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Fayetteville Opens Gate For Track Multi-Athletes

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Pictured: Mansfield athletes Danielle Lillie, John Branche, Victor Steffen, and Makayla Strutton finish the year at the Fayetteville hosted decathlon/heptathlon

Fayetteville was a busy town this past week as athletes of various types graced the city. 

At the University of Arkansas’s Bogle Park, college softball began its regional tournament. At Baum-Walker Stadium, the Razorback baseball team wrapped up its SEC overall conference title. Then just down the street at Fayetteville High School’s track complex, elite high school athletes from across the state competed in the 2021 Decathlon/Heptathlon.

The two-day event geared towards athletes that compete in multiple track events ended the season for high schoolers across the state. 

Lillie awaits high jump competition

The Decathlon/Heptathlon was open to all classifications. Schools could enter up to two men and two women to compete. Among the many were four Mansfield Tiger track athletes that took on the task that closed the 2021 season.

Mansfield’s Makayla Strutton and Danielle Lillie represented in the heptathlon portion for women. Tigers Victory Steffen and John Branche enrolled in the decathlon section for the men.

The heptathlon consisted of seven individual events spread out over the two-day period beginning on May 19 and running through May 20. Day one consisted of the 100m hurdles, long jump, discus, and 200m dash. Day two brought on the high jump, shot put, and 800m run.

The decathlon consisted of ten events with five being completed each day. The first five events for the men were the 100m dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, and 400m dash. The second round finished with the 110m hurdles, discus, pole vault, triple jump, and 1500m run.

Branche prepares for the pole vault runway

Strutton was the veteran multi-event athlete of the Mansfield nucleus. The senior competed in the same event in 2019. The others which included seniors Lillie and Steffen along with junior Branche were all first-timers at the year-end specialty track event.

Strutton’s experience paid off as she was the highest finisher by placement out of the core four. Mansfield’s recently announced 2021 Track Player of the Year scored 2765 total points at the heptathlon. It placed her 39th among all female contestants.

Strutton scored 2573 points in 2019, the previous year any heptathlete was allowed to compete due to the 2020 Covid shutdown. Her newest heptathlon mark was a 192 point improvement.

The 2021 Mansfield graduate and recently signed collegiate basketball player had her best events with the 100m hurdles and high jump. She collected 523 points for her 17.67 mark in the hurdles. She tallied 460 points for a 4’ 5” clearance in the high jump.

Makayla Strutton enters the discus ring at the state heptathlon

“Makayla was the third fastest hurdler at state,” proclaimed Mansfield track coach John Mackey. “You could tell she was most comfortable in her primary events. I’m proud of the way she competed in all the events. She had that mentality that made her a prized high school player.”

Steffen was Mansfield’s highest-rated competitor in the men’s events. His placement was 44th overall with 3566 points. 

Steffen amassed his largest contributions from his favored events. The high jump hauled in 504 points for a 5’ 5” clearance. The 100m dash afforded him another 466 points.

“Victor was motivated to learn such new events as the pole vault and triple jump to get another chance to compete,” revealed Mackey. “This decathlon was something he wanted to do to continue a solid track career. He learned these new events in a matter of just a few lessons and found a way to succeed. He really enjoyed his time with track and this was a fun way to end a career.”

Steffen envisions his pole vault approach

Lillie totaled 2299 points for her effort at the heptathlon. That total placed her 61st among all female participants.

She garnered a large amount of her total through the 100m hurdles. That ten barrier race captured 486 points off an 18.02 clocking. She then surprised with her second-best point getter through the newly learned shot put.

Lillie took 438 points from the shot put ring with a throw of 28’ 2.25”. 

“Danielle had some good trainers when it came to shot and discus,” said the coach. “Some of our regular throwers gave her some quality tips and secrets to their success. Danielle’s overall athleticism took it from there.”

Danielle Lillie and Makayla Strutton move to the heptathlon discus event on day one

Lillie’s teammate, Strutton, also profited from the advice of Mansfield throwers. Her shot put mark measured 28’ 9.75” for 450 points.

Branche, the youngest of the Mansfield group, had a tougher time mastering the many skilled events involved in his decathlon section. The 2020 Mansfield Cross Country Runner of the Year was primarily a runner through track season and rarely competed in jumps or throws.

“John decided late that he wanted to attend the decathlon,” said one member of the Mansfield coaching staff. “That put him learning several skilled events in a short period of time. That’s tough on a player that only runs during the year.”

John Branche and Victor Steffen take a break before day two of the decathlon is complete

Branche finished with 2099 points putting him well below the meet contenders at 58th place. Take into consideration that that total score included a pair of zeroes attached to no heights gained in the pole vault and high jump. Those were two of the skills just recently learned by the junior with little to no practice.

The 100m dash was the best mark offered by Branche. He completed the short sprint in 13.23 seconds for 430 points. He followed that with a 335 point offering from his 15’ 7” long jump for his second-best mark.

Mansfield has had two champions from this type of specialty meet in its storied track and field history. Two past players have won the overall heptathlon championship. No decathlete has been awarded such distinction.

Danielle Lillie, Victor Steffen, and Makayla Strutton complete their senior track careers for Mansfield at Fayetteville’s track complex

Crystal Kemp won the 2005 heptathlon for Mansfield. Jessica Otto won the 2010 state heptathlon. 

The 2020-2021 Mansfield sports calendar became complete when Strutton finished the 800m run at the Fayetteville hosted track meet. She was officially the last Tiger to compete in any sport or race for the school this year.

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