Kickapoo girls, Joplin boys win Ozark Conference track titles

The Kickapoo girls won the 2018 Ozark Conference team track championship while Joplin claimed the boys title in the last Ozark Conference meet for the school.

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Strong field-event showing helps pace Kickapoo’s championship run

Kickapoo utilized its depth across a wide span of events to run away with the overall team title. The Lady Chiefs racked up 144.5 points on the afternoon, besting West Plains (112.5) and Rolla (111) for the championship.

Out of the 19 events, Kickapoo took first in six. The Lady Chiefs’ duo of sophomore Tayte Kozlowski and junior Kennedy Aurentz combined for five first place finishes.

Kozlowski won the triple jump (37-02.75), long jump (16-10) and 400 meter run (59.02), while Aurentz placed first in both shot put (43-07) and discus (120-03).

Sophomore Jaden Wiley accounted for the Lady Chiefs’ other first place finish with a victory in the 100 meter hurdles (14.65).

While Kickapoo was able to rack up victories, its depth proved to be the key factor in the team competition, according to head coach Jeremy Goddard.

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“That’s what conference is about — how many events can you cover,” Goddard said. “And how many of those second entries can get in there and find a way to get a point. We had a lot of girls come through with that.”

Early in the meet, it seemed Kickapoo was in for a dogfight, particularly after its 4×200 relay team made a baton pass outside the exchange zone and was disqualified; however, the Lady Chiefs rallied and quickly made up the difference.

“We’ve just not been able to get the stick around,” Goddard said. “That’s four times in a row we’ve been DQed. We’re leaving too early, or we’re leaving too fast and not matching speeds.”

While it wasn’t an overwhelming surprise, Kozlowski’s 400 meter victory marked a rare appearance in the event for her.

“[Kozlowski] is unbelievable,” Goddard said. “She doesn’t really like it, and it makes her nervous. She was dreading it all week, but she’s a horse and she just competes. You put somebody in front of her, and you just trust her to go get it.”

Joplin wins team title in conference swan song

With Joplin high school set to compete in the Central Ozarks Conference next season, the Eagles made sure to take a few parting gifts with them Wednesday afternoon.

Chief among those gifts was an overall team title.

After enduring runner-up finishes in the last two years, Joplin head coach Brandon Taute set a big challenge for his team prior to its final season as a member of the Ozark Conference.

“It’s pretty awesome, and it’s something we’ve been talking about since the beginning of the year,” Taute said. “We came up short; we’ve been second in the last two years so, on our way out, we really wanted to win conference. I can’t describe how cool it is for our kids.”

Joplin placed first in four of the meet’s 19 events.

Junior Da’Ron Morgan led the charge with three first-place finishes on the afternoon. Morgan won both the 100- and 200-meter dashes (11.04 and 22.33, respectively), then ran the second leg of the team’s 4×100-meter relay (43.63), along with Spencer Cornett, Sadiq Hopkins and Jacob Flowers.

Senior Grant Guillory netted Joplin’s other first-place finish with a victory in the high jump (5-10).

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The Eagles success, according to Taute, was the result of kids simply stepping up and performing on a big stage and, in some instances, breaking through with victories.

“Grant Guillory won high jump, and we weren’t thinking he was going to do that,” Taute said. “Da’Ron Morgan won both the 100 and the 200, which was huge for us, because he wasn’t projected to do that. We knew he had it in him — his times were great, and he ran great. That was huge for us.”

While conference and other team-based meets can bring out all different types of strategies and feature athletes competing in different events to maximize team points, Joplin opted for a basic approach.

“We just placed all of our kids in their normal events, really,” Taute said. “We didn’t have to do anything out of the ordinary. We had two kids in every event that we felt good about and took maybe a couple kids in a couple more opens but, overall, we just tried to get the points wherever we could.”

The Eagles might not have had a big number of firsts; however, the team’s top-three finishes in javelin, 4×200, 800, 300 hurdles, 400 and 4×800 helped propel it to the title.

“We scored it out throughout the week,” Taute said. “We knew it was going to be close coming down the stretch, and our kids have stepped up and done exactly what we needed them to do. Everybody came through, basically.”

Stasney nets conference triple for the Zizzers

While West Plains came up short in its pursuit of a conference title, senior Ben Stasney helped secure a runner-up finish for the Zizzers with three victories on the afternoon.

Stasney won the 1600, 800 and anchored the team’s 4×800 relay.

In the 1600, Stasney and teammate Jacob McCrackin hoped to establish a slow pace to conserve energy and then outkick the field.

“We both had multiple races today, so the plan from the star was just to sit and kick,” Stasney said. “We figured if we could get away with running a 4:40 and winning it, we’d be fine with that.”

Kickapoo’s Brenden Crews had other ideas.

Crews took the race out fast, forcing the West Plains duo to chase. While Stasney was able to outsprint the Kickapoo senior in the final 100 meters, it was no simple task.

While Stasney’s 4:25.94 won the race, Crews turned in a personal-best 4:26.40 for second place.

“Brenden, he held on pretty well,” Stasney said. “He made us drop under that 4:30.”

McCrackin finished third in 4:27.24.

In the 800, Stasney worked a similar plan to the same end, outkicking Kickapoo’s William Lynch and Joplin’s Micah Bruggeman down the stretch for a 2:00.35 victory finish. Lynch and Bruggeman finished in 2:02.06 and 2:02.46, respectively.

Stasney credited his victory to a move into the windy backstretch with 300 meters to go.

“Into the wind, a lot of people are hurting there,” Stasney said. “The pain barrier is usually hitting right around that point. Plus, with the wind, I figured a lot of people are going to be slowing down at that point. If I get out and go there, then it’s not even in their heads to even try to catch me.”

A bid for a fourth victory came up just short in the meet’s final event with Stasney anchoring West Plains’ 4×400 relay. The Zizzers finished third (3:31:48) behind Kickapoo (3:30.74) and Waynesville (3:31.20).

Kozlowski wins in rare appearance on the track

Kickapoo’s Tayte Kozlowski has established herself as one of the area’s premier jumpers this season with top marks in both triple jump (1st) and long jump (3rd); however, the sophomore is no slouch on the track.

Kozlowski won Wednesday’s 400 meter race in a time of 59.02, giving her yet another top-three area result for the season. Camdenton’s Natalie Basham finished second in 59:34.

Despite qualifying for state last year with a personal best time of 59.17 in the event, Kozlowski admitted to doing everything she could to avoid running the race for most of the season.

“I was trying to fill up my events,” Kozlowski said. “That’s why I started doing javelin, so I wouldn’t have to run [the 400], but I guess you always get back to where you should be.”

Kozlowski trailed Basham for most of the race, finally reeling in the Camdenton speedster on the final straightaway.

“I noticed on the first bend, [Basham] was very far ahead of me,” Kozlowski said. “I was kind of nervous going in there. I was thinking, on the curve, that maybe I’d get something, but I didn’t. On that last thing I just tried to bust it out and give everything left that I had.”

Everything she had, in this instance, turned out to be just enough, as Kozlowski edged Basham at the line for the victory.

Kozlowski also notched victories in the triple jump (37-02.75) and long jump (16-10). Her 108-08 mark in the javelin was good enough for third place.

While the triple jump is her favorite event, Kozlowski grinned and replied with a nervous laugh when asked if there were more 400s in her future.

“I think so,” Kozlowski said. “Unfortunately, I have to say yes.”