Joey Burkett is hoping to save his best for the very last minute.
Slowed by an ankle surgery that ended his football season about a month early, the Jefferson City senior has done just enough in the pole vault this season, hoping to stay fresh for the end of the season.
But now all bets are off as Burkett prepares to defend his Class 4 title today during the Missouri State High School Activities Association Class 3-4 Track and Field Championships at Dwight T. Reed Stadium.
During the regular season, Burkett vaulted just high enough to win events. During districts and sectionals, he vaulted high enough to get through to the next round. That's whey he's seeded fifth, but is the likely favorite in today's jump at 2 p.m.
"Most meets we just go until I can't jump anymore," Burkett said. "But now with my ankle, I go to get what I need to win, or do whatever to move on and stop there. Before, I would just go as high as I could. But I haven't done that at all this year."
Burkett said his ankle gets sore after jumping and he has to ice it down, but added it's fully healed and it doesn't affect his jumping.
He jumped 14-3 in last Saturday's sectional meet at Ozark, which was good for third place. Top-seeded Logan Brattin of Lee's Summit West enters the meet in the top spot at 14-9.
Burkett won the event last year with a jump of 15-3. He said it might take 15-6 or 15-9 to win it this year.
"We know what we've got there," Jefferson City coach Dan Ridgeway said. "There's also some really good vaulters from around the state this year too. The top four is really the only thing I'm worried about at sectionals. Times are irrelevant, distances are irrelevant, just top four."
Burkett broke out his bigger pole at the sectional meet, one he likely needs to top 15 feet.
"We haven't used it a lot this year," Ridgeway said. "What you're trying to do is get back in the swing of things. It's only a pole you use to get 15 feet to win state. He can stay on the same pole he's been using all year, but this is the pole he's going to get on to get 16 feet."
Jefferson City will compete in 11 events today and Saturday, including all four relay races. But based on seeds, Jefferson City is on the fringe or on the outside looking in at scoring points in most races.
Caleb Ruth is expected to be in contention for the title in the 800-meter run. He is seeded 14th this year based on his sectional time, but he ran what Ridgeway called a "strategic race" at sectionals to qualify.
He finished third at the state meet last season with a time of 1:56.65, just more than second behind the winner.
"The thing that's to his advantage is that's his first race of the day," Ridgeway said. "Some of these other (kids) have already run the 1,600, they've already run the 4x800, so the 800 is his first race of the day. With it being prelims in the 800, you can't run a tactical race. You could be second in your heat and sitting at home."
Ridgeway is hopeful the Jays can get points from Zainu Mansaray in the discus and Mervyn John in the 300- and 110-meter hurdles.
"He's on the bubble," Ridgeway said of Mansaray. "He's got to throw 160. If he throws 160 he's got a chance to place at state. He's been in the mid-150s all year."
Thomas LePage qualified in the 400-meter dash as did Elijah Sherwood in the 200-meter dash. Jefferson City's 4x100-, 4x200-, 4x400- and 4x800-meter relay teams all qualified as well.
It would be tough for the Jays to break into the team-title race, but a strong showing could propel them into the top 10. Hazelwood Central has won the last three state titles and Ridgeway expects others like McCLuer North, Blue Springs, Saint Louis University High and C.B.C. to be in the mix. The Jays were sixth last year.
"Our returning guys with the most points have to score very high, and then we've got to sneak out two or three points from those other events," Ridgeway said. "We've got 11 events going and if you can just average three points for a sixth-place finish, that's 30-plus points and you have a chance. We missed it by a couple points last year."
Expectations weren't as high this year for the Jefferson City girls after losing a crop of seniors and a transfer from last year's fifth-place team at state.
But the Lady Jays have put together a nice season in Ridgeway's eyes.
"It's a nice mix," Ridgeway said. "We've got some scoring chances. If you look at pure seeding, our girls are actually seeded higher than our boys as far as scoring points. If you look at our experience level and who has been scoring more points all year, it's the boys. So who knows how it's going to play out."
The bulk of the Lady Jays' scoring opportunities will come from junior Kezia Martin. She's seeded first in the triple jump, second in the long jump and also hopes to reach the finals of the 100-meter hurdles, where she enters with the 15th-best time.
"Obviously (she is the) most experienced girl," Ridgeway said. "She has to perform well that day."
Martin, who broke Leandra McGruder's school record in the triple jump at the sectional meet, knows her way around the track at Reed Stadium. She was third in the triple jump and eighth in the long jump last season. Her freshman year, she was second in the long jump.
She is an alternate on Jefferson City's relay teams, but won't run in them.
"You have to do a risk/reward," Ridgeway said about the relay teams. "OK, we can put her on the relays, but that actually knocks off someone who ran on those relays last week to get us to the state meet. So you have to weigh that out."
Jefferson City could score points in the pole vault, as junior Leah Ambrosious is seeded third after her jump of 11-3 at sectionals, which was a personal record.
Other Lady Jays competing include freshman Alexis Roberson in the discus, while sophomore Louisa Nylander and freshman Haley Watson will compete in the 300-meter hurdles.
The Lady Jays also qualified in the 4x100-, 4x200-, 4x-800- and the 4x400-meter relays.
Ridgeway said the team title on the girls side is more wide open than the boys and any number of teams, including McCluer North and Rock Bridge, could win it. Francis Howell is the defending state champion.