The De Soto girls cross country team proved on Saturday that it’s not a one-year wonder.
After winning their first team state trophy last season by finishing fourth at the Oak Hills Golf Course in Jefferson City, the Dragons moved up two spots at the meet’s new site, the Gans Creek Course in Columbia, with a second-place score of 129.
Mary Institute-Country Day School won the Class 3 title with 104 points.
With the new course’s scoreboard continuously updating the scoring as runners changed positions during the race, for a fleeting moment, De Soto was in first place. But two MICDS freshmen finished in the top six to cement the Rams’ title. Julia Ray won the race for MICDS in 18:13.8. Teammate Palmer Mihalevich was sixth in 19:10.3.
De Soto’s top two runners, senior Lillie Kaempfe and sophomore Kayla Vogelsang, both captured individual medals at state. Kaempfe won the Jefferson County Activities Association championship last month, but Vogelsang finished ahead of her at the District 1 meet and in Columbia. Both set personal records on Saturday when Vogelsang crossed the finish line in 12th in 19:26.1 and Kaempfe in 21st in 19:35.6.
It was the second year in a row that the two Dragons won a state medal. Vogelsang was 16th and Kaempfe was 22nd last season. Kaempfe ended her career as a four-time state qualifier.
“I didn’t know if I’d get that,” Vogelsang said about her time. “But this is a fast course.
“Our goal was to be back on the podium this year. When we got second, we’re all excited about that. Our team has grown a lot this year. We had two amazing runners step up – Dominique (Mitkos) and Jacqueline (O’Harver).”
It took time for Kaempfe to recover after the race, but she soon joined in on the hugs and celebration with the Dragons’ coaches, teammates and parents. Kaempfe said she’s always emotional after racing.
“We’re building a family here. These girls, I don’t think I’ll ever be on a team like this again,” Kaempfe said. “We’re here to support each other. And all of the people in the county have been so supportive of us and that just makes us better. It’s amazing to see where we came from. These last two years have changed everything.”
Vogelsang and Kaempfe described their plans to run on the new state course.
“I wanted to keep my eyes up and watch the person in front of me, but they might not be doing the best thing, so you have to do what’s best for you,” Vogelsang said.
“This is not a flat course. It’s got a lot of rolling hills. You’ve got to run straight lines,” Kaempfe said. “You have to know even the smallest declines, you have to notice them so you can use them to your advantage.”
Festus won Class 3 state titles in 2014 and 2017. But the Tigers were second last year and fell out of the trophy chase to seventh place this season.
Herculaneum’s state record string of 14 straight team trophies came to an end this year when junior Laura Maddox was the only member of the Blackcats to qualify for state.
So where does that leave De Soto in terms of joining Festus and Herculaneum among the state’s elite?
“Festus and Herculaneum are two fantastic programs we’ve tried to emulate,” De Soto head coach Aaron Young said. “I’ve always used them as examples and if you want to compete with them, you’re going to have to work hard.
“It was unbelievable. We knew we had a shot to get back on the podium and every single one of our girls raced their best.”
Young said he wasn’t sure who would finish first among the Dragons between Kaempfe and Vogelsang, but he was confident they’d both turn in all-state performances.
“The sky is the limit with Kayla,” Young said. “She’s too nice at times on the course, but seeing this success is going to continue to light her fire to get faster.”
In Class 2, Jefferson (eighth, 207 points) and St. Pius X (10th, 250) finished in the top 10. Jefferson won its first team trophy last year after finishing third.
The only member of both schools to win a state medal was St. Pius junior Rita Eimer, who was 22nd in 20:17.5. Eimer finished two spots out of a medal last season in 27th. Her time on Saturday was a personal best by about 30 seconds.
“I liked this course. It was really fast and it felt shorter than a 5K,” she said. “I wanted to hold my position in the top 25 and made sure I didn’t lose contact with anyone. Before getting to the final curve into the straightaway, it felt like it was going on forever.”
There will be Eimers running for the Lancers for at least three more years. Rita is related to freshmen Rachel (her sister) and Michaela (cousin). Rachel and Michaela didn’t finish in the top 25, but more importantly, they got their first taste of state competition.
“It’s an Eimer dynasty,” St. Pius head coach John Daly said, tongue-in-cheek.
“I think Rachel’s freshman time was better than Rita’s, but it was very close. We have two stellar sisters, for sure. Rita is a leader on and off the course. The girls look to her for inspiration and no matter what we ask of her, she works her way through and eats it up. A coach couldn’t ask for more.”
Daly said the Lancers train on Buck Knob Hill, which is close to the school.
“It’s the biggest hill in Festus,” he said. “It is so steep and we thrive on hilly courses. If you want to set a PR, get to state because this is the course to do it on.”
Jefferson couldn’t overcome the loss of Anna and Jordan Heacock, who graduated in the spring and were its two top runners at state a year ago. Senior Cheney Ervin moved up from 38th to 34ththis year in 20:48.4. That time was almost two minutes faster than she ran in Jefferson City.
Festus won the District 1 title a week earlier, finishing ahead of De Soto. Sophomore Allison Faerber was third at districts for the Tigers and was their top runner at state (33rd, 20:04.3). Faerber was 21st at state last season.
“She wanted to be all-state, so this wasn’t what she wanted,” Festus head coach Bryant Wright said.
Seckman senior Stephanie Anthonies won her second Class 4 state medal by finishing 13th in 18:54.2. The four-time state qualifier got back on the medal stand and moved up four spots from her finish as a sophomore.