COLUMBIA — Caleb Wilfong knows what it feels like to win a state championship.
As the individual state champion, Wilfong led the Rock Bridge High School boys cross-country team to its first state championship last fall.
WHAT: Class 3 and 4 Missouri State Track and Field Championships
WHEN: 11 a.m. Friday and Saturday
WHERE: Dwight T. Reed Stadium, Lincoln University, Jefferson City
COST: $7 per day
For more information, go to the Missouri State Athletics Association website.
But one competition the senior distance runner has yet to win is the 4x800-meter relay.
“It’s time to finally win one,” Wilfong said.
After finishing second at the past two state meets, the Bruins' 4x800 team has plenty of motivation.
“This year we’ve worked that much harder to come through with the win,” senior Jordan Cook said.
As two of the top returning distance runners in the state, Wilfong and Cook are healthy and finally ready to win the event that has eluded them throughout their high school careers. Their final chance will come Friday at the Class 3 and 4 state track and field meet in Jefferson City.
Although Cook has struggled with injuries, the MU recruit put together his first healthy track season and qualified for the 800-meter and 1600-meter races for the first time.
While Cook remained healthy, Wilfong fell ill with mononucleosis early in the season and struggled to return to form.
“I think it took a toll on him mentally,” Rock Bridge coach Neal Blackburn said. “But by late April, he was running times he was capable of.”
Joined by senior Collin Sees, sophomore Zach Cook and senior alternate Nicholas Dale, the Bruins 4x800 team has become close over the years.
“For most of us, we’ve run with each other for at least three years,” Wilfong said. “There’s a lot of bonding, and we are really good friends.”
Wilfong and Cook are among 14 different individual competitors and six relay teams that will be competing for Rock Bridge this weekend.
“It’s nice to get the number of athletes we got through (to the state meet),” Blackburn said.
Freshman Makayla Jones (200), *Maddison Wipfler (triple jump), junior Christina Oyelola (100, 200) and senior Samantha Garrett (1600 and 3200) will all compete in individual events, as will Wilfong (1600 and 3200) and Cook.
Blackburn hopes his Bruin team controls the emotions that come with the state meet.
“I’m sure there are some nerves, but hopefully those are nerves of excitement because they know they can do well,” Blackburn said.
A young Hickman team will send two individual athletes and their girls 4x400-meter relay team to Jefferson City.
“We’ve got a young group that made a lot of progress this year,” Kewpies coach Steve Kissane said. “We’ve seen tremendous growth.”
After winning both the 1600 and 3200 in sectionals competition last weekend, junior distance runner Nicole Mello is Hickman’s lone competitor in multiple individual events. Kissane credits her success this season to her stronger endurance base.
“She has gotten so much stronger in terms of her training level,” Kissane said.