Cross country fights for second place finish at Gans Creek Classic

Photo+by+Bailey+Blackburn.

Photo by Bailey Blackburn.

Allison Kim

Stepping up to the line against a total of 64 other teams, RBHS cross country competed at the Gans Creek Classic on Saturday, Sept. 25, with second-place finishes for both the girls’ and boys’ teams. 

Racing in the most competitive gold division, the girls amassed 130 points, beating 24 other teams but falling to St. Teresa’s Academy in the end by 35 points. 

The combined scores of the first five runners for Festus High School and RBHS both came out to a total of 105 points, making this the second year in a row that a sixth runner tiebreaker determined the outcome of the boys’ race. While narrowly missing first place, the boys still came in front of 36 teams.

With the Gans Creek Classic landing on the last weekend of September, the teams already had a few races under their belt. When looking at Saturday’s meet in relation to previous races in the season, Coach Neal Blackburn said he noticed individuals displaying a sense of consistency and steady improvement throughout their performances. 

“Most engaged well. Some were consistent in racing opponents. Others were a bit complacent at times sitting in the same positions,” Blackburn said. “We have continued to take steps in the right direction. I think we still have work to do but made progress once more.”

Both teams had initially set their goals higher than second place. However, uncontrollable circumstances including a missing bus leaving the team with no transportation to the course and key runners absent from lineups impacted race outcomes. 

“Our goal was to win as a team, but we fell short this week because we were missing one of our [usual] scoring five,” senior Tate Fletcher said. “I think that overall the team performance was good, but we could’ve picked up a few spots in places.”

Others found knowing too much of what to expect to be challenging as well. Junior Morgan Sexten found the familiarity of the Gans Creek course, which is also the Missouri State Championship course, to be a barrier during her race. 

“I think [this course] is just dangerous because I know it so well that I’m thinking […] of what’s next,” Sexten said. “I think I just try to take it like any other meet that I would run and not focus on the fact that I know every single turn.”

Through various challenges, the culture built over the years within the cross country program holds the team together. When faced with points of the race that become incredibly demanding, the sense of community and friendship outside of running becomes an extra incentive beyond the self that allows the runners to give their best effort Blackburn said.

“We’re motivated by knowing that we’re giving it our all for each other,” Fletcher said. “To get that bond that we have, we all have to trust each other to know that everybody can get the job done [on race day].”

Every day the teams spend practicing together building both bonds and impressive bodies of training helps grow the confidence to back up the team’s goals. Looking towards the postseason, the boys, who are the defending state champions, and the girls, who finished fourth and second in the past two years, both have their sights firmly set on adding another championship title to the program. 

“The big goal is to win state. We want to be first at Gans. We’ve never done that before, so I think that would be obviously ideal,” Sexten said. “But I think [another goal is to] have fun, live in the moment, and enjoy [the season]. We have a lot of seniors that are leaving, so I think [we want to] just leave our mark on what [RBHS cross country] is and make sure we go out with our best.”

Even with two ambitious teams under his coaching, Blackburn said the outcome of the state meet is not how he measures the ultimate goal he has for the end of this season. Instead, he hopes, the support, care and love each runner has for one another is what defines their experience. 

“Ultimately, I hope the majority of our runners believe that the investment they made into this team was worth their time,” Blackburn said. “And that the blood, sweat and tears that they poured into it showed them a side of [themselves] that they didn’t necessarily know existed.”

Do you think the cross country team will win at state? Let us know in the comments below.