Platte County junior Andrew Johnson prepares to cross the finish line in first place in the 3,200-meter run during the Class 5 Sectional 4 meet Saturday at North Kansas City District Activities Complex in Kansas City. ROSS MARTIN/PC Preps Extra

Johnson, 4×400 relay cap sectional meet with back-to-back school records

Both of Platte County’s events qualified for Class 5 state meet enter with momentum following big breakout performances.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Platte County waited all day, and still with no guarantees, the Pirates made the most of two final opportunities and avoided a shutout.

Members of Platte County’s 4×400-meter relay embrace after placing third Saturday in the Class 5 Sectional 4 meet at North Kansas City District Activities Complex in Kansas City.

For most of Saturday, Platte County did not have a top-four finish in the Class 5 Sectional 4 meet at North Kansas City District Activities Complex. Eventually, the two state qualification runs came in the final two events and in impressive fashion — first with junior Andrew Johnson erasing a school record while winning the 3,200-meters before a quickly coalescing 4×400-meter relay team of senior Aaron Cordova, sophomores Josh Fraker and Brayden Eschliman and freshman Jackson Goodale did the same while placing third to cap an impressive finish to an otherwise difficult day.

Johnson cut more than 18 seconds off of his previous PR, while Platte County’s middle-distance relay quartet has shaved 10 seconds off the season-best in a span of just two weeks.

“I’m kind of in a bit of shock right now,” Johnson said after his race.

Johnson entered seemingly on the fringe of state qualification, even after an inspiring surge to second place the week before in the 3,200 at Class 5 District 8 on the same track. Just like a week earlier, he went out to an early lead, but this time, he faded back as far as fifth at the back of a breakaway pack.

Platte County junior Andrew Johnsonruns at the front of a pack in the 3,200 meters on Saturday during the Class 5 Sectional 4 meet at North Kansas City District Activities Complex in Kansas City.

However, Johnson’s mindset changed this time on the seventh of eight laps, changing the strategy from simply trying to close in the final 100 meters into the top four and just ensure qualification. Instead, he then surged to the front again and never gave the lead back, throwing up a his right index finger during the final sprint to the line.

“My plan was to take it like last week and try to beat them in the last hundred,” Johnson said. “But I got to thinking, I can push myself. I do well under pain, so with about 500 to go I decided to take the lead and see what I had left and it was enough to win.”

After congratulating the other finishers, Johnson saw the winning time of 9 minutes, 18.79 seconds and incredulously celebrated the new school record. He then went and celebrated with Platte County assistant coach Elizabeth Hurst and his parents, Paul and Christy who made their way trackside in the aftermath. His previous best in the event came in the Winnetonka Invitational back in early April (9:37.07).

Platte County sophomore Josh Fraker takes off for the opening leg of the 4×400-meter relay Saturday during the Class 5 Sectional 4 meet at North Kansas City District Activities Complex in Kansas City.

Johnson almost obsessively tracks progress in distance running against the accomplishments of his father, a standout runner at Central (St. Joseph) High School before running collegiately. This performance bested Paul’s best 3,200 time and also moved the younger Johnson below the Pirates’ previous school-record mark Nathan Straubel set at 9:22.36 in a regular season meet in 2015.

“It felt faster than I’d ever run before but it did not think it was a 9:18,” said Andrew Johnson, who also broke Platte County’s all-state drought with an eighth-place finish in the Class 4 Missouri State Cross Country Championships this past fall and now moves closer and closer to earning the title of best long-distance runner in program history.

Impressively, Johnson went from a C team cross country runner to start the fall of his freshman year, now to one of the first Class 5 state qualifiers in track since the program moved up from Class 4 last spring. He seems to thrive on challenging himself and then exceeding expectations. He did not advance out of districts a year earlier in an individual event but progress all the way to sectional champion and now sets his sights on continuing to achieve this weekend in the state meet.

“I’ve got to realize that even though I pushed myself leaps and bounds today, I can push myself even further (at state),” Johnson said. “It’s great having (my dad) there because he always cheers me on. Something as a runner is you can block out all the noise, but I can never seem to block out my dad’s voice so he’s always there in the background talking to me.”

Platte County’s 4×400 team showed promise during the season but rarely ran together due to injuries and inclement weather. The group came together through a variety of circumstances.

Platte County senior Aaron Cordova runs his leg of the 4×400-meter relay during the Class 5 Sectional 4 meet Saturday at North Kansas City District Activities Complex in Kansas City.

Cordova had not run track since middle school, and in fact, he left Platte County after his freshman year to pursue soccer in St. Louis. He returned this past fall, played again for the Pirates and also kicked for the football team before going out for track and immediately impressing. Fraker and Eschliman have performed well in the open 400 but have broken out at the end of their sophomore seasons, while Goodale showed up to his first practice without running spikes. Once equipped with the right footwear, he forced his way into the anchor role for the 4×100, 4×200 and 4×400 relays.

In fact, Platte County expected junior Connor Currence to be a part of the 4×400 at the end of the season before a foot stress fracture ended his season.

“I honestly would not have expected this,” Cordova said. “We knew at the beginning of the season we were going to be good, but we just didn’t really run it much. Connor got hurt; Brayden got hurt for a little bit. I was out for a little bit. Everyone got healthy. It’s just incredible.

“We knew before the race, we were going into it thinking it doesn’t matter if make state; we’re taking the school record today. We came out and qualified for state and set the school record.”

Platte County freshman Jackson Goodale runs the anchor of the 4×400-meter relay during the Class 5 Sectional 4 meet Saturday at North Kansas City District Activities Complex in Kansas City.

However, prior to districts, Platte County’s best 4×400 time of the season came from the group in the Kearney Classic Invitational more than a month earlier at 3:31.73. The Pirates lowered that to 3:25.62 to place third at Class 5 District 8 but knew to reach state a time at least close to the school record Aaron Brown, Mateo Tanis, Kevin Schultz and Aliek Reed set at the Class 4 Missouri State Track and Field Championships in 2014 might be needed. That group went 3:23.95.

Keeping the same order from last week, Fraker, who has a season-best of 51.04 in the open 400, led off out of the blocks and put Platte County in third place — a critical performance to at least make the final three legs relevant.

“We already talked about it before. We just wanted to do our best; we just wanted to run our race,” he said.

“We’re connected; we have a chemistry built,” Eschliman added.

Cordova kept Platte County in thick of the race and navigated the always crowded second handoff, passing the baton to a finally fully healthy Eschliman. The Pirates were likely about fifth at this point, but Eschliman tracked down a pair of runners on the third leg.

“I just knew I had to give it everything I got,” he said. “I couldn’t slow down. I knew I had to get these guys a school record and a chance to go to state.”

Platte County senior Carter Salzman takes an attempt in the pole vault during the Class 5 Sectional 4 meet Saturday at North Kansas City District Activities Complex in Kansas City.

Goodale looked calm and collected but went into the final 100 meters needing to avoid a burnout. He held strong and brought Platte County to the line in an impressive 3:21.62 — exactly 4 seconds faster than a week earlier and breaking the 2014 school record by more than 2 seconds. The Pirates also now have the seventh-fastest time in the state this season.

Liberty North won the race in 3:17.86, also that program’s school record and the fastest time in Missouri for 2023, while Lee’s Summit North was second in 3:21.29.

“I did not expect to be here at all at the beginning of the season, but I’m glad,” Goodale said. “I just had to do what I got to do to get that state qualifying time. I knew I had it.”

Platte County went into the postseason with high hopes for relays, but after an injury mid-race to junior Jordan Burnett at districts ended the season of the 4×100, the Pirates’ best bet appeared to be this type of breakthrough performance from the 4×400.

That proved out after Platte County’s 4×800 team faded to eighth in the morning 4×800 at sectionals, even with senior Ryan McCoy back in the lineup. The Pirates finished in 8:31.26 with the team of Johnson, McCoy, senior Gavin Jenks and junior Kade Meinke but were well off the needed pace.

McCoy finished his career as a 2021 Class 4 state qualifier in the event.

Platte County seniors Carter Salzman (pole vault) and Garrett Smith-Dean (long jump) also competed for the final time. Both were part of a then-school-record and Class 4 state qualifying 4×100 relay as sophomores but then took very different paths to their final postseason.

Platte County senior Garrett Smith-Dean takes an attempt in the long jump during the Class 5 Sectional 4 meet Saturday at North Kansas City District Activities Complex in Kansas City.

Due to nagging hamstring injuries, Salzman began to focus on pole vault. He made sectionals in Class 4 as a sophomore in the event and made a return in Class 5 with career-bests each of the past two weeks.

Salzman cleared 3.81 meters in his final meet but placed seventh after going 3.80 at districts to place second.

Smith-Dean left Platte County’s roster in the middle of his junior season but returned as a senior and helped completely retool the 4×100 relay into a state contender. He then endured the disappointment of last week’s DNF due to Burnett’s injury but went on to set a career-best in the long jump to win the district title and keep his career alive.

On Saturday, Smith-Dean fouled on three of his four attempts but sat in fourth at 6.60 meters as the event wound down. That was off of his mark of 6.87 meters the week before but appeared to be good enough to advance him to state in an event he just started this spring and excelled at despite not even regularly practicing while instead focusing on sprint workouts.

However, Raytown junior Jaivion Jenkins took a break from long jump to prepare for and compete in the 200 before returning for his final jump. He went 6.62 on the very last attempt of the competition and knocked Smith-Dean out by just 2 centimeters. He was also 3 centimeters away from third-place Staley senior Dontez Carr in an agonizingly close finish that left Smith-Dean as the odd man out.

Platte County finished with 23 points from five events and placed 12th out of 18 teams in the final standings.

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