KANSAS CITY — Blake Bjustrom likely didn’t know what to expect from this year’s roster, but he never stopped believing in the resolve of his teammates.
The hard work of a long season resulted in strong results for Platte County on Saturday in the Class 4 District 8 meet at North Kansas City District Activities Complex. Pirates junior Andrew Early won a pair of individual titles in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters, while Joey Schultz topped the field in the triple jump in a career best day.
Add in a championship for the 4×100-meter relay team on a near-school-record pace, and Platte County might have exceeded even its own expectations. The Pirates racked up 158 1/2 points and finished second in the final team standings behind champion Kearney (207).
Platte County returned almost nothing from a 2019 roster that produced a district championship and nearly achieved a top-four finish in the Class 4 Missouri State Track and Field Championships. Now, the Pirates will embrace the underdog mentality this weekend in an effort to maximize the number of qualifiers from a team that started with few expectations.
“That’s the goal. That’s been the attitude of our team since the first meet of the year, and it’s not going to change now,” said Bjustrom, one of two returning state qualifiers on the roster as a part of the 2019 4×800 team that finished 11th in Class 4.
The road to state continues in Saturday’s Class 4 Sectional 4 meet at Odessa High School.
Platte County will take individuals in seven of eight running events plus all four relays in addition to seven qualifiers in field events, two each in the long jump and triple jump. The Pirates produced a series of season- and career-best performances at districts to maximize the sectional qualifiers.
No effort stood out more than that of junior Cole Rhoden in the long jump. He entered with a career-best of 6.04 meters but leaped 6.24 meters on his first of four attempts Saturday.
Rhoden then went 6.55 meters on his second try and nearly ended up winning the district title even though he came into the meet well outside the top four individuals. In the final round of jumps, Kearney sophomore Luke Noland went went 6.62 meters to hold serve as the No. 1 seed for the event.
“I think I just went for it, hit the board perfectly and got a good pop,” Rhoden said of his performance.
In addition to Rhoden, Platte County junior Victor Sewankambo — a first-year standout — snuck into the long jump sectional field in fourth with a career-best 6.38 effort to take the fourth spot. The Pirates went 1-4 in the triple jump with Schultz, a 2019 sectional qualifier in the event, hitting two big jumps on the way to the individual title. His jump of 13.26 meters was nearly half a meter better than his previous season-best and topped second-place Wilson Alljabu of Winnetonka by nearly 3/4 of a meter.
Platte County senior Kevin Hughes placed fourth in the triple jump at 12.28 meters — nearly a half meter better than his previous career-best.
Schultz also set a career-best in the high jump at 1.93 meters, or 1 centimeter better than his seed height. He ended up tied with Smithville senior Dante Cox but finished third based on tiebreakers, while Savannah senior Ben Schneider won the event at 1.98 meters.
“We feel pretty good about this year,” Rhoden said of the jumpers.
Early was Platte County’s only other qualifier in two individual events. After comfortably winning the longest race in the morning, Early went into the 1,600 as the top seed and held a comfortable lead until the final 100 meters. That’s when Kearney sophomore Jace Vaughn made a late charge only for Early to respond with a late kick to finish in a career best 4 minutes, 43.45 seconds.
Vaughn came in less than a quarter second behind.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of somebody,” Bjustrom said of Early, who won the 3,200 in 10:10.16 with a 16-second margin of victory. “I’ve watched him go from a small little freshman runner to where he is now. I can’t put into words how proud of him I am. He’s put in the work, been dedicated, and he’s definitely earned it.”
Platte County’s 4×100 relay team of juniors Sewankambo and Trevor Scott and sophomore’s Carter Salzman and Garrett Smith made up for a dropped baton two weeks early in the Suburban Conference Blue Division Championships. The promising quartet came around clean in 43.84 seconds and missed the school record by just .03 of a second.
Van Horn placed second in 44.36 seconds, but the finish wasn’t particularly close.
Scott also qualified for sectionals in the open 100, running at 11.95 into a stiff head wind and finishing just .01 of a second in front of Excelsior Springs’ Donovan Paige for the final spot. Sewankambo was sixth on an off day in the adversely windy conditions.
Platte County’s 4×800 of Bjustrom, senior Andrew Plymell, junior Jace Trimble and sophomore Ryan McCoy finished second but finished nearly 7 full seconds behind a Kearney team pacing its laps to save legs for individual races later in the day. The Pirates will have a strong chance to advance to state with their 8:47.37 comfortably ahead of third-place Smithille and less than a half second off of the season-best in the event.
Bjustrom also reached sectionals as an individual for the first time. He placed fourth in the 800 in a season-best 2:06.90 and coming in about 3 seconds in front of teammate Trimble for the final spot.
Platte County’s 4×200 and 4×400 both placed fourth.
In the 4×200, Salzman, Rhoden, junior Chandler Steinmeir and senior Jaden Burnett managed a time of 1:33.13 but ended up nearly a second off their season-best. Steinmeir dealt with an ankle injury all day but also qualified for sectionals as an individual for the first time with a third-place finish in the 110 hurdles while crashing out of the 300 hurdles.
Burnett also placed fourth in the 200 out of lane seven at 23.79, taking the final sectional spot in that event over Scott after he recorded a season-best 23.90 from the slow heat to place fifth. Burnett coming out for track as a senior has helped bolster the longer sprint relay, and the potential will still be there to pull an upset next week from an outside lane.
“Chandler’s ankle’s hurting him a little right now,” Rhoden said. “Also, we changed our handoffs from last week from closed to open so we’re going to change that back because our team was a lot better (at conference).”
With Steinmeir out of the 4×400 lineup again, Platte County finished fourth out of five teams to keep the season alive for at least a week. Bjustrom, fellow seniors Luke Filger and Jaxon Crowley, and sophomore Bryan Jennings recorded a time of 3:38.23 the best of the season.
Crowley continued to make a late-season push, also finishing third in the 400 at 53.00, shaving another tenth of a second off of his career-best. He entered the spring off of a torn hamstring that limited him early in the season.
Salzman ended up qualified in three events despite an off day in the pole vault. He entered with a 3.20 meter seed height but cleared only 3.05 to finish fourth with Kearney junior John Timchak running away with the title at 3.50 meters. The second- and third-place finishers both posted career-best days at 3.20 meters to finish ahead of Salzman.
Platte County junior Cade Fowler also barely survived an off day in the javelin. With a throw of 39 meters, he finished just 2 centimeters in front of fifth-place Jacob Baxter of Excelsior Springs. Fowler scratched on his other three throws and ended up nearly 5 1/2 meters off his season-best.
Now, Platte County’s focus turns to building on the strong performances and recovering from disappointing showings to maximize the state qualifiers. The Pirates won’t be state trophy contenders like in 2019, but following the lost season due to the pandemic, there will be plenty of motivation to continue exceeding expectations.
“I know a lot of people weren’t very happy with their performances, but all circumstances being what they were, I think we did really well today,” Bjustrom said. “For the ones who did make it, that’s a great confidence booster, but for those who didn’t make it, I think it will give them more motivation next year whenever they come back here. And they’re going to bring home a lot of hardware then.”