The banner – and somewhat unexpected – season for the Blue Springs South girls cross country team continued at the Class 4 Sectional 4 race Saturday.
The Jaguars took first place in the sectional – for the first time since 2014 – behind five runners in the top 25 at the Wildflower Cross Country Course next to Liberty North High School. Blue Springs South finished with 50 points, a 40-point margin of victory ahead of St. Teresa’s Academy and punched a ticket to the state championships this Saturday in Jefferson City.
Blue Springs South took fourth at the state finals last year behind the 1-2 finish of Tori Findley and Danielle Hotalling, currently Division I runners. Now, Blue Springs South will head to Oak Hills Golf Center as one of the hottest teams in the state after winning district and sectionals.
“It feels good to show people just because two girls graduated we can still pull this off,” said Mya Trober, a freshman who finished eighth Saturday. “If you work hard and you are determined, you can pull off major things.”
Trober was the second Jaguar to finish, coming in behind junior Lauren Low, who set the pace by placing fourth in 19 minutes, 22.43 seconds.
Low is one of only two runners heading to state for Blue Springs South who ran on the state course last year. She placed 39th and Paige Fallis, who took 20th at sectional, was 136th.
“It is crazy to win this,” said Low, who was 52nd as a freshman in 2016. “We are a pretty young group with a lot of new people. I think a lot of it (the success) has to do with running for each other. It is more than a race. We know the work we put in. We train together and we know we have to keep our eyes on each other.”
Freshman McKenna Ledgerwood took 11th for South, followed by Fallis, a junior, and sophomore Jayme Opdahl, who recovered from a fall, to finish 23rd.
“We had to readjust goals throughout the year, from keeping everyone healthy to being OK to ‘OK, we can do things,’” Blue Springs South coach Ryan Unruh said. “Winning this is a dream. How did we get there? This is our best sectional of the last five years. We are not supposed to be this good, but they run for each other and are pretty dang talented.”
Liberty’s Maddie Hill won the individual title in 18:32.91, while Blue Springs’ Tessa Valdivia took second in 18:56.15 in a battle of the District 8 and District 7 winners. This was only the second time the two had faced each other, with Hill placing higher at the Rim Rock Farm Classic last month in Lawrence, Kan.
Valdivia will get one more shot at Hill, as well as conference foes from Lee’s Summit West and Ray-Pec.
“My goal is to be in the top five or the top three,” Valdivia said of her state goals after a sixth-place showing last year. “I just have to think of it as another race.”
Also advancing to state from the area are Grain Valley’s Ella Casey (eighth), Lee’s Summit North’s Annie McCord (ninth) and Madelyn Robinson (14th), Fort Osage’s Brooklyne Sederwall (17th), Blue Springs’ Alyna Thibault (19th) and Lee’s Summit North’s Lily Madden (26th).
“She has been consistent all year long,” Grain Valley coach Nick Small said of Casey, a freshman. “She has been working hard and is such a team player, for sure, she wants to pull all of her teammates along with her. We took the approach that this is the Tim Nixon (Invitational) Part II and don’t let the stage get to us. We will approach next week like we have. If she keeps racing she will be in the top 25 and hopefully get all-state.”
Truman’s Stacy Briggs, who took 29th at state last year and nearly missed an all-state medal, didn’t make the cut out of sectional by placing 38th.
Blue Springs, Blue Springs South and Grain Valley all had teams competing for the right to go to state on the boys side, but finished sixth through eighth in the standings, respectively.
The Wildcats and Jaguars will have two runners each at the state meet.
Gabe McClain, the Suburban Big Six champion, took third place (16:13.21), coming in behind champion Tom Seitzer of Rockhurst (15:28.71) and Staley’s Preston Wheeler (16:08.70).
This was the first time McClain had run on the course – which opened just last month – and he noticed right away how fast it would be. At the first mile, he was at 4:40.
“It was hard, but once you got into the rolling hills, I felt strong,” said McClain, now a three-time state qualifier who hopes to get his first all-state honor.
Teammate Brock Wooderson finished 15th for Blue Springs. Dillon Grover placed seventh for the Jaguars (16:27.59) and Jack Klassen took 28th, grabbing one of the final spots to Jefferson City.
Team champion Rockhurst had six individual qualifiers, while Staley, St. Joseph Central and Liberty – two through four in the standings – had four each individual qualifiers. That left only 12 of the 30 spots for runners from other schools.