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Casey leads Eagles' pack to title

By Bill Althaus
Grain Valley’s Ella Casey breaks from the pack to claim a victory in the Suburban Middle Six cross country championship Saturday at Grain Valley North Middle School. The Eagles also won the team crown, winning six of the top 10 spots..

After crossing the finish line all alone in first place Saturday morning at the Suburban Middle Six Conference cross country meet, Grain Valley junior Ella Casey broke into a wide smile.

It had nothing to do with her dominating performance – winning in a time of 20 minutes, 49.21 seconds. She was grinning because teammate Annalynn Earley (21:43.70) used a sprinter’s mentality to overcome Truman’s Jayda Cisco (21:47.95) to earn second place Saturday at Grain Valley North Middle School.

Then, living up to the Eagles’ running-with-the-pack mentality, Lilly Ogle finished in fourth (22:11.91), Valerie Holcomb fifth (22:22.44), Lexie Nicholson sixth (22:31.11) and Kayley Bell seventh (22:41.75) to help the Eagles claim the title in their first time in the larger division of the Suburban Conference.

Members of the Suburban Middle Six Conference champion Grain Valley girls cross country team are, from left, Annalynn Earley, Gabby Valverde, individual champion Ella Casey, Valerie Holcomb, Kayley Bell, Lexie Nicholson and Lilly Ogle.

“This is our home course and we really wanted to come out and run well and win conference, and we did,” said Casey, who was composed and seemed well rested minutes after her big win. “It was great to have some fans here cheering me on, and when I won and turned around and saw Annalynn and then all our teammates, it was just amazing. To have six girls in the top 10 is so cool. We’ve worked hard, and our hard work is paying off.”

Earley, the daughter of Fort Osage coach Chris Earley, said she was not going to be denied second place.

“I was so determined, I really wanted to get second place so I began to sprint,” Earley said. “I had people from Grain Valley and Fort Osage cheering for me and it really inspired me to do my best.

“And then to have six of our girls finish in the top 10 is unbelievable. It was a beautiful morning to run, and now we can have a lot of confidence going into our next meet.”

The six runners from Grain Valley and Cisco all earned first-team all-conference recognition. Eighth through 14th place received second-team honors.

Truman’s Molly McClung was ninth (23:03.61); Fort Osage’s Olivia Siefker was 10th (23:22.71); Truman’s Jewelia Nichol was 11th (23:29.78); Fort Osage’s Riley Filmore was 12th (24:16.46); Fort Osage’s Dakota Miller was 13th (24:25.21); and Truman’s Tania Olah was 14th (24:28.48).

Grain Valley finished in first with 18 points, followed by Truman (51), Fort Osage (69) and William Chrisman (98).

“Our girls have worked hard, and I’m so proud of them,” Grain Valley coach Nick Small said. “This is our home course, and that might have given us a bit of an advantage, but it’s also one of the toughest courses in the area because it’s so hilly.”

Casey agreed, adding, “It’s our home course, but it’s so hilly and it really is a hard course to run. That makes it even more special.”

The morning was also special for Chris Earley, who had three of his Fort Osage runners earn second-team all-conference honors, and then was able to congratulate his daughter for her second-place performance.

“Annalynn knows all my runners and they know her, and gosh, she’s been coming to these meets since she was this tall,” Earley said, with his hand about three feet off the ground. “So this is very, very special for our family. And I’m really proud of all my girls, too.”

Truman coach Marcus Summer was proud of Cisco’s third-place performance.

“Jayda went to the meet to win, and she was disappointed to finish in third place,” Summers said. “But that race is something she can learn from. She is a great runner right now and we all believe she is going to have a great career at Truman High School.

“Our girls placed second to a very good Grain Valley team and we’re young and should have some more great conference meets. And we’re also proud of Molly, Jewelia and Tania for finishing in the top 14.”