Cole Rockhold simply can’t believe this is his senior year at Truman High School.
One of the area’s premier distance runners – who has a first-place showing in a tough Liberty Invitational field (2.18 miles, in 11:18) and a fifth-place finish at Forest Park (St. Louis, 15:03 in a 5-kilometer race), a meet that featured 72 teams – Rockhold has overcome a serious medical issue his sophomore year and the crazy weather that greets prep athletes in the fall to become one of the Patriots’ all-time standouts.
“It seems like yesterday I was talking with you and (former teammate) Justin Brown (who served as Rockhold’s early running inspiration) when I was a freshman,” Rockhold said. “When we were coming back from the Liberty Invitational, I was thinking, ‘That’s it, my last meet at Liberty.’
“It’s all bittersweet and nostalgic. A little bit sad, but I am so excited about this year because we have a strong team and we could really have a special season. And as a senior, that’s what you dream about.”
He never dreamed about being a part of the first Truman team to bring back a state trophy back for finishing third in last year’s Missouri State High School Track and Field Championships in Jefferson City, but Rockhold and four teammates pulled off the improbable task.
Rockhold’s second-place finish in the 3,200 meters clinched the trophy and a wild celebration among his Patriot teammates.
“We only took five guys, but Coach (Craig) Lewis said we could get a trophy if we all competed the way we had been all season,” Rockhold said. “It was kind of fun to think about, but I’ll be honest with you, once we got down there, none of us even thought about it.”
The only letdown with the trophy – as the Patriots finished in a third-place tie with CBC of St. Louis – was that the Patriots returned home to little fanfare because school was already out of session for the summer.
“That’s all right,” Rockhold said. “We knew what we accomplished, and every time I walk by that trophy case and see the trophy I know that anything is possible.”
This year, Rockhold has some high team and personal goals.
“I think we can make a strong showing in district and sectionals,” he said. “We have some good runners on this team, and they’re very committed, and that’s what it takes to have team success.
“Personally, I’d like to finish in the top three, and I think that’s a realistic goal.”
He finished 24th last year to win his first state medal. He missed his sophomore cross country year because he had a benign tumor removed from his neck.
“That put everything in perspective,” Rockhold said. “Your health is everything. I found that out at an early age, and I will always remember it.
“It makes something like running when it’s in the one-hundreds (degrees) seem like no big deal. Having success in Missouri weather just makes all your success that much more special.”
Follow Bill Althaus on Twitter: @AlthausEJC