Camdenton athletes became quite familiar with the podium at the Class 4 state track and field meet in Jefferson City over the weekend.

Camdenton athletes became quite familiar with the podium at the Class 4 state track and field meet in Jefferson City over the weekend.

The Lakers made it a memorable two days of highlights where some athletes reached the podium multiple times and others, like senior Kylie Meier and junior Gabe Kurtz, reached the very top of that podium and stood above the rest with the prestigious title of state champion. Back in the hallways of Camdenton is a wall that features every All-State athlete in school history and now eight more faces will join those ranks.

Camdenton girls

The Camdenton girls came to the capital with district and sectional titles eager to defend last year’s state championship run. That task would prove to be easier said than done as the Lakers finished third with 47 team points while last year’s runner-up and 2016 state champion M.I.C.D.S. reclaimed the throne with 88 points and Washington finished with 55. However, bringing a team trophy back home for a second straight year is something the program will gladly accept.

“I felt like it was going to be difficult to repeat, but I felt like we were going to have a great chance to end up with a team trophy in the top four. I think we did what we needed to do and what we were capable of doing,” Camdenton coach John McNabb said at the end of the meet on Saturday.

“It is kind of bittersweet because we won last year, but I think what we did today just kind of illustrates how hard it is to do what we did last year because it is so hard to do what we did today. There are 90 schools in Class 4 so I guess now 87 of them would love to trade places with us. We cannot be disappointed with that and you have to celebrate what we’ve done… I’m proud as I can be and excited about what we’ve been able to accomplish today.”

It was also a time to cherish the final time this history-making group would all be together. Everyone who contributed to the first state championship in school history last year was back for more this spring, but now some seniors will depart and four of them will go on to continue track and field careers at the collegiate level. As the sun started to lower in the sky on Saturday at the end of the meet, the team took one final lap together around the track.

“The bonds will last a lifetime. We’ve made a crazy legacy with these girls and I’m super happy we were able to leave our mark because I would not want it to be with anyone else,” Meier said after the final meet of her Laker career. McNabb may have been the coach during this unprecedented era in program history, but noted that the credit belongs to all and he is excited about those who are returning.

“Obviously it is a special group because of the closeness… Two years in a row of the best finishes ever and it is just a credit to the kids, all the assistant coaches who put in that work and often times don’t get recognized and the families,” the coach pointed out. “These two years have been unbelievable for me as a coach, for our program, our school district and everyone involved.”

One of those athletes who certainly made it special was Meier as the Arkansas commit wrapped up her final high school meet with her third straight 300-hurdles state title and her first 100-hurdles state title while contributing to second place finishes in the 4x200 and 4x400 relays.

“I don’t know that anyone has been as lucky as we are to have a kid that is a three-time defending state champion now. Think about how hard that is to do, especially in a race like the hurdles where anything can happen,” McNabb said. “She had a great meet today, a great season and I’m really excited to see what happens as she goes on with her career. I can tell you that Arkansas is getting a great competitor.”

Meier’s 300-hurdles title looked like it may have been in jeopardy when she darted towards the finish line with Webster Grove’s Angelina Arinze. However, Meier pushed ahead and won by two one-hundredths of a second at 43.15 seconds.

“It is an amazing feeling and a feeling of pride and relief to know I was able to give it everything I had and come out with a win. There are some really awesome competitors here and I am privileged to get to run against them,” Meier said after the race. “She caught me around the curb and as soon as she started to pass me, I knew this was it and this was state so I had to do everything I could in my will to win. I gritted my teeth and it is a make or break stretch at the end and it turned out in my favor.

“It has been an amazing experience and I’m so glad I got to grow up and be a part of the Camdenton school district and represent them. It has been an awesome four years,” Meier added.

Meier also dug deep to take the 100-hurdles title at 14.89 seconds and finished just three one-hundredths of a second ahead of junior teammate and last year’s defending state champion Natalie Basham (14.92). Basham, who also went on to place seventh in the 400-meter dash and contributed to both relay teams, said if anyone was going to take her title she was glad it was her teammate.

“Before the race we don’t really talk much. We stay in our own mindset, keep our head on straight and kind of grit our teeth and see who is going to battle hard enough to win,” Basham said of the friendly competition between teammates. “This year it was her and I’m proud of her and happy it was her because she is an amazing athlete and I would not be here without her.”

Basham was also an All-State athlete in the 300-hurdles last year, but took on a new challenge in the 400-meter dash to help the team earn more points and she came away with a medal in her first season of the event with a time of 1:00.34.

“I wish I would have placed higher than I did, but I cannot complain too much and I got a few points for my team. It’s not bad to try something new in a while,” Basham said. “Being out in the heat all day is rough, but you just have to push through the whole thing because there is no jogging in that race. I learned that the hard way,” the junior added with a smile.

The 4x200 relay team, which features Meier and Basham along with junior Katie Blackman and senior Grace Wormek, also found some validation after managing to improve from third to second at state trailing only champion M.I.C.D.S. by two seconds with a time of 1:43.48.

“It is cool to see our hard work throughout the past has paid off and brought us up,” Blackman said. “It is a roller coaster because we had our times where it was not looking good, but it has mainly been an exciting ride and I’m glad I got to do it with my best friends.” The 4x400 relay team of Meier, Basham, Wormek and sophomore Clare Holmes are just as close after winning a state championship in the event a season ago.Webster Groves managed to squeak by and win by two seconds this year, but it was a race to cherish being the final event of the day.

“It’s been unbelievable, the chance I got to run with these girls,” Holmes remarked after her team turned in a time of 3:59.57. “Two of them (Meier and Wormek) are gone, but I’ve been so lucky to have the opportunity to learn and train for them.”

Wormek, who will be running for the University of Central Missouri next year, feels the same way and had no regrets about her final high school race. “It was an emotional race, but we fought our hardest until the end,” said Wormek who also competed in the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes where she finished 11th and 10th respectively. “I think the opportunity to run for Camdenton and the amount of talent and hard work we got to be with every day is unbelievable.”

One other senior who had no regrets was Coley Rezabek who placed eighth in the javelin in her first trip to state with a throw of 118-10.

“I did not perform as well as I wanted to, but I still cannot complain about eighth place. It is pretty cool to be on that wall (All-State wall at Camdenton) for not only basketball but now javelin,” said the Bemidji State University commit who was a four-sport athlete for the Lakers and will do basketball and track at the collegiate level. “I still got on the podium and that is what I wanted to… The season has gone pretty well as a whole and wrapping it up with All-State in javelin is pretty awesome.”

Camdenton boys

Camdenton junior Gabe Kurtz and senior Jacob Hill were determined to make it to the medal stand at state.

Both athletes dealt with injury over the course of the season, but the adversity did not prevent them from reaching their destination as Kurtz won the Class 4 javelin title and Hill finished sixth in the 100-meter dash. The Lakers went on to finish 22nd out of 70 teams with 13 points in the final team standings.

Kurtz became the first Laker to win a state championship since his coach Nick Bruck won a shot put title in 2000. The junior’s winning throw of 181 feet and six inches set a Class 4 record and perhaps the best part is that it was not even his best throw of the season as he set a school record of 184-04 just a few weeks prior.

“I could not believe it. I was up there last year in seventh place so it just shocked me and I was at a loss for words,” Kurtz said of becoming a state champion for the first time in his career.

“I was ranked number one after sectionals, but I knew two kids had a 190 throw so I was not going to get cocky because I knew they had the ability to do that. I just tried to throw my best and in the end it was more than I expected so that was great.”

Kurtz said his coach was excited and tickled to death about the drought coming to an end. The last Laker champion certainly knew what he was capable of and was glad to see him rise to the occasion.

“He has put in all the work and battled back from a quad injury he has dealt with after getting acupuncture in the last two or three weeks,” Bruck noted. “It has really made him confident, able to compete and win a state title for himself so I’m super proud of him.”

Kurtz said the biggest key was changing his form, which allowed him to continually improve and increase the distance in his throws. Assistant Patrick Dent, who coaches javelin, pointed out that the state champion never took a day off.

“The same effort he puts out there on the runway then he is out there throwing for a meet is the same effort he puts into practice,” Dent said. “I showed him an article this week where they did not project him to win so I knew that would motivate him and get him fired up. I’m just honored I get to coach him and I’m glad that I get to have him back next year.

“Now I have a two-time All-State javelin thrower and an All-State girl too. I don’t think it is because I am that good of a coach, I just have some great athletes that work really hard.”

Hill is another Laker who knows about hard work. The returning All-State sprinter missed about five weeks of the season due to a strained hamstring, but he was ready to make his run when districts started.

“As soon as I came back I based my season on the will to finish out the rest of senior year as hard as I could and hold nothing back and not fail in something I wanted to compete in,” said Hill who turned in a sixth place time of 11.03 seconds.

“It has been a wild ride and I’ve been through so much injury throughout my career so to succeed is a crazy feeling… Never give up and keep trying,” he advised. “Just stick on the same path you’ve had from the beginning and never hold back.”