Blue Springs’ Tessa Valdivia and Grain Valley’s Royce Fisher left no doubt as to whom the fastest runners were Saturday in the Grain Valley Open Kickoff cross country meet at Grain Valley North Middle School.

Valdivia won the girls race by 26 seconds on the hilly 3,200-meter course, while Fisher finished 19 seconds ahead of his closest competition in the boys race.

“Every time I start a race I start out really strong in the pack and then kind of ease into the race,” said Valdivia, who ran a time of 12 minutes, 21 seconds. “It feels wonderful to start the season with a win. I feel like I’m going to do really well this season.”

Valdivia separated from the pack midway through the race and ran most of the last mile by herself.

“Tessa came off a really strong track season and we expect big things of her,” Blue Springs girls coach Matt Johnson said. “She loves to race. She’s expecting big things of herself, she’s off to a good start and we can’t wait to see what happens the rest of the year.”

The Wildcats dominated the girls competition, taking five of the top seven spots, including a third-place finish from Elaina Huber (12:49).

“These girls have been working extremely hard for a really long time without getting to race,” Johnson said. “It was cool to get to see the excitement with the opportunity to go compete against other teams. I couldn’t be more pleased.”

Mariah Lister (12:47) of Grain Valley finished runner-up, continuing a strong comeback from an injury she sustained last fall.

“It feels good to be back because I haven’t raced in so long since recovering,” Lister said. “I knew Tessa was going to go out really fast, and my main goal was to attack the hills on the second mile. (Huber) was right on my hip at the end, so it was a good push up the hill to finish. I think it was a good race overall.”  

Outside of the first 150 meters, Fisher (10:57) led the boys race from start to finish, and like Valdivia, ran mostly alone over the last mile.

“At first I was feeling kind of nervous because it’s the first race of the year, but as soon as I got into the groove of things, I just ran as hard as I could,” Fisher said. “Winning just shows me that if I keep working hard I can get better times and keep growing as I’m just a sophomore.”

Grain Valley coach Nick Small said Fisher’s potential is something he’s looking forward to guide.

“I know Blue Springs didn’t run their top kids, but we’re excited (Fisher) got to win,” Small said. “He crossed the finish line, and the minute he did, he came over to me and said, ‘Coach, I’ve got more.’ So we’re excited where he’s going.”

The Eagles placed five runners in the top 10, with Gavin Leonard (11:41) taking fourth, and won the boys competition with 27 points, 16 ahead of the runner-up Wildcats.

“As a team, getting that cohesive group was key as we had a nice pack of runners,” Small said. “We came out and competed and we’re impressed with some of our performances. We’ll take that and keep building on it. It’s one of those things where we’re respectable as a team and we’ll see how the season shakes out.”

Brock Wooderson (11:16) of Blue Springs finished runner-up, turning in a strong performance in the first race of his high school career.

“I didn’t want to go out too fast, but I wanted to keep Fisher in my sight,” Wooderson said. “I wanted to make a move on the downhill, but I looked up and he was gone. But I was proud of my race. Practicing with the older guys on our team, that really pushes you to be faster.”

Blue Springs boys coach Frank Gallick said Wooderson’s performance can’t be understated.

“For a freshman to come in and step up like he did was impressive,” he said. “It’s a transition from middle school to high school and we kind of experimented with the guys we had running, and for him to be our first finisher today, I’m really pleased with his performance.”

Fort Osage had two top-four finishers: Michael Reddick (11:24) took third in the boys race, while Hailey Alvis (13:12) finished fourth in the girls.