After earning his spot in the state cross country meet, Grain Valley senior Royce Fisher did all he could to keep from having to go there alone.
“After I finished, I watched as the other boys came through and my teammate barely missed it by one spot,” Fisher said. “So I just wanted to make sure the girls weren’t in that same position. ‘I was screaming at them how bad do you want it? Do you want to get there again?’”
Fisher, of course, can’t take all the credit for having fellow Eagles Valerie Holcomb and Ella Casey crack the top 30 in last Saturday’s Class 4 sectional girls race. But it never hurts to have a teammate cheering you on. And now they’ll get to cheer each other on another week, which is a pretty special accomplishment for all three.
For the first time since moving up to Class 4 four years ago, Grain Valley will have more than one representative in the state cross country meet, which takes place Saturday on the brand-new Gans Creek Cross Country Course in Columbia. That’s not enough boys or girls to compete as a team, but Grain Valley coach Nick Small said it still shows progress competing in the biggest class.
“We’ve had individual qualifiers in Class 4 the past few years, but this is the first time that we’ve had multiple, so we’re pretty excited about that,” Small said. “It’s been good to see that progression for sure, and we just hope to continue to build on that.”
Holcomb and Casey have qualified before, but this will be their first time together. Holcomb, a junior, was the Eagles’ representative her freshman year but just missed qualifying as a sophomore. That made her all the more determined when she arrived at the Wildflower course in Liberty last week.
“Last year, not making it really kind of motivated me,” said Holcomb, who finished 25th overall. “I thought to myself like I can’t let myself do that again.”
Casey, a sophomore, is going for the second straight time after making it last year as a freshman. Her second trip didn’t come easy: she finished 30th, and the 31st place runner was only .10 of a second behind her.
“It was hard,” Casey said. “In the middle of the race it gets tough and you have to stay strong. And I barely made it.”
Said Small: “It was definitely a lot of fun just to see them compete throughout the race. Both of them have qualified in separate years, but being able to see them do it together is kind of cool. The tenacity they raced with was refreshing to see.”
Fisher had the more comfortable run to state, and his ninth-place finish makes him a contender to place in the top 25 and earn all-state honors Saturday. But he is the only rookie on the Eagles’ qualifying trio. A state qualifier in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters in track, Fisher had come up short his previous three tries in cross country.
“Honestly, there was kind of a fire that was lit in him after last year at sectionals not really going his way,” Small said. “He was a changed athlete from that moment on. Not that he wasn’t doing the things before, there was just there’s a different hunger there and passion.”
Getting all three to state has helped raise cross country’s profile at Grain Valley. They have all enjoyed the extra recognition that comes from having more than one entry.
After Saturday, they hope to be even more recognized around the school.
“I’m looking forward to seeing them compete,” Small said. “I know that each one of them the fire is still lit. Sometimes we see kids that are excited just to get there. But I know every single one of them is hungry to go down there and do something.”
Blue Springs South has a full girls team at state for the sixth consecutive season. Sophomore Mya Trober, a runner-up to Columbia Rock Bridge’s Carolyn Ford at districts and sectionals, should be among the top finishers in the Class 4 girls race. Ford’s time of 18 minutes, 11.80 seconds in the Class 4 District 7 meet at Lee’s Summit North is the fastest run in the state this season.
Brock Wooderson of Blue Springs will be a top contender in the Class 4 boys race. Wooderson, a junior, also placed second at both districts and sectionals. Wooderson and the other Class 4 boys will likely be chasing Wes Porter of Rockhurst, whose 14:53.9 at sectionals was the third-fastest 5K ever run in Missouri, according to Missouri Mile Split.
Gans Creek, which just opened this fall, replaces the Oak Hills Golf Course in Jefferson City as the home of the state cross country meet. The meet had been held at Oak Hills since 1982.