Gabe McClain and Tessa Valdivia are running out of the shadows of former prep standouts this season and enjoying remarkable senior campaigns at Blue Springs High School.
McClain won three gold medals – 1,600 meters (4.25.81), 800 (1:57.48) and as part of the winning 1,600 relay (Prince Griffin, Celestino Almeida, McClain and Matt Marzolf, 3:23.60) – at last week’s Suburban Big Six Conference championship at Lee’s Summit North High School.
For the past three years, he has been chasing his good friend and Wildcat teammate Victor Mugeche, who has graduated and is competing at the University of Missouri.
“I was so happy with my individual performance, but it was sad to see our streak of seven conference championships (in a row) come to an end,” said McClain, as reigning state champion Lee’s Summit North won the boys crown. “I had a lot of success in cross country and really want to have a strong senior season in track.”
McClain had a breakout year in cross county, winning The Examiner’s Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year award, and is following up in track and field with the same type of success.
Like McClain, Valdivia is running out of the long shadow cast by former Blue Springs South sensation Tori Findley, who is also competing at Mizzou.
One of last Friday’s most dramatic highlights came when Valdivia defeated Lee’s Summit West’s Ginger Murnicks 5:05.69 to 5:06.78 in the 1,600 meters. Murnicks’ seed time of 4:59.97 was 14 seconds faster than Valdivia’s seed.
“Ginger is great – the best – I thought she was unbeatable, and I was able to beat her,” said a surprised and joyous Valdivia, who was The Examiner’s Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year in 2018. “I thought Ginger was perfect, but I was able to stay close and I had this kick at the end and was able to edge her at the end. I am so surprised – I mean, I am really surprised and just so happy.
“I am running well now and have never been more confident heading into a race than I was at conference. In the past, I always ran against Tori, so this is my first conference championship and it is so special.”
It was also special for her coach, Jennifer Reeder.
“How about Tessa?” asked Reeder, whose Wildcats also had two relay champions in the 800 (Niya Harris, Brooke Niemann, Ty’Le Whitmill and Talie Pfeifer, 1:47.08) and 1,600 (the same four runners, 4:05.08), while Aisha Gaither won the 100 hurdles (15.76).
“She has worked so hard, so unbelievably hard to get ready for this season and all that hard work is paying off.”
Wildcats distance coach Matt Johnson agreed, adding, “We were all waiting for Tessa’s senior year to see what she could accomplish, and she’s been unbelievable. We can’t wait to see what she does at district.’
Wildcats boys coach Joe Cusack feels the same way about McClain and fellow senior standout Matt Marzolf, who won the 400 (49.43) at the conference meet.
“Gabe and Matt showed why they are the leaders of this team,” Cusack said. “They are our meat-and-potato guys – you know what to expect from them every meet. They are great leaders and great young men.”
Blue Springs’ boys 400 relay team (Prince Griffin, Celestino Almeida, Stefan Black and Jaxsen Clay, 43.08) also brought home a gold medal.