by John Unrein
The Gans Creek Cross Country Course in Columbia was the setting for the Show-Me State Cross Country meet on November 7th. The 320-acre recreation area boasts a course with a 500-meter starting chute, 2k and 3k loops, 30-foot-wide irrigated turf, a permanent finish line structure, outdoor shelter, and indoor building with restrooms. As a premiere cross country complex, it was designed to accommodate spectators and media.
The City of Columbia website cites that the University of Missouri contributed a substantial amount toward the development of the complex. The Gans Cross Country Course is the home course for the University of Missouri and will host the NCAA Southeastern Conference (SEC) Championship in 2021. It also started hosting the Missouri State High School Championships (MSHSAA) in 2019.
The Grain Valley Lady Eagles Girls Cross Country team had ten qualifiers for the meet who were ready to represent their school during their first time at the State Class 5 Level (the highest in Missouri).
Kayley Bell, Ella Casey, Annalynn Earley, Valerie Holcomb, Kyla Huber, Lexie Nicholson, Lilly Ogle, Kelli Stevens, Alaina Valverde, and Gabriella Valverde were the Eagles who took to the starting line in Columbia. The large group of runners stayed together at the start of the race in an effort to not overtax themselves so a move could be made collectively at the 2,000 meter mark. This strategy afforded Grain Valley to wait for the congestion among the herd of runners to thin so that their attempted ascent was made easier.
The top overall finisher at the meet was Ally Kruger of Liberty (Wentzville) High School with a time of 18:03 for 5k or 3.1 miles. That impressive effort bested the previous course record by 5 seconds. Grain Valley would go on to finish 16th as a team at the meet with top individual finishers of Ella Casey at 99th, Valerie Holcomb at 119th, and Lily Ogle at 122nd.
The Eagles were mildly defiant as they finished the race in complying with directions to keep moving into the building past the finish line. Movement towards the building would be met with pause prior to inching back towards the opening near the finish chute to wait for all members of the team to complete the race. The team was insistent on heading back to runner’s village together.
Lady Eagles Head Cross Country Coach Nick Small was elated with the collective effort shown by his runners and what it meant to be the first team in school history to represent Grain Valley at the highest class level of competition.
“I am super proud of these girls and the attitude they possess. Even going back to last season, they all sat down and wrote out their goals. They all wanted to go to the state meet as a team. We didn’t know what class we were going to be in at the time, but we have embraced the challenge,” Small said.
“Witnessing the bond these girls have is fantastic. This crew is special. Cross Country is a beautiful thing because it’s forever. I probably had 12 texts this morning from former athletes wishing our team luck.”
“More than running. That’s what this team is about. They are proud of the community they are involved in. We are going to miss the seniors on this team, but their impact will be felt for years to come.”
Casey, Holcomb, and Ogle were all smiles as they reflected on their race, season, and what it meant to them. The trio had a lot be proud of as they continued to help put Grain Valley on the scholastic running map in Missouri.
“Coach Small always tells us that running is ninety percent mental and ten percent physical. We’re encouraged to realize that when you feel like you’ve given all that you have, you can dig down and find more. I am proud of my team and that we got to represent Grain Valley here today,” Casey said.
Holcomb added, “This is a team sport even though we are placed individually at the end of a race. The relationships built among us are special. I am glad for the time we spent together and what we did today collectively.”
Ogle finished, “We push each other like a pack of wolves, we don’t want anyone to fall back. I am super excited to be here as it this is my first year at state. This was super fun. Yes, it’s way better to be a participant compared to being a spectator.”
The Lady Eagles Cross Country Team also finishes the season as the second place team in Class 5 District 5. This also represents the 8th time Grain Valley has qualified as a team for state in the last 11 years.