The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 6, 2012

MSSU wins Sonic Trophy in thrilling finish

The Joplin Globe

EMPORIA, Kan. — Missouri Southern’s women responded to a challenge from their coach Sunday at the MIAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships at Emporia, Kan.

The Lions finished with strong performances in the 5,000-meter run and the 4x400 relay and moved into a tie for third place in the final standings.

More importantly for the Lions’ program, they also clinched the Sonic Trophy Series — competition against rival Pittsburg State in 13 sports. For the third straight academic year, the  Lions won 7-6.

“We pulled the troops together, told them what they had to do and they got it done,” said Patty Vavra, Southern women’s coach.

The Lions entered the final event, the relay, with a one-point lead over Pittsburg State in the women’s team standings. The Gorillas had the better qualifying time by an eight-second margin, while Southern’s team was relegated to the “slow” heat of the race.

Sophomore Jasmin Hughes and freshman Taylor Parris ran the first two legs of the race, then senior Lisa Vengels ran the third and freshman Emily Weldin anchored the Lions home in a time of 3 minutes, 52.84 seconds. It was a balanced effort, with split times for the four runners ranging from 57.9 to 58.5 seconds.

Vengels, who had already broken the school record in the heptathlon and finished fourth in the high jump, volunteered for the relay, which is not part of her normal schedule, Vavra said.

When Pittsburg State finished the second heat of the relay in 3:56.44, the Lions had clinched the season-long competition on the strength of their race.

Both the Sonic Trophy and a third-place finish seemed out of reach with two events remaining in the meet. Before the 5,000, Emporia State had 84 points, Pittsburg State 77 and Southern 74.

The initial spark came from sophomore Kaitlyn Belisle, running just her second official race for the Lions. The Southern staff had planned to redshirt Belisle, a transfer from Cowley County Community College, who was returning to running condition after an automobile accident.

When it became evident she was running well in practice, Vavra and assistant Jamie Burnham decided to race Belisle in the conference meet. She finished fifth in the 10,000 on Saturday night.

“Kaitlyn’s 5,000 was the key factor,” Vavra said. “She got us going. The team spread around the track to cheer her on and I think that energy went through the whole team.”

Belisle finished third in the race, trailing only four-event winner Twishana Williams of Lincoln and Karen Grauel of Truman State. Belisle’s time of 17 minutes, 56.32 seconds may be a career best, Vavra said.

Those six points drew Southern ahead of Pittsburg State and within striking distance of Emporia. The relay runners took it from there.