by Michael Smith
The Grain Valley cross country team is gearing up for the upcoming fall season this summer, meeting five days per week to run on various trails in the Eastern Jackson County area.
Last season, the girls team qualified for state, finishing 16th, and will return three of its top six runners. On the boys side, Grain Valley has a younger team full of runners that are looking to make their first appearance at the Missouri State High School Cross Country Championships.
That’s why the Eagles have been putting in a lot of work over the summer. So far, the summer camps have been going well, according to head coach Nick Small. Small said there should be 20 runners each for the boys and girls teams when the season starts in late August.
“Our numbers have looked pretty good, but we have a lot of kids on vacation right now,” Small said. “”Most days we meet off campus so we can change the scenery a little bit.”
“We have a lot of fresh new faces joining us and the veteran runners have been doing well, too.”
Some of the trails the teams have run on include Little Blue Trace Trail in Independence, Lake Jacomo, and Burr Oaks Woods in Blue Springs.
“We have put in hundreds of miles every day,” Carson Hill, a transfer from West Virginia said.
Added Nathan Allen: “We have been training our bodies for different layouts, so we can get ready for the races we have coming up.”
The summer training has also included some shorter runs on the track at Grain Valley High School.
“We have done some sprint workouts and shorter runs in intervals,” Payton Bell said. “We have been doing some 400 (meter runs) on repeat today.”
The girls team will be young but return a few from the 2020 team that qualified for state. One of those runners will be Ella Casey, who led the girls with a 99th place finish at state. About four runners will return that have varsity experience.
“We will have a younger team because we graduated a lot of seniors last year,” Casey said. “I think our goal is to get as many to state as we can. I want to make it to state and (earn a personal-record time).”
For the boys, Small is looking for some new faces to step up and provide a spark as it will have mostly freshman runners.
“Carson has come right in and stepped into a leadership role,” Small said. “He’s taking it on really well. We have mixed in some of our juniors from last year and we also have Nathan Allen joining us from the track team.”
Having such a young team could make it a little more difficult to advance far in the postseason, but some runners on the boys are confident this team can make an impact.
“We want to make it to state and finish in the top 10,” Mason McCain said. “I want to break the school record and get a medal at state.”
Grain Valley’s first meet will be Aug. 28 at home, and Small said his team has prepared well for the start of the fall season.
“Our kids usually do a pretty good job of stepping up when they need to, and I can see that already with their mindset and their training,” Small said.