Blue Springs South senior cross country standout Tori Findley earned a first-place medal at Jefferson City’s Oak Hills Golf Center after winning her first Class 4 state championship.

But her individual medal didn’t intrigue The Examiner’s 2017 Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year.

No, her attention was focused on the fourth-place team trophy – something that had eluded Findley and her teammates the past four years.

“After finishing second at state last year, I wanted to finish first this year,” admitted Findley, who won state in a time of 18 minutes, 9.34 seconds. “But even more than winning the individual championship, I wanted to share a team trophy with my teammates – the girls I’ve been running with the past four years.

‘Honestly, I think I was more excited about that than finishing first.”

And that is why South coach Ryan Unruh – whose program has produced nine of the past 10 Examiner Runner of the Year winners – says Findley is so special.

“She’s one of those kids who really, just seems too good to be true,” Unruh said. “The girls on the team love her, everyone respects her and it’s really going to be hard to say goodbye to her and the other seniors on this team.

“She’s just a team player, and that can be hard when you’re as good as Tori. This season, she was undefeated – and she competed against 1,500 runners from 10 states – and was undefeated. Think about that for a second; that’s impressive. Yet she never changed. In fact, if anything, she worked harder.”

Two seasons ago, Findley left the South basketball and soccer teams – she started on each squad and her father Todd is the Jaguars soccer coach – to concentrate on running. And the decision paid off with her first state title and a scholarship to the University of Missouri.

“It was a difficult decision, but I had to make it,” Findley said, “and it’s paid off. I have concentrated on running and I had a senior season that really hasn’t sunk in yet. I never – NEVER! – thought about going undefeated. We ran in some big meets, but Coach Unruh and I worked together and I was ready mentally and physically for the season.”

And, unlike last year, when she competed in state with some minor health issues, she was strong throughout the season.

“Last year I was under the weather, it just sucked,” Findley said. “I just came in this year and told myself, ‘Hey, this has to be better than last year.’ And it was a dream season – for me and the girls on the team. You can’t plan a season like the one I had. I was healthy, I worked hard and it just happened.”

Findley finished sixth at state as a freshman, third as a sophomore, second as a junior and brought home the gold this year.

“I don’t think anything really hit me until our banquet (Monday night),” she said. “I started thinking about the past four years and how we capped it all off with what happened at state and I’ll admit, I’m proud of what we accomplished. I guess dreams do come true if you work hard enough.”