Boys’ and girls’ cross country teams finish second, fourth on state championship podium


Bailey Blackburn

Photo by Bailey Blackburn.

Allison Kim

Looking out into a field of open grass, seven girls and seven boys from the RBHS cross country teams planted their feet firmly inside their boxes marked with white paint, anxiously awaiting the pop of the starter’s gun. 

With those gunshots, the 2021 Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) Class 5 girls and boys cross country state championships began. The race took place Friday, Nov. 5, at the Gans Creek Cross Country Course, and both teams achieved podium finishes, with the boys coming out in second place and the girls finishing in fourth. With a total of 81 points, the boys’ team narrowly missed their opportunity to defend last year’s team state champion title to Kickapoo High School, who won with the lowest team score of 77 points. Individual performances also garnered impressive results, with sophomore Andrew Hauser walking away as the individual state champion and even setting a new record for the course with a time of 14:52.7. Juniors Ian Kemey and Carolyn Ford were also all-state finishers, with Kemey in fourth and Ford in 11th. 

The boys’ team came into this season with their eyes set on winning the state meet. Hauser said, while a lack of focus throughout the race prevented them from achieving everything they initially planned, the team still ran a race to be proud of. 

“We obviously wanted to repeat [last years’ results]. […] That was our focus since June 24, and we knew what we wanted,” Hauser said. “There were some hiccups during the race, and we [weren’t able to win], but I think that it’s okay. Everyone has their off days, and I think that we put together a solid race as it is.”

Coach Neal Blackburn agreed with Hauser that even though there were moments where they could have improved, they did not hinder the other accomplishments of the boys’ team.

“The boys raced well enough to win most state meets most years today. Kickapoo, according to their coach, had to run perfectly to beat us. They seemingly did,” Blackburn said. “We just couldn’t close the race out as we needed to win, but overall we raced pretty well.”

While winning the state meet was also in the back of the girls’ minds, they were happy to come out with a third consecutive podium finish, following their fourth place the previous year and second in 2019. Unlike the boys’ team, the girls’ final varsity lineup was not established until much later in the season, and was subject to change multiple times leading up to the state meet. Several factors out of the runners’ control impacted the outcome of the race. 

“I thought under the circumstances we had to fight through this week, the majority of the girls performed solidly today,” Blackburn said. “[Senior Brooke Walker] and [senior Maci Steuber] were running injured, and they’re such a big part of what we do, so to come out of there on the podium was a big deal.”

Hauser said he and his teammates could attribute their loss to Kickapoo to the specific conditions of the race on Friday because they knew they had done all they could throughout the season leading up to the final meet. He said the mishaps causing the loss were in no part due to a lack of training or effort in practice. 

“There’s nobody that’s out here on this course that trains harder than us. I knew based on our training what [our team] could do. It’s not that it was just me or just Ian [who worked hard during practice], we all did,” Hauser said. “I think that training [together] throughout the whole season and creating that bond was really important for the building blocks of [this season], and I think that we laid down a really good base and executed all year.”

Blackburn said practice is not only a place where he can train his runners physically, but also where he can encourage genuine bonds among them and foster a culture of care and trust among one another.

“You just hope to see the genuine love and care for one another manifest itself in daily workouts and on meet days, also just in the hallways and outside of school as well,” Blackburn said. “The effort the athletes put in weekly and the commitment they make to doing so is one of the ways they pursue [their goals].”

This culture has resonated with the athletes on the cross country teams and translated into how they run. Freshman Amelie Crane said her teammates are a source of motivation throughout races and practice, and the bond she has with them helps her become a better runner.  

“[The team’s culture impacts my running] so much. It’s not just during the meets when you’re behind your teammates, and they’re pointing telling you to get up with them and saying this is where you belong,” Crane said. “It’s at practice too. You know that they’re going to push you to your very best on workouts, and even when you don’t, they’re going to be there for you at the end. [Running becomes] something you have to do for them and not only for yourself.” 

Hauser agreed that the RBHS cross country program’s culture helps individuals reach their potential and is also what holds the entire team together, allowing them to achieve their results. 

“I think that there’s this sense of willing to die for each other, and I totally think we all bought into that,” Hauser said. “[…] It’s really hard when you get into a race and […] you’re hurting, and you’ve got to go fight for all these other dudes. I think that the culture that we’ve surrounded ourselves with at Rock Bridge is what wins all these titles.” 

What did you think about the cross country team’s race? Let us know in the comments below.