A few weeks ago, Cori Davis was preparing for the 100-meter run at the Class 5 district meet at Blue Springs South High School by putting her long, flowing hair into a ponytail.

That’s when she was approached by Blue Springs South teammate Baysia Knust, who said, “Lions don’t put their hair up.”

The comment really made an impact on one of the metro’s premier sprinters.

“I usually put my hair up, but when Baysia said that I thought, ‘She’s right.’ So I left it down and have had pretty good races since,” Davis said.

Last Saturday in O’Fallon, Mo., the senior sprinter advanced to Saturday’s Missouri State Track and Field Championships at Battle High School in Columbia (see related story) in three events with third-place finishes in the 100 meters (12.14 seconds), 200 (25.60) and 300 hurdles (46.47). The top four finishers in each event advanced to state.

“This is a bittersweet time for me,” said Davis, who competed at South this season after starring at crosstown rival Blue Springs in previous campaigns, earning three all-state honors as a sophomore (third in the 300 hurdles and helping the 400 and 800 relay teams to seventh-place finishes). “I was apprehensive about coming to South, but some things spiraled out of control and my family moved, and I came to South and everyone immediately made me feel right at home – like I was a part of their family.”

And leading the welcoming committee was coach Ryan Unruh.

“Cori is really our only senior, and the only senior who qualified for state,” Unruh said as they walked off the South track Wednesday evening following her last pre-state practice. “And she has been the mama bear to all the young kids on our team. They love her. She is the running partner for my daughter, who loves her like a big sister, and she has been great for our program.

“Really, I don’t know where we’d be without her. And I think it’s important to give her every opportunity to have some individual success at state, so we’re running her in the 100, 200 and 300 hurdles.”

Davis said that she had a talk with Unruh, who explained that it was more important to him that since she had dedicated herself to the track program at South, for her to get individual success rather than anchor youth-based relay teams that might not have the chance to medal.

“That meant so much to me,” Davis said. “We’re just a few days away from my last high school meet and that just doesn’t seem real to me. I don’t want to get all emotional, but this meet means everything to me. I want to represent my team, my school, my coaches and everyone who has made this season so special.”

She added that one thing that will make this weekend a bit easier to handle emotionally is that she recently signed to continue her track career at the University of Memphis.

“I am so blessed – so blessed to have a mama that worked so hard to get schools to know about me, and so blessed to be going to a school that already feels like home,” Davis said, praising her mother, Cindy Ott-Davis, who contacted coaches throughout the country to let them know about her daughter.

“The best thing about Memphis is that some schools have some things you check on your list, but Memphis has all of them. I’m not going there because I have to go there – because that was my only offer. I’m going there because I love the school and the team and the coaches. It couldn’t be a better fit for me.”

Which she said is important because South was the perfect fit for her final year of high school.

“I made straight A’s,” Davis explained. “I joined DECA. I ran cross country, yes, I ran cross country, because I wanted to get to know the girls on the team and become familiar with them before school even started.

“I owe so many thank yous to so many people, and I just want all of them to know what they mean to me and will always mean to me. It’s been a dream year, and now, I’m hoping for a dream finish at state.”