Centralia girls chip in for third-place finish, first state track plaque since 1985

By Jeremy Jacob, Sports Editor
Posted 5/31/23

If you ask Centralia track and field head coach Ben Sontheimer what the strongest part of his girls team is, he wouldn’t be able to decide.

Day 1 Mexico, Centralia State Track Photo …

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Centralia girls chip in for third-place finish, first state track plaque since 1985


If you ask Centralia track and field head coach Ben Sontheimer what the strongest part of his girls team is, he wouldn’t be able to decide.

Day 1 Mexico, Centralia State Track Photo Gallery

Day 2 Mexico, Centralia State Track Photo Gallery

That’s because the Lady Panthers earned nine medals in Friday’s and Saturday’s Class 3 state track and field meet at Adkins Stadium in Jefferson City to contribute to a third-place team finish — one point behind Eldon and one point ahead of Clarence Cannon Conference foe Palmyra. The finish is the highest for a Centralia girls team as the program only had one team plaque before this year and that was a fourth-place award in 1985.

“I’m biased, but I think this is the best team in Centralia girls history in track,” Sontheimer said. “The balance of our team and really the commitment to each other (is what’s strongest). We mentioned when districts started about having the opportunity to do something special, but we had to do it the hard way. We had to do it with everybody. Some schools have one or two kids that are going to score 30 points down here, but we have to do it a little bit at a time and be patient and take every event seriously.”

The Lady Panthers finished the weekend with the majority of Centralia's grand total of 13 podium events. The team had its own leaderboard with various athletes earning multiple medals as Shelby Lewis led everybody with four medals, finishing fourth in the 400, sixth in the 200, second in the 4x400 and fifth in the 4x200. Jozelynn Bostick medaled in three of her four events, including second in the 4x800 and eighth place in the 800 and 1600, Becca Erisman was part of the 4x800 and 4x400 relay teams, and Harper Sontheimer finished fifth in the 4x200 relay along with being part of the 4x400. Ellie Berendzen was fourth in the discus and Autumn Hawkins finished eighth in the long jump.

Throughout the season, Centralia was winning team trophy after team trophy by usually sweeping the relay events or coming close to doing so. Every relay team the school sent to state medaled, including the boys’ 4x800 team that finished fifth. 

“It takes great kids, and since those are hard races, it takes tough kids,” Sontheimer said. “They’ve proven it over and over again. And we’ve got great leaders on this team as our seniors have done a great job leading, but we have some juniors who are great leaders too. We have tough kids who work hard and are very committed to each other.”

The girls 4x800 relay started the weekend strong by almost overtaking El Dorado Springs in the home stretch and finishing less than a second behind as the runner-up. Bostick ran her fastest 800 split ever at 2:21 to follow the strong legs of Kenedee Moss, Erisman and Annie Robinson. They ended up with a season-best time of 9:57.64, shattering the sectional time by 12 seconds.

At one point, the quartet were fifth in the race and gradually put themselves in a position to win the race, giving the seniors Bostick and Robinson more hardware and the freshmen Moss and Erisman their first state medals.

"Trusting our next teammate coming in and knowing that they can pass people on the way and make the gap shorter," Bostick said. “I think that helped us.”

“It was great,” Moss said. “I’m proud that our cross country team medaled at state too so it was like going back to that and it was amazing to relive it.”

“It was a crazy experience to experience it with your friends. It’s just pure happiness,” Erisman said.

“This group is really fun to run with and being on the podium is a great way to end me and Jozelynn’s senior year of track,” Robinson said 

The 4x200 relay has resulted in a podium finish for the Centralia girls for three straight years, with the same four of Sontheimer, Lewis, Hawkins and Kaelyn Walters placing last year as well. Sontheimer and Lewis made the podium in the event two years ago.

“I think we always just push each other to do our best in practice,” Harper Sontheimer said. “We’re always there to support each other through good or bad times.”

“It’s fun to be able to come back with your friends and do it all again,” Walters said. “It’s fun to remember what you were doing last year and see how you’ve improved.”

El Dorado Springs was there ahead of Centralia again in the 4x400 to prevent the Lady Panthers from passing Eldon and its multiple state-champion Zoe Martonfi in the standings, but the fact that three relays all medaled displayed the Lady Panthers’ teamwork.

“This year we focused a lot on teamwork and coming together,” Lewis said. “We’ve never really had a problem with that before, but this year, we realized we had a really good shot of doing really well.”

Lewis was a state medalist in previous years for Centralia but turned it up a notch this year by winning her third straight medal in the 400 and her first career 200 medal, following a season where she broke the school record in each event multiple times. She set the new 200 school record of 26.03 in the preliminary round on Friday.

“I’m taking better care of myself so I changed my diet to a little more protein,” Lewis said. “Other than that, I just train harder. I have great teammates that push me everyday.”

Lewis’ record was only one of six school records to fall at the meet as Bostick set an 800 time of 2:23.51 and a 1600 mark of 5:16.92 to break the record again, Hawkins edged out her previous long jump record with a mark of 5.39 meters, Lesher rebroke the 3200 record of 9:40.25, and Holiman set a new 800 record time of 1:58.82. 

“She is super-competitive, and she’s the nicest and greatest kid,” Ben Sontheimer said. “Her teammates just love her, and she is great for them. It’s just hard work and determination.”

Sontheimer the team’s seniors that medaled — his daughter, Harper, Bostick, Berendzen, Hawkins and Robinson — were all sophomores when he said he took over one year following the COVID-19 pandemic. He said there was great potential for production that has been realized, but that is also the case for mental fortitude.

Hawkins didn’t medal two years in the long jump before medaling in each of the previous two years, Sontheimer has been dealing with a hamstring issue, Berendzen failed to reach 30 meters in her first state trips for discus before going over 34 meters on her second throw, Bostick managed a Type I diabetes diagnosis that led to her not qualifying for state last year due to fatigue, and Robinson has returned from two torn ACL to medal in back-to-back state track meets.

Bostick fell behind in the 3200 on Friday to finish several spots out of podium position, but Saturday’s 1600 was a different story. She began just out of medaling position and moved up to eighth with a school-record time.

“Yesterday, I went out with the front pack. The first lap was really fast and the first mile was also really fast. I just died after that,” Bostick said. “I tried to stay with the New Covenant girl (Cera Eckenroth finished third) because she starts back and catches people as she goes, like I wanted to do.”

Berendzen fouled on her first discus attempt but then reached 34.30 meters on her second throw  and then edged it out on her fifth throw of 34.33 meters.

"I was excited because it took a lot of the pressure off that I've put on myself," Berendzen said about her second throw. “I’m really happy that I have the coach that I do. (Throwing coach Donnie Harn) puts in a lot of time with me.”

Sontheimer said he is excited to bring back underclassmen like Erisman and Moss with state experience, the mentally tough softball pitcher Walters, and junior Kaylie Ensor after her 10th place pole vault finish in her first state trip this year.

“You lose the seniors and you’re going to miss them, but time moves on,” Sontheimer said. “Hopefully, we will come back here next year.”