When the records you set 17 years ago are still standing, the athletes you coach are more likely to heed your advice.
Mike Sobol ran to Herculaneum school records in the 100-meter dash (10.7 seconds) and the 200 (22.0) in 2006, before graduating. Now he coaches an elite crew of Blackcat sprinters who are one step away from the state Class 3 championships in Jefferson City May 26-27 after winning the two short relays Saturday at the District 2 meet on their home track.
First, the 4x200 team of Gage Meyers, Ayden Hodges, Lucas Bahr and Hunter Meyers won in 1:29.44. Then later in the meet, with the same quartet except for Cam Harris replacing Hodges, Herky outran the field in the 4x100 in 42.77.
The 20 points from those winning relays helped lift Herculaneum, the only Jefferson County school in the meet, to the team championship with 177 points, 40.5 ahead of runner-up Lutheran South.
“We could have had better handoffs (in the 4x100),” Bahr said. “It wasn’t bad. We can do better.
“In the third leg, Gage Meyers really caught us up, handed off in first place and I just had to hold on. All of us have the same goal.”
Hunter Meyers runs anchor on the 4x200 and pulled away to victory after clean handoffs on the first three legs.
“We practice our handoffs; keeping the speed and momentum,” Hunter said. “We have that mindset that it’s just us four out there against the (clock). It doesn’t matter who’s to your right, left or behind, just run your heart out. It’s a great feeling when everyone’s screaming at you, when you’re beating schools that beat you on paper.”
Adding Harris, a sophomore, to the front of the 4x100 gives the Blackcats top-end speed right from the gun. Harris won the district championship in the 100 in 11.09, outleaning Vashon junior Dorian Phillips (11.11) at the tape. Harris set his personal best this spring at 11.05.
“I didn’t think (winning a district title) was possible at first because I wasn’t pushing myself hard enough,” Harris said. “My coach (Sobol) told me to make my strides longer, and that’s what I did and got first place.
“(Phillips) was in front, so I caught up to him, kept striding and eventually got my head in there.”
Sobol said he thinks Harris will eventually break his school record in the 100.
“Once you get to districts and sectionals in the 100, it’s so tight, a little lean can do it for you,” Sobol said. “Cam’s starts out of the blocks have been great.
“He’s working on some things, but he’s got the athletic ability and he’s locked in this year. By the time he’s a senior, he should break it.”
St. Mary’s sophomore Mario Strong finished a fraction of a second ahead of Bahr (22.71 to 22.97) to win the 200. Sobol predicts Bahr will set a new Blackcat best in the 200.
“Lucas is rolling right now,” Sobol said. “He’s peaking at the right time. He’s put in the work and is a great kid. He puts his head down and goes.”
Under Sobol’s tutelage, the relay teams have developed a strong camaraderie, an important ingredient in winning championships. But they also have labored long and hard on the ever-critical component, handoffs.
“We practice handoffs all the time,” Sobol said. “If you don’t have good handoffs, you’re not going to win. They put in the work every week.”
A whole generation of athletes from Herculaneum’s Moloney family is reaching the end of the line with Michael, who is graduating this month and heading off to service in the U.S. Air Force. He and his siblings have set a remarkable legacy in athletics and military service and Michael can close out the athletic side with distinction if he can earn his third state medal in the pole vault. He won at district Saturday in 3.35 meters and a top-four finish at this Saturday’s sectional meet at Hillsboro will advance him to state, where he was eighth in 2021 and sixth last year.
He missed on three attempts Saturday at 4.27 meters, a height that would have placed third at state a year ago.
“I was pretty close on those,” Michael said.
The Herculaneum boys have 12 state trophies to their credit, most recently for third place in Class 3 in 2018. Their one state championship came in 1979 when the school’s dynasty in distance running was gaining steam. It will take more than just the relays for the Blackcats to once again hoist the champion’s trophy; Westminster Christian Academy took it home last year with only 45 points.
“We have a lot of guys come out this year that are super athletes and were born fast and had a good year,” Michael Moloney said. “All the relays are good.”
Herky all-state cross country runner Nate Wright, the nephew of Festus coach Bryant Wright, won the district championship in the 1,600 Saturday in 4:35.38. The Blackcats picked up eight more points in the event when junior Sam Vaughn finished second in 4:39.73.
Like the relay anchors, Wright had a strong kick to separate himself from Vaughn, who was on his hip for a couple of laps.
“About the start of the third lap, I hit a surge,” Wright said. “That’s striding out and seeing what you’ve got and if you’re still fresh.”
The Herculaneum girls jockeyed with Lutheran South for district supremacy, with the Lancers taking the lead about two-thirds of the way through the meet, but the Blackcats came back to win 176-171. Their 4x400 relay team beat Lutheran South by less than a second (4:21.37 to 4:22.03) in the meet’s last event on the track.
Blackcat junior Eddyson Reeves won the 100 hurdles in 17.56 with freshman teammate Maddie Robinson second in a personal-best 17.87. Reeves went clean over every hurdle.
“I hadn’t done that in a while,” said Reeves, an all-state wrestler. “I’ve clipped a couple here and there.”