By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
No matter the sport, a triple crown is difficult to achieve.
Major League Baseball crowned its first triple crown winner this season since 1967, and horse racing hasn’t had a horse win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes since Affirmed in 1978.
Missouri Southern’s women’s track program pulled off a triple crown five years ago by winning the MIAA cross country championship in 2007 and the indoor and outdoor track and field championships in 2008.
“Only two other women’s teams in 25 years had been able to accomplish it,” Lions coach Patty Vavra said. “To me, it’s the most coveted team accomplishment that any group of young ladies can fulfill. That opportunity to be at our best every season of the year is very difficult to do.”
The Lions won the 2007 cross country crown at Kirksville with 43 points, and Pittsburg State was second with 75.
Kimi Shank placed second overall to lead five Lions among the top 20 finishers. Ashley Bunch came in fifth place, Kara Eckard seventh, Courtney Waltbillig 10th and Victoria Kline 19th.
“In 2006 we won conference but did not qualify out of regional to national,” Vavra said. “That was a turning point ... those young ladies decided that was not going to happen again.
“They came back extremely strong the next year in 2007 and started the season off right. The expectation was winning the conference championship and following through to the regional and national meet. We won the regional for the first time in 2007 (at the MSSU course), and I believe we finished 13th in the national meet.
“A lot of that energy and will to compete well blended over into the rest of the teams and for the rest of the year. Undoubtedly it was very important that the cross country team started the year off with that dominance.”
The indoor meet was held at the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center, and the Lions prevailed with 118 points, 16 more than runner-up Emporia State.
Jessica Selby-Tallman headlined a strong performance in the throws by winning the weight throw and shot put. Selby-Tallman led a 1-2-4-5 finish in the weight throw.
Other winners for the Lions were Erica Culver in the pole vault, Alison Walker in the 800 and the distance medley relay team of Waltbillig, Carita Riutta, Walker and Eckard.
“We had a great team effort in the indoor meet,” Vavra said. “We were very balanced in all events ... the distance races and throwing events we were especially dominating.”
The move to outdoor track meant more throwing and distance events, which played to the Lions’ strengths. Missouri Southern scored 193 points to win the meet in Maryville, and Central Missouri was second with 152 1/2.
Selby-Tallman won the hammer, leading an impressive 1-3-4-5-7 finish by the Lions. She later won the shot put.
Other gold medal performances for the Lions were Culver in the pole vault, Courtney Vie in the discus, Shank in the 10,000 meters, Eckard in the 3,000 steeplechase and Jill Weeks in the javelin.
“We scored 90 points in the throws, which alone would have put us in fourth place,” Vavra said. “We won every throwing event and scored at least one more place in all of them. In some cases we scored three times.
“Not to downplay the sprinters and hurdlers and jumpers, but we had such a dominant effort by the throwers, backed up by outstanding efforts by the distance runners. The outdoor championships fed to our strength as a team.
“You also have to give (assistant coaches) Jamie Tallman and Jamie Burnham credit. They brought these girls along at such a successful pace, just at the right time for each of those three seasons.
“That group of girls, led by the upperclassmen, took it upon themselves to have a goal to win the triple crown,” Vavra said. “The indoor championships in when they began to believe they would be able to get it done, and that prevailing attitude ran throughout the entire team.
“They had such great respect for each other in all events. They really gelled together and came together as a group, pulling toward the same goal.”