Meadville’s Fletcher big ‘solo act’ hit
Wins state javelin title; LCHS’ Livingston medals in high jump
By PAUL STURM, LCL Sports Editor
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — For much of the past quarter-century or beyond, Meadville High School has had among the very best Class 1 prep track-and-field programs in the C-T area.
Thus, it was a bit jarring when, out of a half-dozen or so entries in the state-qualifying May 15 sectional meet, only one MHS athlete – outgoing senior Conner Fletcher – advanced to state and in only one event, after competing in three.
Last Saturday, though, he found a silver lining – actually, make that gold lining – in that situation.
Participating in the javelin throw, the approximately 6’2” Fletcher uncorked a third throw about two meters (6-plus feet) farther than he’d ever thrown in competition before, sailing the spear 173’ to jump into the event lead and, despite a very strong challenge from a foe only a few attempts later, held on to reportedly be Meadville’s first male state track-and-field champion since Mark Seek won the discus 25 years ago.
“It’s pretty cool,” Fletcher said of the dual achievement. “I can’t even explain it. It feels awesome.”
While Fletcher was maximizing Meadville’s potential from its lone state participant, northeastern neighbor Linn County R-1 was gleaning a state medal from only two opportunities.
Sophomore Morgan Livingston missed only two attempts in the girls’ high jump through the first seven heights she cleared before finishing sixth. She last cleared the bar at a height of 5’1/2” (1.54m).
Livingston nearly took fifth, but another competitor managed to get over the bar at 5’1/2” on her last try after the Lady Mustang had done it on her first attempt.
At 5’1-1/4”, that jumper made it on her second try, while Livingston missed three times to be eliminated.
The other LCHS state entry was in the girls’ 400-meters relay. In that race, the Lady Mustangs quartet of Mikaela Rojas, Harley Gaudet, Megan Sharp, and Livingston was 13th out of 16 with a time of 55.77 seconds.
One his way to the state title, Meadville’s Fletcher made a decent opening of 151’11” to stand second. Next cycle through his second flight, he upgraded his distance to 159’2”, a number which still left him several feet behind Lakeland’s Garrett Strange, who’d thrown 162’10” on his opening try.
Throwing five entrants before Strange, Fletcher’s third attempt immediately looked great to onlookers and felt that way to him. Soaring high and carrying farther and farther down the course, it finally intersected the earth exactly 173’ feet away, surpassing Strange by a stunning margin of just over 10’ and suddenly making the Eagle the man to beat.
“You kind of know when it’s going to be good, just by the feeling of it,” the MHS graduate described the immediate sense that he has unleashed a long throw.
Strange took his first crack minutes later and made a huge bid to better Fletcher. However, when the electronic measurement showed up on the display board, it was a relatively-minuscule 11 inches. With one more attempt apiece, the Meadville ace still was in first place.
That last round saw Fletcher take a crack at the Class 1 state-meet record of 177’5”, but, despite the second-best throw of his career, came up more than 10 feet short at 164’6”.
“I knew I was just a few feet off the state (meet) record and that was in my mind and I think I kind of psyched up and ended up throwing about two meters short of what I did (the time before),” he recounted to reporters.
That left it up to the last handful of throwers after the Eagle. One by one, they came nowhere close to Fletcher’s distance until only Strange was the only competitor left standing at the end of the runway.
He strode forward and let fly, getting off a strong, long, clearly-threatening throw. As it landed a few seconds later, Strange had sailed the spear a long way, but not quite far enough to unseat Fletcher. The last attempt measured 167’6”, also the Lakeland Viking’s second-best attempt of the state meet, but not enough to reclaim the lead, even though his average for the four tries was about five feet farther than Fletcher’s average and actually surpassed three of the Meadville champion’s distances.
“My (pre-meet) goal was to get in the top three or four,” the MHS athlete revealed. He revised that upward, however, he added, after seeing the other projected top contenders make their warmup throws.
Headed on to study and play baseball at State Fair Community College in Sedalia, starting this fall, Fletcher said, when he first attempted it a few years ago, throwing the javelin “kind of came natural,” given his background as a baseball pitcher.
Fletcher credited not only his coaches for his title, but also Mother Nature, who relenting of the rain at midday Saturday combined with very warm temperatures allowed him to feel loose and fluid with his throwing technique, yet sure of his footing.
“There were a lot of (meets) this year where the weather wasn’t in my favor,” he recalled. “Today was a pretty good day to throw and I got it done.”
One other factor which probably came into play positively was one he had tried to eliminate during the previous weekend’s sectional meet.
He competed in the 400-meters dash and the triple jump then, too, having won the latter of those two at district.
Had he managed to advance to state in either or both of them, under the single-day competition schedule used at state this year, all three would have overlapped. Both field events were part of the 3:00 p.m. grouping and the boys’ 400 began at 3:50, so he’d have been scrambling between the three locations (the javelin venue actually is across the street from the long jump location, both on the backstretch side of the track and as far removed from the start/finish line for the 400 as possible) and events.
Even making it to state only in the two field events would have required split attention between the simultaneous events, as well as extra expended physical energy.
Under such a scenario, unleashing the winning throw in the javelin likely would have been next-to-impossible.
Queried by the LCL whether, in retrospect, while disappointing at the time a week before, going to state only in the javelin worked out for the best, Fletcher readily acknowledged, “Yeah, it did.”