Branson High School track and field coach Kevin Blackwell readily admits he had no idea what to expect out of his boys’ team going into Thursday night’s Branson Invitational.
It was his team’s first big meet of the season.
The weather – windy and cold, with wet conditions and temperatures dipping into the 40s – was not conducive to fast times and athletes in their comfort zone.
Long after the sun set and the meet ended under the lights at Pirate Stadium, Blackwell knew a little more about his team, and had a definite opinion about the performance.
“That was incredible,” Blackwell said. “I had no expectations of that going in. I knew we had some pretty good kids, but I didn’t know that they were going to perform that well.
“Everybody outperformed expectations and did great.”
Branson ran away with the team title, collecting 164 1/2 team points. An always-tough Carl Junction team was second, at 150 points. Reeds Spring (102) was third.
The Pirates won six events, including a pair of relays and four individual events.
Showing the way was junior Keifer Dooley, who wasn’t seriously challenged in sweeping the 1,600 and 3,200 meter events. Dooley won the 1,600 by more than two seconds ahead of runner-up teammate Reece Long, finishing in 4:51.12, and Branson’s Zachary Seitz was eighth (5:02.11).
The 3,200 was even more impressive, with Dooley winning by more than 14 seconds, leading a one-two-three Branson finish that included runner-up Seitz and third-place Long. Dooley’s time was 10:32.18, with Seitz checking in at 10:46.45 and Long in 10:49.74.
“With Dooley, he didn’t have much competition pushing him, so when he has somebody pushing him, that’s going to drop his time quite a bit, too,” Blackwell said.
Dooley, Seitz and Long were joined by Tanner Vejraska on the winning 3,200 relay team (8:43.84), with a margin of victory of more than 26 seconds. Branson’s 1,600 relay team also took gold, with the foursome of Rashaud Johnson, Ty Werling, Nick Pead and Collin Pepper posting a time of 3:38.40.
Branson’s other two individual titles came in field events, from Britt Pierce in the high jump and Reagan Ulrich in the pole vault.
Neither of the field-event victories were close – Pierce cleared 6 feet in the high jump, with the runner-up at 5 feet, 10 inches. In the pole vault, Ulrich cleared 14 feet, 3 inches, with the runner-up at 13 feet. Teammate James Larimore was third in the pole vault, clearing 10-6.
The most impressive part of the meet for Blackwell was how much improvement he believes his team can make.
“Time-wise, I think we’re right where we need to be at this point in the season, and I think we still have room to improve,” Blackwell said. “That’s a good thing. I think we can get better and we can get faster.”
Other top performances for the Branson boys came in the 100 hurdles, where Payton McCormick took second (18.22 seconds) and Colton Vanderlaan was eighth (19.91); in the 400, with Pepper finishing third (53.41) and Johnson sixth (54.79); and in the 300 hurdles, with Vanderlaan second (44.67), McCormick fourth (45.44) and Salley eighth (47.43).
Hunter Kearney-Doyle was sixth in the 800, in a time of 2:15.85, and Johnson was seventh (24.04) and Pepper eighth (24.43) in the 200.
Branson had several individuals notch team points in the field events, even with the javelin competition – with returning state qualifier Trey Hoenie – called because of the conditions.
Ulrich was joined in the pole vault by teammate James Larimore, who cleared 10-6 and finished third. Pead tied for sixth in the high jump, topping 5-6. The triple jump saw Johnson take second (39-7) and Pierce finish seventh (38-1), and in the long jump, Devin McMahon was fourth (19-3.25), Johnson was sixth (18-9) and Werling eighth (18-4.5).
In the shot put, Severo Vargas took fifth place (44-8) and Cam Pead finished sixth (43-5).
Branson will be back in action on Thursday night, traveling to Rogers, Arkansas, for the Whitey Smith Relays.
The Wolves used dominant performances in the field events to pave the way to a third-place finish in the team standings.
Reeds Spring finished with 102 team points, winning gold in the shot put and triple jump events.
Asa Baker won the shot put with a final distance of 47 feet, 8 inches, and teammate Grant Clark was eighth (41-5). In the triple jump, Kyle Modlin claimed gold with a distance of 40 feet, 2 inches. Teammate Devin Hackathorn was third (38-8).
Austin Bradfield won the discus (127-6), with Grant Clark fourth (126-4) and Baker sixth (117-6). Joshua DeJarnette was third and Devin Hackathorn was fourth in the high jump, both clearing 5-8.
In the long jump, Modlin finished second (20-5.5) and Hackathorn was third (19-5).
The Wolves also enjoyed success in the relay events, finishing second in the 400 relay (46.42), third in the 3,200 relay (9:15.63), fourth in the 1,600 relay (3:43.92) and fifth in the 800 relay (1:39.7).
In the running events, Rances Dowdy placed third in the 300 hurdles, finishing in 44.95 seconds, and fourth in the 110 hurdles (18.51), and Matthew Allison was seventh in the 100 meters, in a time of 12.05 seconds.
Marvin Walters claimed a victory in the long jump, leading the Tigers to a sixth-place team finish in the 10-team field.
Walters put up a best distance of 10 feet, 11.25 inches in the finals to win the event and edge out Reeds Spring’s Modlin. Walters also finished sixth in the triple jump, with a distance of 38-2.
Cameron Shook placed in three events for Hollister, finishing third in the 800 (2:09.93), fourth in the 1,600 (4:54.96) and sixth in the 3,200 (11:21.38).
Michael Morris turned in a fourth-place showing in the 200 (23.36), with Wesley Dupree sixth in the 100 (11.93) and Austin Hove seventh in the 110 hurdles (19.75).
In the relays, Hollister was fifth in the 400 (47.48) and sixth in the 1,600 (4:05.07).