If there’s a finish line of success beyond a “dynasty,” the Festus boys cross country team has crossed it.
With six straight Class 3 state championships and 13 Jefferson County Activities Association titles in hand, the Tigers continue to climb that ladder of all-time great sports programs in Missouri.
Bryant Wright is the Jedi master of the sport. The Festus boys and girls head coach often goes on runs around town, with a long line of his athletes in tow. If the Tigers win their seventh boys crown in a row in November, it will tie the state record set by Herculaneum from 1977 to 1983. Wright’s teams have won 10 state championships – eight with the boys and two with the girls.
Last season, the Festus boys won the state title despite several runners being sick with the whooping cough. Mainstays Dominik Kayser, Jonah Krieg, Simon Ogle and Garrett Rhine graduated, leaving sophomore Cullen Krieg, Jonah’s brother, as the new pacesetter for the Tigers.
The younger Krieg is already taking the lead, having finished third at the Fort Zumwalt North Twilight Invitational in 15:56.6 and winning the Forest Park Invitational in 16:07.3 on Sept. 12. Ogle had the Tigers’ best time (15:54.1) and finish (third) at state last year, with Cullen Krieg right behind in sixth in 15:59.
Juniors Nathan Wolk and Jacob Meyers and sophomore Ian Schram are next in line to join Krieg in the quest for another title. Schram set his PR of 16:21 in a JV race this month. He won the Bowles Invitational in 15:56.28 at West City Park on Saturday. The Tigers won the Bowles with 23 points. Krieg was third in 16:03.32.
“I was trying to give 100 percent for my team today and once I had the lead I realized I would get as few points as I could for my team,” Schram said. “I thought I gave a good effort.”
Schram said the new group of Tigers can make up for the loss of five seniors from last year’s team.
“As soon as the seniors graduated this year so many kids stepped up and it was amazing how much of a team we are now,” he said.
Besides having fully committed, talented runners, Schram said he knows why Festus leads the pack year after year.
“It’s more to do with the culture of the team and the coaches,” he said. “As long as Coach Wright is around, we’ll be able to keep winning. He’s so good at being a team coach.”
Wright is in his 19th season.
“We want to get better every day,” he said. “We want to understand that the process and journey is the goal. If we can get that right, everything else will fall into place. We want to be more than just good runners. We want to be the best we can be in all things. We want to give 100 percent and see what happens.”
Adding depth are Josh Thornborrow, Anthony Pittman and Peyton Willis. Thornborrow is the only senior among the varsity boys.
The Festus girls won Class 3 state titles in 2014 and 2017, and after finishing second to Bolivar in 2018, fell out of the trophy club (top four) at state last fall.
The Tigers, who edged up-and-coming De Soto 41-44 for the JCAA crown last year, qualified as a team for the state meet, but had no individual state medalists (top 25).
Wright said this year’s girls squad is balanced, with 11 harriers capable of cracking the top seven at any time. For now, the Tigers’ top six include senior Olivia McIntyre, junior Courtney Fadler, junior Allison Faerber, sophomore Dari White, senior Demi White and sophomore Ava Leftwich.
“We would like to surprise some people with a great performance throughout the year,” Wright said.
Faerber was the Tigers’ top state finisher last year in 33rd, clocking 20:04.3. She’ll need to come in under 20 minutes for a state medal this fall.
Sophomore Lauren Hartman and freshmen Abigail Schnable, Livia Barntett and Madison Caskanett also are battling for spots in the varsity lineup.
Blackcats chase fourth straight state trophy
If Herculaneum’s boys cross country team is to earn its fourth state trophy in a row, the Blackcats will have to do it without 2020 graduate Jonathon Coffman.
A four-time state medal winner, Coffman finished second in 15:37.6 at last year’s Class 3 state championships at the Gans Creek Course in Columbia, matching Herculaneum’s finish in the team standings. The Blackcats were third in 2017 and fourth in 2018.
Cody Glisson finished eighth at state last season and the senior looks to lead the Blackcat pack this fall. Glisson’s state finish was up from 37th in 2018. Herculaneum head coach Kyle Davis said Glisson looks to improve on 2019.
Senior Austin Jackson and sophomores Baden Costlow and Keith Vance all ran for Herky in Columbia last season. Vance was the top state finisher of the three, coming in 74th in 17:28.5.
The Herculaneum girls’ streak of 14 top-four state finishes ended in 2017. The Blackcats’ 24 team trophies ties them with West Plains for the most in state history and their 11 state championships are second only to the Zizzers’ 12.
Laura Maddox finished 32nd at state in 20:03.8 last year and the Blackcat senior returns as the team’s top runner. Senior Persiphini Berry and sophomores Raven Vance and Brianna Pinson will join Maddox in pursuing spots on the state medal stand.
Hornet junior eyes return to state
Junior Ethan Boyer was CrystalCity’s only runner – boys or girls – to qualify for state (Class 1) last season. Boyer finished 83rd in 18:57.9.
Sophomore Sadie Brandt is Crystal’s featured runner this year, her first on the varsity. She finished 15th in the sophomore-class race at the Jackson Invitational on Aug. 29, clocking 19:45.6. Kaylin Thurman was 42nd in that same race, in 34:12.2. DeAnn Beekman was 34th in the senior race in 30:53.9.
Head coach Ken Jones has coached the Hornet boys and girls for 15 years and led the girls to a state title (Class 1) in 2015.
Ahrens looks to make mark for Owls
After not being able to compete for Windsor’s track and field team last spring because of the coronavirus, junior Bradley Ahrens is making up for lost time this fall on the cross country squad.
Ahrens finished fourth at the Arcadia Valley Invitational in 16:40.8 on Sept. 12. He came in 15th at the JCAA championships last year, earning all-conference honors.
“Bradley has done a tremendous job with his training the past year and it shows,” said Windsor head coach John Leech, entering in his 11th year. “He prefers to let his work ethic lead the team and is determined to improve.”
Leech coaches the girls as well and said this is the youngest team he’s had, noting that the cancellation of spring sports, coupled with concerns about COVID-19, have hurt the program’s numbers.
Seth Winkelmann and Connor Wilhelm are the only seniors among the Owl boys. Freshman Nick Baer, sophomores Noah Johnson, Clayton Palme and Hayden Barker and newcomer Cole Van are the team’s other top runners.
The most experienced athletes for the girls are juniors Megan Terry and Taylor Buck and sophomore Olivia Plesons, who was Windsor’s top finisher at ArcadiaValley in 67th in 26:34.03. Leech said he’s excited about freshmen Amelia Schaefer, Jade Fasanello and Riley Merchant. Schaefer also plays softball during the fall.
“Olivia is gregarious and enthusiastic,” Leech said. “She serves as a great leader of the girls team and we hope that she’ll be able to improve her (27th place) at districts last year and move closer to that elusive state qualifying mark.”
Warrior boys off to a fast start
In four meets this season, the Fox boys have won two (the Jackson Invitational and Sullivan Invitational), finished third at the Fleet Feet Classic and came in fifth at the Stan Nelson Invitational on Sept. 12.
It was the second year in a row Fox won at Sullivan, where this year the Warriors had five of the top 10 placers. Sophomore Sam Shipp was second in 18:07.88, followed by teammates Jason Shaw (fourth, 18:43.55), Alex Martin (fifth, 19:07.54), Caleb Fletcher (seventh, 19:35.28) and Grant McMillin (10th, 20:08.89).
In a considerably faster field at Stan Nelson, Shaw was the Warriors’ top finisher (22nd, 17:44.28).
Seniors Austin Masters and Jacob Ryburn, junior Jason Piwowarczyk and sophomore Carter Evans are Fox’s other top runners.
Head coach Norm Mitchell said he can’t decide who the team’s top runner is so far.
“Everyone is contributing,” Mitchell said. “It is interesting how this group will have a different top performer in practice one day to the next. It kind of depends on the type of workout we do. Everyone has their strength. When we compete, I’m not really sure who will be our best runner. A lot of teams have a No. 1 guy. We don’t.”
Junior is Key to Jags success
Seckman has no senior on either the boys or girls teams this year. Junior Jonny Key was the top Jaguar at the Stan Nelson Invitational on Sept. 12 with a 13th-place time of 17:07.98.
“Jonny is looking to have a very competitive season with his eyes on state qualification,” said longtime head coach Jackie Roach, who doubles as the Jaguars girls coach.
Junior Dylan Glastetter is Seckman’s No. 2 runner; at Stan Nelson he finished 23rd in 17:45.65.
The Seckman girls lost their two 2019 state qualifiers, Stephanie Anthonies and Ashley McMahon, to graduation. Anthonies was 13th in Class 4 in 18:54.2.
This year’s top runners are sophomore Dani Maxwell and juniors Brooke Bell, Alexandria Smith Katie Deuster and Courtney Anthonies.
“We have a potential standout in Dani Maxwell,” Roach said. “She has looked very motivated this season.”
Because of the impact of COVID-19, Roach said it’s already been a strange season. Meanwhile, the Missouri State High School Activities Association has expanded cross country from four classes to five, with Seckman in Class 5.
“The season looks different, but with the fifth class, we’re uncertain how it will look in November,” Roach said.
State qualifiers return for Hawk girls
Three Hillsboro girls qualified for the Class 4 state championships last fall, and two of them return this year.
Senior Abigail Couch and junior Michelle Jones ran in Columbia and Jones cracked the top 100, barely, in 99th. What’s good for the Hawks is Couch and Jones aren’t the team’s top two runners this year. Senior Brianna Langrehr and junior Anna Crosby are running 1-2 so far. Jones and Couch are right behind them, followed by sophomore Sophia Horrell, junior Marissa Barton and sophomore Riley Kruse.
Crosby finished fourth at the JCAA championship last year. She also placed fourth at the recent Stan Nelson meet in 20:33.93, with Langrehr sixth in 21:13.39.
“Langrehr and Crosby have been our leaders so far this year,” girls head coach Lane Woodside said.
“I would like to see us compete for meet championships throughout the season as well as be in the hunt for championships in the postseason,” Woodside said.
The Hillsboro boys had a strong third-place finish at last season’s conference championships, with Josh Allison finishing eighth in 17:14.81 as a freshman. Allison used that as a stepping-stone to qualifying for state. He was seventh at Stan Nelson this year in 16:55.93.
Allison is the Hawks’ second runner behind junior Tyler Winslett. Allison’s twin brother, Jonah, is the No. 3 man, followed by sophomores Gavin Vaughn, Jesse Gore and Jude Short.
“We have a young team with a great group of sophomores and a solid group of five runners, with our JV working hard every day to move up,” boys head coach Tom Gordon said. “With hard work in practice, we can make a run deep in the season.”
PRs fall for Lions boys
Northwest’s boys team set several personal records at the Fort Zumwalt North Twilight Invitational on Sept. 5 and the Stan Nelson Invitational on Sept. 12.
Senior Firaol Ahmed, who was 58th in 16:25 (a school record at the time) at the Class 4 state championships in Columbia last year, set a new PR of 16:07.7 in a seventh-place finish at Zumwalt North.
Northwest head coach Ken Campbell said in his 23 years of coaching, Ahmed is the most talented natural runner he’s had.
“He should go back to state and have a chance to win a medal,” Campbell said.
Juniors Cameron Johnson (17:42.2) and Anthony Glassner (19:12.5) set PRs at the Twilight meet while seniors David Nicholls (17:42.6, Twilight) and Christopher Allen (18:58, Stan Nelson) also have turned in personal bests. Nicholls finished fourth in 13:40.9 in the senior-class race (2.35 miles) at the Jackson Invitational on Aug. 29.
“David was hurt a lot last year and it’s been great to see him bounce back,” Campbell said. “After losing track season, he was excited to get out and show what he could do.”
The Nos. 6-7 runners for the Lions are sophomore Gage Poskin and senior Dallas Pearson.
Ahmed and Cody Poskin, a 2020 graduate, were the only Lions to qualify for state last year. “Our team is a little smaller than usual this year with practice starting three weeks before school started, and the COVID pandemic,” Campbell said. “We did train a lot this summer and it has been exciting to see so much improvement. I really didn’t come in with huge expectations, but we have a nice team that has a chance to get a lot better.”
Johnson has made impressive strides in the last year and is pushing Nicholls hard, Campbell added.
Because of COVID, Northwest dropped a few overnight trips for meets. Campbell is being assisted this year by his wife, Shannon.
On the girls side, the Lions will miss the graduated Claire Meisch, who qualified for the Class 4 state meet all four years she was a Lion. Junior Samantha Brown and sophomore Ryley Posey joined Meisch in Columbia last season, with Posey turning in the best finish in 67th in 19:51.5. Brown and Posey are back as the top Lion harriers and they’re joined by junior Karley Wheeler and sophomore Rachel Nicholls.
Wheeler could be the surprise for the Lions, while Nicholls trained hard over the summer and is looking to make her mark on the varsity.
“We are looking to improve and grow as a team,” head coach C.J. Guilford said. “My expectations are that every runner will do what she can to help the team as much as possible. We have a lot of quality returners, but we lost a few key leaders, so we’re expecting new ones to emerge.”
At the Stan Nelson Invitational on Sept. 12, Brown turned in her team’s best finish in ninth in 21:20.67, with Posey not far behind in 14th in 21:45.54.
“They should be our leaders, scoring low points in every meet,” Guilford said of Brown and Posey.
Eagles lose state qualifier
Taylor Ficke qualified for the Class 2 state championships for Grandview last season as a sophomore – the only Eagle, boy or girl, to make it – and finished 67th in 21:54.8.
Ficke has transferred to De Soto. Grandview head coach Scott Meyer said junior Lily Patterson looks to take over as the Eagle girls’ top runner.
The boys are deeper with seniors Jeff Ehler, Zach McClelland and Ben Morris and junior Brennen Barrale as their top four. Ehler is the captain, but Meyer said the top three runners all have the potential to be the team’s No. 1.
“We want to build on last year’s momentum, earn a few PRs, collect a few medals and qualify some runners to state,” Meyer said.
Lancers look to build on state finish
St. Pius X came out of nowhere to finish 10th in the state in the Class 2 championships last year at the Gans Creek Course in Columbia. It was the first time in 25 years the St. Pius girls qualified for state.
One recent online state poll had St. Pius ranked second in Class 2. Now the Lancers have to prove their worth.
When your head coach calls you “The Cheetah” you’d better run fast. Senior Rita Eimer was quick enough to win a state medal a year ago, finishing 22nd in 20:17.5. At the Stan Nelson Invitational on Sept. 12, Eimer came in second in 19:24, three seconds behind the winner, Lilian Jackson of St. Charles West.
St. Pius head coach John Daly said Eimer has her sights set on dipping under 19 minutes when the Lancers run on the state-meet course in the Gans Creek Classic on Saturday.
Of the seven St. Pius runners who ran at state last year, six are back, including senior Hannah Schappe and sophomores Michaela Eimer, Rachel Eimer (twin sisters of Rita), Reagan Edwards and Sophi Schappe. Freshman Mya Seek joins the varsity this year.
Daly said Hannah Schappe organized team runs this summer.
“Thanks to Hannah, we’re a much stronger team than we were last year,” Daly said. “Every runner on our team has had a quality summer of training. We believe that cross country is a summer sport that is played in the fall.”
The St. Pius boys hope the girls’ success rubs off on them. Senior Adam Bishop is the Lancers’ top runner, joined by seniors Justin Krammer, Jake Althoff and Keagon Klahs and freshmen Tyler Vaugh and Joe Halfmann.
“Adam has a good chance at qualifying for state,” Daly said.
Dragons hungry for more hardware
Two years ago, the De Soto girls cross country team finished fourth in the state in Class 3, earning the school’s first state trophy in the sport.
Last year, in the state meet’s first outing on the Gans Creek Course in Columbia, the Dragons flirted with a championship before finishing second to Mary-Institute Country Day School.
In an early test to see if they are fit for another run at the title, the Dragons finished second to Francis Howell at the Stan Nelson meet Sept. 12.
“We’re right where we need to be and we’ll continue to get better as the season progresses,” said head coach Aaron Young, who coaches the De Soto boys as well.
Junior Kayla Vogelsang had former teammate Lillie Kaempfe to push her last season, but Kaempfe graduated and Vogelsang is the Dragons’ top runner this fall. She was 12th at state last year in 19:26.1, finishing nine spots ahead of Kaempfe. Vogelsang’s PR is 19:35, but Young said she has the ability to go under 19 minutes for the first time.
“The sky is the limit for her,” Young said. “There’s no reason why she shouldn’t finish in the top 10 at state. That is a goal for her and as her coach I think that’s really attainable. She gets stronger as the season goes on.”
Senior Erika Mellor will battle all year to hang on to the No. 2 spot for De Soto. She was 47th at state last season in 20:26.3. Mellor will be pushed by talented freshman Jailey Pigg and junior Taylor Ficke, who transferred from Grandview and finished 67th at state in Class 2 last year for the Eagles.
“Erika’s never broken 20 minutes but she has the ability to,” Young said. “She thinks she’s a sprinter or mid-distance runner, but she’s really put in the work over the summer.”
Pigg has been winning races since she was in seventh grade.
“Freshmen girls and guys get stronger as the season progresses, as they find out how to race a 5K,” Young said.
Sophomore Dominique Mitkos, junior Riley Petsch and senior Gracie Richardson have been running between No. 5 and No. 7.
Competing in the shadow of his older sister, Lillie, last year, Will Kaempfe emerged as De Soto’s top boys runner in 2019 and holds that mantle again this year. At state last season, Kaempfe won a medal (22nd) in 16:29.4.
At the Fort Zumwalt North Twilight Invitational on Sept. 5, Kaempfe finished eighth and broke the school record, clocking 16:08.10. Nathan Henry held the old record of 16:20, set in 2011. Last year, Kaempfe set a new PR in each successive race.
“He worked his tail off this summer. He’s determined to improve,” Young said.
As a freshman, Jimmy Mann finished 37th at state in 16:54.9. The sophomore is entrenched as De Soto’s No. 2 runner.
Behind Kaempfe and Mann are Stuart Thorn, Aleksandr Schroeder, Josh Kaempfe, Hayden Langston, Dylan Shelton, Greg Mann and Nolan Sisson.
Jefferson girls are rebuilding
After finishing fifth in the state in Class 2 in 2017, winning its first state medal with a third-place finish in 2018, and placing eighth last fall, the Jefferson girls cross country team is rebuilding for another run at success.
Despite returning a few harriers from last year’s team, some of the Blue Jays who ran in Columbia chose not to run this season. However, sophomore Kaelyn Nilson and juniors Katie Deavers and Hannah Wigger ran at state. Right now, the threesome are the only varsity runners.
“There is a lot of potential coming up from our middle-school team,” Jefferson head coach Mollie Rhodes said. “I just want my girls to focus on being the best runners they can be and building their skills for the incoming runners. I still fully expect them to compete at a high level that I have come to expect.”
Just because it appears Jefferson’s lack of girls will keep it from placing in the top 10 at state as a team this season, Rhodes believes Nilson, Deavers and Wigger can finish in the top 15 at districts and compete individually. Nilson finished 68th at state as a freshman.
Perhaps it’s the boys’ turn to take home a state medal. Junior Jeremiah Chipps and sophomore C.J. Johnson finished one place (138th, 139th) and two seconds apart (18:59.2, 19:01.2) at state last season and return to lead a Blue Jays team with the depth to compete for a berth to Columbia.
Seniors Bradley Glass and Christian Stark and juniors Sam Hawley and Jack Hueter round out Jefferson’s top six runners.
Chipps was the Blue Jays’ top runner at the Forest Park Invitational, which was run in St. Charles on Sept. 12, with a 12th-place time of 18:45.20.
“The boys are running very well to start the season, and I am excited to see what they can accomplish,” Rhodes said. “I expect them to continue to work hard and progress as we get closer to the end of the season. They want to see what they can make happen this year before we lose several runners to graduation.”