In a battle of 2020 state champions, Rock Bridge (Class 5) of Columbia nosed out Class 4 Festus 79-90 Saturday in the Green Division race at the Forest Park Festival, annually one of the biggest cross country meets in the state. Junior Cullen Krieg was the top Tiger, placing seventh in 16:08.10. Festus did win the middle school and freshman races, indicating the potential for the program to keep cranking out state-champion teams, as it has done for the last seven years in a row and nine times overall.
Running on a 3,000-meter course, Festus freshman Tate Uding won in 10:37.70 and eighth grader Carson Driemeier captured the middle-school race in 11:12.90.
By now, the numbers are familiar. Under head coach Bryant Wright, Festus has 11 state titles in all, including girls Class 3 championships in 2014 and 2017. Four Tiger boys have won individual titles: Drew White (2011), Tyler Gillam (2013), Michael Karls (2014) and Max McDaniel (2018). If Festus wins its eighth consecutive state crown on Nov. 5 at Gans Creek in Columbia, it will break a tie with Herculaneum for the most in a row. Only West Plains (13) and the Blackcats (12) have won more state championships on the boys side.
Wright, embarking on his 20th season coaching the Tigers, has all seven runners returning from last year’s squad that more than doubled up second-place Webb City 45-97. After finishing sixth in Class 3 in 2019, Krieg was second last year. On a team with several runners capable of being No. 1, Krieg’s role is set there.
Seniors Nathan Wolk, Anthony Pittman, Peyton Kirby, Peyton Willis, Jacob Meyer, Ethan James, Brynen Johnson and Michael Kostial and juniors Tate Riney and Ian Schram run close enough behind Krieg to ensure team scores generally in the 40s and 50s at big meets.
Wolk has run at state twice and medaled at 15th last year. He was second behind Schram in the Jefferson County Activities Association meet last season, an event the Tigers have won 14 years in a row. Schram was ninth at state last year and ninth at Forest Park.
“We want them to be the best teammates they can be to make each other the best that they can be,” Wright said. “We want the seniors to impart their leadership so that next year’s team can be successful.
“We want to work hard in practice and continue to get better every day, and use the experiences from running to make us better people (and) get 100 percent from all athletes.”
The Festus girls, meanwhile, finished second at state in 2018 but haven’t reached the awards podium since then.
Last year, the Tigers finished in the top 10 in all but one regular-season meet, were second behind De Soto by two points in the JCAA meet and second to Farmington at district, then came in sixth at state in their first season competing in Class 4.
Emma Kettler was the last Tiger to win a state medal, in 2018. That same year, Allison Faerber, then a freshman, finished right behind Kettler in 21st. Faerber has made it to state all three years with Festus, although she’s slipped to 37th and 33rd the last two years.
The Tiger girls were 12th with 338 points at Forest Park. Junior Dari White, third in the conference a year ago, was the first Festus runner in 47th, clocking 21:27.90. Sophomore Abigail Schnable was 57th in 21:41.10 and Faerber came in 65th in 21:52.50. Sophomore Madison Caskanett (91st, 22:29), junior Ava Leftwich (105th, 23:01.20) and senior Courtney Fadler (113th, 23:14.50) rounded out the Tiger squad. Jeanie Thornborrow, Liv Barnett and Riley Vogel also are challenging for spots in the top seven.
Festus is in Class 4 District 1 along with JCAA schools De Soto, Hillsboro, Perryville and Windsor. The top four teams and 30 individuals at each district meet Oct. 30 will qualify for the state meet, which will be held on Nov. 5 (Classes 4-5) and 6 (Classes 1-3). Hillsboro will host both the Class 4 District 1 and Class 5 District 1 meets.
Here is a breakdown of the rest of the county JCAA boys and girls cross country teams.
Head coach: Ken Jones, 17th year
Top boys runner: Senior Ethan Boyer, state qualifier in 2019
Top girls runner: Junior Lauren Hartman
History: Boys state champions (Class 1A-2A) in 1984; girls state champions (Class 1) in 2015
“Ethan and Lauren set the tone for our team every day,” Jones said. “I’m hoping to take several runners to state and am looking for these two to race in Columbia this year.”
The Hornets will run in Class 1 District 1 this year, hosted by Arcadia Valley.
Head coach: Bob Hyde, first year
Top boys runner: Senior William Kaempfe, state medalist (fourth, 2020; 22nd, 2019)
Top girls runner: Senior Kayla Vogelsang, state medalist (16th, 2018; 12th, 2019; 18th, 2020)
History: Girls, second place in state (Class 3) in 2019
“On the boys side, we expect Will to have a terrific year,” Hyde said. “We expect Will to continue to improve and compete at a very high level this season. With the majority of our boys team being underclassmen, our program is lucky to have Will around every day. For the last two years, he has set the example of what our program expects from our student-athletes in the classroom, on the course and in our community. He is relentless in his pursuit of being the best he can be in everything he does, and it really sets the tone for everybody around him.
“Kayla will continue to be a dominant force in this area like she has been over the past three years. She is poised to have her best year yet, after putting in a great summer of work along with many of her teammates. We feel she is ready to take it to another level this season.”
St. Pius X
Head coach: John Daly, fourth year
Top boys runner: Blaise Chaney
Top girls runner: Rachel Eimer, state qualifier, 2020
History: State champion Rita Eimer, Class 2, 2020; girls third place in state in 2020
“We’re focusing on getting individual runners qualified for state, as we do not have a full men’s or women’s team,” Daly said.
St. Pius is assigned to Class 2 District 1 at Arcadia Valley, as are Jefferson and Grandview.
Head coach: Tom Gordon, 13th year (boys), eighth year (girls)
Top boys runners: Senior Tyler Winslett, junior twins Jonah and Josh Allison (2020 Class 4 state medalist)
Top girls runner: Senior Michelle Jones
History: Hawk boys placed seventh at state (Class 4) in 2020 for highest state finish ever.
“My expectations for both the boys and the girls squads are to compete with Festus,” Gordon said. “We have added some new runners on both squads and I believe we have the potential to compete for that top spot at conference. Adding some numbers will help our chances to go deep into the postseason.”
Head coach: Kyle Davis, 10th year
Top boys runners: Senior Will Pierce; juniors Keith Vance, Baden Costlow; sophomores Sam Vaughn, Ashton Parrish, Damian Luther; freshman Nate Wright
Top girls runners: Seniors Katelynn Armbruster, Samantha Maddox; juniors Raven Vance, Brianna Pinson; sophomores Kaitlyn Taylor, Kendall Huber, Anna Hartnett
History: Boys state championships 1977-1983, 2003, 2007-2008, 2010-2011; girls state championships 1982-1985, 2001, 2006-2009, 2011-2012. Last season, Blackcat boys finished fifth in the state in Class 3; girls were sixth.
“So many of our runners have made big jumps,” Davis said. “Our seniors look really good so far. Will Pierce as the lone senior has turned into a big-time runner and a great captain. After being our seventh man last year at the state meet, he was our No. 1 3,200-meter runner on the track in the spring and had a great summer. Keith Vance and Baden Costlow have each been the No. 1 guy for us at our first two meets this year. They look to be all-state contenders. Nate Wright has already made an impact on our top five at the first couple of meets. Sam Vaughn is running big PR’s already this season and has looked really consistent.
“On the girls side, we have many key returners, including Raven Vance and Samantha Maddox. These were our Nos. 1-2 runners at last year’s state meet. Our fifth and sixth runners from last year’s state meet are also back in Brianna and Kendall. Kaitlin has made a big jump, setting PRs in the first two meets and running in our top five. We also look to Katelynn to make a big impact. She’s struggled in the past couple of years with injuries, but had a great offseason and was our No. 2 girl at our first race (Fort Zumwalt North Twilight).”
Herculaneum will compete this year in Class 3 District 1, also hosted by Arcadia Valley.
Head coach: John Leech, 12th year
Top boys runner: Senior Bradley Ahrens, medalist (25th) Class 4 in 2020; won at Arcadia Valley Invitational on Saturday in 16:34
Top girls runners: Senior Megan Terry and junior Olivia Plesons
Interesting fact: Terry is also the drum major for the Windsor Golden Brigade marching band.
History: Neither the Owl boys or girls have finished in the top four at state and the school hasn’t had a girl qualify for state in more than two decades.
“On the boys side we return four of our top five runners: Ahrens, Hayden Barker, Noah Johnson, and Clayton Pallme,” Leech said. “This year, we add junior Nick Daugherty to our top five. Brad has put in an incredible amount of work this past summer and has already posted some impressive times. Last year, Pallme, Johnson and Barker all posted impressive personal bests at the district meet, and we expect them to continue to improve throughout the season to regain their competitive fire.
“We also have three freshmen boys who are making a strong case to round out our varsity squad. Scott Moravec ran a 90-second PR when asked to step in as our No. 5 runner at Arcadia due to an absent runner. Noah Kizer has a level of drive we’ve not seen from a freshman runner in a while, and Joey Daly is working to make himself a part of that discussion after his impressive improvement at Arcadia Valley.
“(On the girls side) we are still very young, with only two varsity girls being upperclassmen. The amount of effort that Megan has to put forth for those activities is staggering. After a rough sophomore season, Olivia is poised to regain the success that she saw as a freshman. With the right amount of confidence, we expect her to be back on top again. Our next two runners are sophomores Amelia Schaefer and Jada Fasanello. Both Amelia and Jada have worked hard all summer and have also posted impressive improvements over last year.
“There are several new runners (both upper and underclassmen) who could earn a spot on the varsity squad this year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see senior Arienne LaPlant, sophomores Katie Boyster and Riley Merchant or freshman Sarah Winters wind up as part of that conversation. We’ve also had several girls who joined once the school year started and are not yet eligible. We are excited to see what they will bring to the course once they are eligible.”
Head coach: Mollie Rhodes, 10th year
Top boys runners: Seniors Sam Hawley and Jack Hueter, juniors C.J. Johnson, Cole Van and Ian Ehrhardt and sophomore Alex Breeze
Top girls runner: Freshman Payton Easter
History: Girls third place in state (Class 2) in 2018
Easter has emerged as the Blue Jays’ top girls runner this year and Rhodes said she shows a lot of promise. At the Forest Park Festival in St. Louis on Saturday, Easter was the top Blue Jay finisher in 23rd in 23:04.5. The running order behind Easter through the first three weeks of the season is junior Kaelyn Nilson, seniors Hannah Wigger and Katie Deevers, freshman Ayla Karch and senior Haley McClung. Nilson and Wigger qualified for the Class 2 state championships last season and were part of the Blue Jay team that finished eighth in the state in 2019.
“I always have big expectations for Kaelyn,” Rhodes said. “It also has been a pleasure this year to see her start to step into more of a leadership role.
“C.J. is our No. 1 (boys) runner right now and he will play a vital role in this team’s possible success this season.”
Head coach: Scott Meyer, eighth year
Top boys runners: Senior Clayton Riddle, juniors Royce Haynes and Isaiah Hammer
Top girls runners: Senior Lilly Patterson, juniors Savannah Patterson, Taylor Walker and Danielle McClure
Interesting facts: Riddle plays quarterback for the Eagles and Hammer is a wide receiver and defensive back. Both the boys and girls teams include athletes from other sports, as well as marching band members.
History: Taylor Ficke was the last Grandview runner to qualify for state, in 2019.
“The team is hopeful a couple of freshmen girls will be the front-runners for us,” Meyer said. “Hopefully, a few junior runners will also be able to find their stride.
“We’d like to find a little more endurance and speed as a team to put up a high place at conference and advance as many as we can from districts to state.”