Steve and Kyle Davis

Steve, left, and Kyle Davis

At the finish, only 41 seconds elapsed between junior Keith Vance, the top Herky runner in 20th place in 16:50.9, and the Blackcats’ No. 5 man, Will Pierce, who placed 39th in 17:31.5. That small span, the best for the Blackcats this season, made them the only team to score under 100 points as they captured their 13th state championship with 95. Maryville (122), East Newton (127) and Father Tolton Catholic (173) took home the other state trophies. Tolton’s campus is across the street from the Gans Creek Course, which began hosting the state meet two years ago.

Kyle Davis succeeded Ryun Kasten as head coach at Herculaneum after Kasten led it to its last boys state crown in 2011. Kasten’s father, Jim, assists Davis with the Blackcats’ boys and girls teams. Jim is a track and cross country coaching icon in his own right, helping the Herculaneum girls win 11 state titles, the most recent in 2012, Davis’ first year. Clark Wille (7) and Ryun Kasten (5) were the head coaches for Herky’s first 12 boys state titles.

The Blackcat boys, whose record of seven consecutive state crowns (1977-1983) was broken when Festus won its eighth in a row on Friday, are now tied with West Plains for the most boys state championships with 13.

“It feels great. It was a long 10 years,” Davis said. “When you come into a program with 12 championships, the tradition made for high expectations. It’s a weight lifted even with the great teams I’ve had in the past.

“I was wondering if I had what it takes to get a team to that point. I had a special group this year. They were clutch at the biggest level.”

Before Saturday, Davis was beginning to think he would go down as the coach who came close but couldn’t win it all. Under his watch, the Herculaneum boys have finished in the top four at state six times, including second place three times (2012, 2015, 2019).

“Jim and Ryun have been my biggest supporters,” Davis said. “Ryun won 11 with the boys and girls. For them to support me, I felt nothing but them being my biggest fans.”

Vance has been Herky’s top runner all season. In 2020, he finished 36th at state in 17:33.4. He set a new personal record Saturday while Southern Boone County junior Connor Burns won the Class 3 race in 15:13.5. The 2-3-4 men for Herky were sophomore Sam Vaughn (26th, 16:58.3), freshman Nathaniel Wright (31st, 17:09.4) and sophomore Damian Luther (35th, 17:18.9). Junior Baden Costlow (78th, 18:07.2) and freshman Braiden Schenewerk (123rd, 18:40.7) rounded out the Blackcat seven.

“All five of our (scoring) runners ran their best times,” Davis said. “If you come that close to each other, even without a low scorer, you can win. The way the other teams are put together, that’s why we felt good about our chances. Our (Nos. 4-5 runners) closed the door for us hard today.

“Keith, Sam and Nate went out on fire. They were aggressive the first (kilometer). We were second (as a team) after 1K. Once they got to their positions, they held them for the most part.”

Davis, a Potosi native whose father, Steve, coached the Trojan boys to seven state titles between 1999 and 2013, is well aware of Jefferson County’s rich tradition of success in the sport. He said he’s proud to be part of it.

“It’s awesome to see the county light up the state championships,” he said. “Now we have to start our own streak (of consecutive state titles).”

The Herculaneum girls finished eighth Saturday with 203 points, 112 behind state champ Father Tolton. St. Charles West (113), Lutheran South (113) and Southern Boone County (138) were the other team trophy winners in Class 3. 

Junior Raven Vance was the first Blackcat across the finish line in 42nd, clocking 20:47.2. Senior Katelynn Armbruster (73rd, 21:35.3), senior Samantha Maddox (81st, 21:49.4), sophomore Kendall Huber (94th, 22:11.3) and sophomore Kaitlin Taylor (100th, 22:18.6) were the other scoring Herculaneum runners.

“We were lacking up front this year with firepower in our Nos. 2-3 positions,” Davis said. “Our No. 5 (Taylor) was the best No. 5 runner in the state. We were ranked 10th going in and finished eighth.”