Noah Holland

Noah Holland

It’s a phrase said in homes across America for decades.

“Mom, you sank my battleship!”

When your son is good at everything he tries and just blew away the field at a major track meet, you take delight in knowing there’s still something you can beat him at.

“That’s it,” a laughing Dina Holland said about outgunning her son Noah in the popular board game “Battleship.” Nobody could defeat the Hawk senior sprinter on the track at last week’s Jefferson County Activities Association meet, for which he was named the most valuable male athlete.

Dina Holland is also head coach of Hillsboro’s girls team and was delighted to watch three of her athletes win four events and lift her team to second place in the meet on their home track. But she was the proud mom, too, hugging Noah at the finish line after he pulled off the sprint trifecta, winning the 100 (10.87 seconds), 200 (a JCAA record 22.15) and 400 (50.88). He also placed third in the long jump at 6.24 meters, helping his team outpoint Festus 215-193 for the championship, the Hawks’ third in a row.

Even more remarkable, Noah is a relative newcomer to the sport. His freshman year, the entire 2020 spring sports season was wiped out by COVID-19. As a sophomore, he suffered a fractured hip playing basketball and that cost him another spring on the shelf.

So last year, he came out of nowhere to place in the top three in the three sprints at conference and qualified for state in the 100 and 200. With district, sectional and state competition ahead to complete his prep career (which included topping 1,000 career points in basketball), Noah is preparing to hit the track next spring for the Mules of Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg.

Noah’s recovery from the hip injury “was super difficult,” Dina said. “(But) to see what he’s been able to do has been incredible. I’ve been coaching kids for 28 years, but to have your son accomplish something like that, I wanted to enjoy the moment and I wanted him to enjoy it too.

“I couldn’t be prouder of him. He’s fallen in love with track and field.”

Festus senior Reece Johnson had run on Holland’s heels in several previous races but slipped to fifth in the 100 and was second in the 200 at the JCAA meet, about a half-second behind Holland.

“I run against Reece pretty much in every race,” said Holland, whose personal bests are 10.7 in the 100, 21.59 in the 200 and 50.01 in the 400. “My teammate, (Harrison Voyles), has been running crazy lately and catching up to me.”

Another athlete who’s sprinting back to form after an injury in another sport is Herculaneum senior Lucas Bahr. During football season, Bahr and Blackcat quarterback Jackson Dearing were the most prolific passing combination in the county. Bahr had racked up more than 1,000 yards of rushing and receiving and scored 16 touchdowns before getting hurt against Crystal City in Week 7 and missing the rest of the season. At the JCAA meet, Bahr’s top finish in the open events was third in the 200 in 22.61.

With Festus and Hillsboro gobbling up the wins and setting meet records, a proud Blackcat program that’s won the most conference titles (23) needed a spark to cap off the day, and Bahr was ready to go deep. He ran anchor on the Herculaneum 4x100-meter relay that set the JCAA record in 43.65.

I was just glad Bahr’s final chapter of his prep career wasn’t spoiled by the injury.

“It was a long road back,” he said. “I couldn’t sprint for six months.”

As the meet concluded with the traditional running of the boys and girls 4x400 relays, I think the coaches, athletes, fans and myself all breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t wetter and colder than had been forecast for Day 2 on April 27. Over the two days, seven meet records were set on the boys side.

The next month is all about survival for track and field competitors. District meets lead to sectionals, and then to one of my favorite venues, Adkins Stadium in Jefferson City for the state meets (Classes 1-5). I’ve seen many great moments there stretching back to the 1990s. I anticipate this spring to perhaps be the most exciting as to who I’m covering for the Leader. Athletes of state-champion caliber are spread out across all classes. The dogfight between the Festus and Hillsboro boys for at least a state trophy, and perhaps even the Class 4 state championship, is sure to be epic.

Last year, Jacob Meyers set an insurmountable standard for county athletes at state when the 2022 Festus graduate won the distance quadruple, breaking the tape in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 as well as anchoring the winning 4x800 relay team.

Will a pair of Festus seniors, distance man Ian Schram or record-smashing jumper Arhmad Branch be that guy this year? Or maybe Holland, who will find the sprint competition faster and faster as we go from district to sectional and state?

Stick with the Leader and find out.