Cross country looks to win state

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Jenna Liu

Members of the RBHS cross country team practice Thursday Nov 7. The team competes for the state title on Saturday in Jefferson City.  Photo by Randi Obermiller
Members of the RBHS cross country team practice Thursday Nov 7. The team competes for the state title on Saturday in Jefferson City.
Photo by Randi Obermiller
[heading]Cross country preview: State Championship[/heading] After a triumphant finish at sectionals, the cross country team is ready to take off to Jefferson City, the site for the state championships.
The boys team went into sectionals ranked third in the state, and emerged as resounding victors, prevailing over West Plains and St. Louis University High. West Plains and SLUH are serious competitors at Saturday’s race. West Plains was able to push past Rock Bridge to take first at districts, while St. Louis University High is returning to Jeff City as the defending champions.
“SLUH always peaks at the right time, and West Plains, we didn’t beat by much at sectionals, so they’re going to be on the hunt,” Coach Neal Blackburn said. “But I think all of us have the chance to potentially win.”
The Bruins prospects are bolstered by the recent first place finishes by senior Evan Schulte and junior Kayla Funkenbusch at sectionals.
“I just hope that as a team we can win,” Schulte said. “Right now, we’re focused on practicing, drinking right, eating right.”
Schulte is running with the hopes of an individual state title, but vigilant of senior Noah Kauppila of Marquette. Kauppila is at the top of the state rankings, and presents a challenge to the RBHS senior.
“He’s a really good runner,” Schulte said. “But anything can happen on any day.”
The Bruins have something to prove this weekend after coming in ninth position at last year’s state competition. Team members have been preparing for this high-stakes race.
“[I’ve been] bonding more with my teammates, getting extra sleep, and icing and stretching extra,” Funkenbusch said.
Funkenbusch hopes to land in the top 15 in state individually and is vying for the girls’ team to take first.
“Our biggest competition team wise is going to be between Nernix Hall and Francis Howell,” Funkenbusch said. “But we are ranked second going into state. I think it’s very possible for us to get first.”
Nernix Hall’s Coach Gaylerd Quigley said his team has been on a winning streak. Only once did his team not finish first at a meet, and that was at Forrest Park.
“Everyone gets nervous when they get to this stage, but we are trying not to focus on that,” Quigley said. “I don’t know if we can keep this string running. I do think we are capable of winning, but so are three or four other teams.”
The state competition is the result of months of concentration and training, and the Bruins cross country team knows that a first place victory will only happen if their runners leave everything on the course. The smooth hills of the Oak Hill golf course are the final hurdle in a season that will come to a head in Jefferson City.
“We know the atmosphere at state’s gonna be charged, electric. It’s going to be crazy. There’s thousands upon thousands of people and the race itself is pretty intense,” Blackburn said. “We’re just trying to keep the adrenaline button on low and just ride out what’s made us successful to this point. A lot of our mantra has been just to stay calm, stay calm.”
The cross country team has been meeting every day before and after school, in weather conditions ranging from 98 degree heat waves to torrents of icy rain. This Saturday’s race is the culmination of all their efforts.
“We’ve run the most difficult schedule I think we ever have, in all my 13 years here,” Blackburn said. “I think we’re definitely ready to have a good weekend.”
 By Abby Kempf and Jenna Liu