KEARNEY, Mo. – The past three years, Blue Springs South senior Tori Findley was a four-sport athlete – participating in track and field, cross country, basketball and soccer.
She dropped the latter two sports so she could concentrate on cross country and track. Findley still has some unfinished business as she finished second in the Missouri State High School Cross Country Championships last year.
This year, she is aiming for a gold medal. And so far, her decision to cut down to two sports has paid off.
So far in 2017, Findley hasn’t lost a race. That trend continued when she took first at the Class 4 Sectional 4 meet Saturday at Jesse James Park.
She finished with a time of 17 minutes, 59 seconds, 35 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Emma Roth of Park Hill South. Findley also helped the Jaguars capture a second-place finish with 65 points, qualifying South as a team for state.
“It was a good race for everybody,” Findley said. “Last year I was kind of under the weather and I just wanted to get to the finish somehow. I felt really strong and felt really good this year. Our goal the whole year is to make the podium at state. This year we’ve been like, ‘We’re not getting fifth again!’”
“It’s helped tremendously (to participate in just two sports). It’s really helped me with my training and take it to another level.”
She along with 73 other competitors had to compete on the 3.1-mile course in 34-degree weather, which made it a little tougher for runners to keep going at their normal pace. Findley, however, was able to get through it with little trouble.
“Some of us were like, ‘Oh no!’ before the race,” Findley said. “It wasn’t bad. But as soon as we started I was like, ‘Dang it! I should have put gloves on.’ I ended up taking off my headband off halfway. I just thought everyone has to deal with the weather, so I tried not to pay too much attention to it.”
South senior Danielle Hotalling, who finished third with a time of 18:46.40, embraced running in the frigid temperatures.
“It’s not bad running in this weather,” Hotalling said. “It’s definitely a change from our 70- and 80-degree races. I like it. It feels more like cross country season now. I was pretty happy (with my race). I was trying to be competitive in the middle of it then push myself at the end.”
South girls coach Ryan Unruh, who was ecstatic his team qualified for state, is hoping the Jaguars can finally get over the hump and finish in the top four at state after finishing fifth the last two years. He added he feels this is the year for Findley to claim the individual title.
“I saw the things I needed to see today,” Unruh said. “Tori is peaking at the right time. The rest of the team was great, too. We were without our No. 5, 6 and 7 runners because they were sick. I just wanted to make sure we took a team to state next week. I was glad they were able to put aside their sniffles and flu symptoms and went out there and competed.
“Tori is training at a high level and she’s saving her best for next week. She’s had that date circled for a long, long time. When we toe the line at state, our girls will be as motivated as anyone.”
Rounding out the top five for South was Lauren Low (10th, 19:43.30), Emma Bassford (20th, 20:12.0) and Jayme Opdahl (50th, 21:12.50).
• Blue Springs’ Tessa Valdivia and Elaina Hubner both qualified for state as Valdivia was ninth (19:38.30) and Hubner was 11th (19:46). The Wildcats were sixth as a team with 112 points.
• Lee’s Summit North just missed out on qualifying for state, finishing fifth with 104 points, nine points behind fourth-place St. Teresa’s Academy (95). The Broncos will send three runners to state including Madelyn Robinson (seventh, 19:26.80), Annie Mccord (18th, 20:02.10) and Samantha Thompson (24th, 20:15.30).
• Other qualifiers in the Eastern Jackson County area include Truman’s Stacy Briggs (14th, 19:52.80), Fort Osage’s Hailey Alvis (15th, 19:56.60) and Grain Valley’s Valerie Holcomb (19th, 20:11.40).
BOYS: The Blue Springs boys cross country team has some high expectations this season as it took first at the district meet last week, defeating one of the top teams in the state – Rockhurst.
Last season, the Wildcats finished fourth as a team. Now, they are looking for more. On Saturday, Blue Springs left Kearney a little disappointed as it finished second as a team 58 points. Rockhurst won with 48.
Nonetheless, the Wildcats still qualified for state and will have a shot at a state team title.
Victor Mugeche, who is one of the favorites to win the state individual title, easily won on the boys side with a time of 15:45.20, 20 seconds ahead of his teammate Oaklee Hauschild (16:05.50).
Rounding out the top five for the Wildcats were Gabe Mcclain (10th, 16:32.60), Morgan Cauveren (14th, 16:38.10) and Brock Wooderson (38th, 17:11.30). Blue Springs boys coach Frank Gallick said the difference in finishing second rather than first was the No. 3-5 runners for the Hawklets finished ahead of his 3-5.
“It was a good effort, I just would have liked to got the win,” Gallick said. “(Rockhurst’s) third and fourth guys beat our third and fourth. That was the difference between the two teams. At this point we just want to move on to next week and see how it plays out there. We’re working hard to get a state championship. We haven’t had one at the school in 35 years.”
Mugeche, who finished second at state last year, is hopeful that he can win an individual title this season, but is more focused on winning a team championship.
Hauschild, who has finished second behind Mugeche all season, is looking for big things at state, as well.
“I was trying to win, but the goal was to get the team win,” Mugeche said. “I think Rockhurst got us, but we will just regroup next week. (Hauschild and himself finishing first and second every race) is a big factor, but it means nothing if the other guys aren’t focused.
“I am pretty confident in my training and what our coaches are doing with us. I feel great and I feel ready (for state).”
“I felt like I ran good today,” Hauschild said. “I was really just going for second. Right now I am undefeated against everyone except Victor. I definitely want to race against guys from the other side of the state and see how I do.”
• Lee’s Summit North, like the girls, narrowly missed out on qualifying as a team, finishing fifth with 119 points, just one point behind fourth-place Staley (118). The Broncos will send Matt Reis (19th, 16:39.80), Drew Reis (22nd, 16:44.50), Luke Byrne (23rd, 16:47.30) and Parker Anderson (30th, 16:55) to state.
• Blue Springs South had two runners qualify for state – Zachary Grover (seventh, 16:26.40) and Dillon Grover (12th, 16:35.40).