Preston Weigel and Kayla Sanning are studies in contrast, but each are equally responsible for their respective Grain Valley High School cross country teams reaching the Class 3 state meet this Saturday in Jefferson City.
Weigel is a first-year cross country runner who wanted to help the Eagles boys reach state for the first time. Sanning is a junior who also wanted to help the girls head to Jefferson City, while keeping her personal streak of three consecutive appearances alive and well.
Led by Cameron Tecce’s third-place finish, the Eagles boys won their first Class 3 District 7 title with 29 points.
Hannah Coons’ 13th-place finish helped the Eagles girls finish second to Notre Dame de Sion (19 points) as they totaled 82 points to join Sanning at state.
“It’s going to be so much more fun to go to state with all my teammates,” Sanning said. “Last year, we missed going as a team by four points, and that made us work harder this year. We worked hard all summer and really stayed focused this season.”
For Weigel, the district crown and state appearance is a tribute to former Eagles cross country standout Tyree Meadows, who is now at West Point.
“Tyree tried to get me to come out for track when I was a freshman,” said Weigel, who opted for football. “I wish I’d have listened to him back then. I played football and got a concussion and switched to cross country this year.
“When we won district, the first person I thought of was Tyree. I just wish he was still on the team to celebrate with us.”
Mike Painting started the Grain Valley cross country team just six years ago, and for the past three years Nick Small was Painting’s assistant.
This year, Small is head coach and Brian Winckler is his assistant.
“Coach Painting did a great job starting the program,” Small said, “and I had a feeling this could be a special year, but we needed some newcomers to have some success and needed the kids to work hard in the offseason, which they all did.”
The cross country teams are part of a highly successful fall that saw the volleyball team, soccer team and tennis team all win conference crowns.
“The culture at Grain Valley is changing,” Small said. “I have seen a huge trend toward a greater commitment level among the athletes. You mentioned the boys winning the conference title (sharing with Harrisonville) and we were getting off the bus the night they beat Harrisonville (to give the Wildcats their first-ever conference loss) and all our kids were going crazy, celebrating with the soccer boys.
“We have that type of relationship with the other sports programs at Grain Valley. We’re all one family, and we enjoy to see all teams have success.”
Other members of the boys team going to state are Mitch Chapman, Timmy Hinton, Chris Hughes, Kevin Keck, Ethan Lasley and Dalton Miller (alternate).
Other girls going to state are Zoe Cabe, Jessica Jaenson, Lindsey Mangum, Maddie Smith, Kiley Wagener and Ellie Ringwood (alternate).