed time in Class 6A but finished the race with a time of 43.4 which was good for third behind first place Wichita East, who they beat in regionals, and Olathe North.
“After the 4x100, when we didn’t run that the way that we know we’re capable, we didn’t get every handoff off clean and I think that got to our kids a little mentally,” Zimmerman said.
Bussey barely qualified in the 200, running the eighth-best time in prelims and then improved on that time by .24 second in finals to secure sixth place.
Bussey also finished 14th in the 400 (54.05) and, along with Josiah Delva, Donovan Bryant and Austin Smith, finished 13th in the 4x400 (43.40).
“Although I don’t feel like I did as well as I could have,” Bussey said. “I still had a lot of fun being with my teammates and enjoying the fact that we made it this far.”
Other sprint performances included Banks Jr. who was .2 seconds away from qualifying for finals in the 100 and senior Janiah Nicholson who finished 10th in prelims of the 200, missing out on qualifying for finals by .28.
Senior Onterious Hill finished 14th in the 110-hurdles prelims with a time of 16.53 and 11th in the 300 hurdles (43.42) which was one place ahead of where he was seeded.
Lastly, junior Jayda Harris finished 16th in the triple jump with a best jump of 29’8.25”.
And while the Blue Jays didn’t have the level of performance that they wanted on Thursday, at the end of the day, Bussey was grateful for getting this season to spend time with his friends and teammates after last years was taken away by the pandemic.
“Track has been one of the most fun sports I’ve competed in because of the atmosphere you create with your team,” Bussey said. “Having them just makes everything fun, even when you lose.”
The Junction City boys finished tied for 22nd with 12 team points while the girls finished tied for 25th with eight team points.
“I’m very, very proud of them and I’m proud of the work they put together all year long,” Zimmerman said. “They’ve made tremendous improvements and strides and they competed really hard but it just wasn’t our day.”