Helias’ McCurren wins state title in Class 3 400-meter dash

Helias’ Griffin McCurren is all smiles as he crosses the finish line after winning the Class 3 400-meter dash Saturday at Dwight T. Reed Stadium.

Helias’ Griffin McCurren is all smiles as he crosses the finish line after winning the Class 3 400-meter dash Saturday at Dwight T. Reed Stadium. Photo by Kris Wilson.

What’s the prevailing feeling when your dreams come true?

Try all of them.

When he crossed the finish line to become state champion in the Class 3 boys 400-meter dash, Helias’ Griff McCurren said he was gripped by a lot of strong emotions. And even after getting off the victory stand, he was still on the verge of tears.

“Realizing I did it was overwhelming,” he said. “When you literally spend a whole year looking to this day, thinking about that moment of crossing the finish line, it almost consumed me, as bad as I wanted it.

“Crossing that finish line, I knew I’d done it. Every (bit of) hard work, every lap I’d run, every weight I’d lifted had been for that. That’s what hit me.”

After finishing fourth in the event last year, McCurren returned to Dwight T. Reed Stadium with something to prove.

“I’ve been on a mission to get back here,” he said. “Last year was my first time ever doing the 400 in an open. So that was just for fun, it was ‘I can’t believe I’m here.’ But this year, I knew I was a contender.”

While it wasn’t his quickest race — McCurren’s time of 49.13 bested the second-place time of 49.81 — it went according to plan.

“(Assistant) coach (Leslie) Verslues told him, ‘Push it really hard in the first 200 and make them run with you and you’ll tire them out,’” Helias head coach Chip Malmstrom said. “He has an always-on button, he has no pace. It’s not, ‘Back off now and do this,’ it’s, ‘Griffin, you run.’

“... That was Griffin’s race, it wasn’t the best time of the year, but he made the field do what he wanted, and he came out victorious.”

McCurren, who will continue his running career at Saint Louis University, said he’s focused on just one fact.

“I’m disappointed with the time, but hey, you’re a state champion, and I can’t be any more pleased with that,” he said. “That’s what I came for — not the time, the place.”

III

McCurren helped the Crusaders pick up five more points later, as he was ran the final leg of the 4x400-meter relay team that finished fifth.

The team, which included Josh Woodruff, J.C. Szumigala and Jordan Walker, finished in 3:24.90. Cardinal Ritter won the race in a time of 3:19.09.

In the 4x200-meter relay, the same four runners came in fifth with a time of 1:30.78. Sikeston claimed the title in 1:29.11.

“They didn’t just come in to their seed, they stepped up their seed,” Malmstrom said of the relay teams. “Our 4x2 wasn’t supposed to make finals and they got fifth with a bad handoff, they could have gotten third.

“And if (Szumigala) didn’t get kicked and trip on the back stretch of the (4x400), who knows what we end up with there.

“We improved the spots we were supposed to be in. These guys came and competed, and there’s nothing more I can ask of these kids than to give me their all.”

III

On the girls side, Bre Zanders wrapped up her Helias career by coming up with a third-place finish in the discus.

Zanders bettered her seed distance by almost a foot, as her best throw of the day traveled 138-3. But that left her a mere 6 inches out of second place, although it was well back of the 151-10 mark set by three-time champion Cydnee Reese of O’Hara.

“I would like to have it go a little better than it did, but it is what it is, I guess,” Zanders said. “It’s a heartbreaker knowing you’re a couple inches from the next place up.”

Reese uncorked her winning throw on her very first attempt of the day. Lutheran South’s Jan Steinbrueck, who came in second, had her best toss on her second attempt. It was the same for Zanders, as her second attempt was her best of the day.

“Everybody wanted it early,” she said. “At the end, we were all tired and scratching. It wasn’t good.”

Zanders said Reese took control of the event right off the bat.

“You want to be that throw that everybody chases,” she said. “... (Reese) put up a big one. We all chased it and did what we could to go get it.”

Zanders said it’s hard to see her high-school career come to an end.

“It’s going to be a tough pill to swallow, but it was fun,” she said. “I’m going to miss it.”

While Zanders has signed to play basketball at Lindenwood University, Malmstrom said he hopes her days as a thrower aren’t finished.

“She has a bright future,” he said. “She’s going to be playing basketball in college, and hopefully they let her throw because dang, she’s a good thrower.”

Only one other Lady Crusader was in action Saturday, as Kaitlyn Shea finished 12th in the 1,600-meter run in 5:30.22. Taylor Werner of Ste. Genevieve won the race in 4:52.52, missing the Class 3 record time by less than one second.

III

In the team races, the Helias boys tied for sixth with 29 points. Grandview captured the crown with 58 points and John Burroughs was second with 55.5.

The Crusaders’ effort was aided by Will Fife’s state championship in the shot put Friday’s and McCurren’s state title Saturday.

“I don’t know that we’ve ever had two state champions on the boys side in the same year, ever, for Helias,” Malmstrom said. “So for Will to win (Friday) and Griffin to win (Saturday) is huge.”

Sixth is a positive step toward where Malmstrom wants to go.

“We obviously have goals for the program,” he said. “When I got the job, I was talking about state runs. It’s easy to say that with a team like this. In the future, I’m going to have to work a little harder.

“... I’m so proud of these boys. I’m excited for the future — we have boys coming back, we have girls coming back.”

On the girls side, Helias tied for 29th with eight points. Ste. Genevieve won the crown with 48 points, slipping past Lutheran South by one point.

Additional coverage:

Saturday's MSHSAA Track & Field Championship Results

California’s Deeken wins long jump

Jefferson City combines for just nine points Saturday

Blair Oaks has four all-staters in first season in Class 3

Earlier coverage:

Friday's MSHSAA Track & Field Championship Results

Burkett, Martin take second for Jefferson City

Rhine makes it 2-for-2 in the high jump

Blair Oaks has several key events Saturday

Southern Boone’s Bartel wins Class 3 high jump

Helias’ Will Fife wins shot put state title

California's Deeken wins triple jump

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