STELLAR SEASON: Joplin wins conference, district, sectional titles before eighth-place finish at state

Joplin's Zach Westmoreland competes in the long jump during the Gorilla Relays last April at Pittsburg State's Carnie Smith Stadium. Globe | Laurie Sisk

The Joplin High School boys track and field team just put together one of the most successful seasons in program history.

In a spring campaign to remember, the Eagles captured conference, district and sectional titles before recording an eighth-place finish at this past Saturday’s MSHSAA Class 5 state track meet in Columbia.

“I think our depth is the story of the year for us,” Eagles coach Brandon Taute said. “We had so many kids score points and contribute to the success we had throughout the year. And that’s what I’m most proud of.”

So how historic was the season?

After Parkwood and Memorial came together to form JHS, the sectional team title is the first in program history.

This year’s district championship was the program’s second all-time, with the first coming in 2004.

The program has now claimed three conference championships. The Eagles won the Central Ozark Conference crown this spring after winning their final Ozark Conference meet in ’18. The first conference title came in ‘04.

Also, Joplin’s top-10 finish at the state meet is the third in school history (’19, ’04, ’02).

At the state meet at Battle High School, the Eagles had eight all-state performances in seven events.

Taute noted his athletes responded well to the change to a one day meet.

“I told the kids whoever responds best to these conditions is who is going to have success,” Taute said. “All of our kids responded really well.”

Two Joplin athletes, junior Zach Westmoreland and sophomore Micah Bruggeman, earned all-state accolades in two events apiece.

Westmoreland had a busy day, competing in four events.

“With the schedule change, all four of Zach’s events fell within an hour of each other,” Taute said. “It put him in a tough spot, but he responded well. He’s been doing that all year.”

Westmoreland captured a state championship in the javelin with a new all-class record of 194 feet, 6 inches.

“As far as the javelin, Zach’s recent work with Coach (Nick) Reid paid off,” Taute said.

Joplin’s Isaiah Davis was third in the event with a toss of 176-4.

Also a junior, Davis was the top seed entering the meet.

“Next year, we’ll have two of the best in the state and it’s going to be fun to watch,” Taute said. “They play three sports together, they’re good friends, so it should be a friendly rivalry next year.”

Westmoreland placed sixth in the long jump with a leap of 22-3. He also ran with the 4x100 and 4x200 relays.

Bruggeman finished third in the 800 with a time of 1:55 and was also sixth in the 1600 in 4:19.

“We thought he could handle two events and he didn’t let us down,” Taute said. “He was going to run the 4x800, but because of the schedule change we pulled him out of that. He ran a good mile and gave himself a chance. With the heat and humidity, we weren’t sure how he’d respond in the 800. But he went out and ran a great race. It was fun to watch. He’s a great competitor.”

Other state medalists for the Eagles were Da’Ron Morgan (seventh in the 200), Dylan Wemer (seventh in the shot put) and Nathan Glades (eighth in the 300 hurdles).

“They were all on the bubble,” Taute said. “If you look at their PRs, they weren’t supposed to place technically. But we knew they were peaking at the right time. We weren’t surprised they were all-state, but we were happy for them because they were borderline in their events.”

Morgan and Wemer are the lone seniors of the group.

With that, the Eagles will return four all-state performers next season, along with a host of other returning letterwinners.

With that in mind, the Eagles will once again have the goals set high.

“We’re excited for next year,” Taute said. “We had a great season and we’ll have a lot of our kids back. And we have a great group of young kids who can slide in and fill some spots. We’re super excited for next year. We’ll have big goals for sure.”

Taute noted he’s got high expectations for the JHS girls team, as well.

“They got a ton of good varsity experience and they’ve had success at the JV level,” Taute said. “We’re excited about our girls team. We think we’ll be much-improved on the girls side next year.”