Southwest Missouri has not been No. 1 in Class 3 in a long time.
The last time an area team won Class 3 girls title was West Plains in 2008.
The last time an area runner won a Class 3 girls individual title was 2006 when West Plains’ Brittani Johnson did it.
The last time an area runner won a Class 3 boys individual title was 2002 when Republic’s Kenneth Bowling did it.
All of that history was against the Southwest Missouri runners coming into the meet, and all of it was smashed with the Bolivar girls, Marshfield senior Tabitha Weber and Catholic junior Stephen Kielhofner winning titles.
The Bolivar girls winning a team title surprised everyone. That included Coach Ron Bandy.
“Notre Dame Cape has got a great coach and they’re perennially on the podium. They’ve been just dominating the entire season. I just told the girls that we’re up there fighting for second place,” Bandy said. “First would be awesome, but a trophy is our goal. We were in the huddle before and I told them that, hey, it can’t get much more beautiful than what we’ve got today. And they just put it together. It was the right day at the right time.”
Leading the way was junior Kelie Henderson who finished six seconds back of Weber in 19:05.25. Sophomores Laci Lindsay (16th) and Anna Bandy (18th) also finished all-state. Senior Alena Fugitt (27th) and Jillian Porter (69th) rounded out the scorers for a Bolivar team that raced well top to bottom.
“Kellie was ranked top six, but really never thought second was going to be in the cards, and it was,” Bandy said. “Laci and Anna coming in at all-state and Alena coming in right there behind them, and Alena is kind of our glue and helps those girls stick together, and she did. Then Jillian Porter and Bri Halverson, holy moly. I kept telling them that No. 5 and 6 are going to make a difference, and they didn’t disappoint, they got it done.”
Henderson ran the race of her life with a smart and controlled strategy. She was ninth at the mile, fourth at the two mile and second for the finish.
“I knew I was in second place and when I was done I was just like, yes! Oh my god, I finally did it. I finally medaled in cross country. And I really wanted to get Tabitha because I’ve always been behind her. But you know what? I’m happy with what I did,” Henderson said. “I did my best and I got a personal best on this course and I can’t complain too much. Tabitha has been ranked so high this whole season, so if I get second to her I’m not going to complain one bit.”
The individual accolade pales in comparison to that team title though.
“I’m just glad we have the team we have. We’re so close to each other and winning that team title was just amazing, because, going in, we were ranked with our season-best and our average time to go in second, and to go in first is just amazing,” Henderson said.
Carl Junction finished 6th and Springfield Catholic was 10th to round out the area’s teams.
Weber’s win a culmination of a four-year journey
Marshfield senior Tabitha Weber had won it all. Conference and district titles along with countless other gold medals dot her accolades.
Only a state championship was missing, but after a run that lasted 18:59.22, that too has been marked off the list.
Prior to the race Weber knew she had a chance to win it, which is what her coach David Gray imparted on her prior to leaving her at a start line one final time.
“(I told) her that I love her and I thanked her for the last five seasons, and that I couldn’t be more proud. And that if she wants the title then she should go take it, pure and simple,” Gray said.
“This is when we can really show them how much we have worked together. It is not just a runner and it is not just a coach; it is a team thing,” Weber said. “That is what was going through my head. He has gotten me here and I just need to prove that I have retained everything he told me.”
Weber had a battle on her hands throughout, but when COC Small rival Kelie Henderson was trying to make a push up Firehouse Hill, Gray had one final piece of advice for his star runner.
“There is a hill in Marshfield that we train specifically for this hill. We call it upchuck because if you run it enough you want to throw up,” Gray said. “I just started screaming hammer and she took off. She knew what to do. I screamed it and she took off like it was nobody’s business, and once she did that I knew she had it because she pulled away.”
Weber never looked back, and she was not about to relinquish her No. 1 spot despite the tough uphill finish at the state course.
“I was really just remembering all of the exercises that we did in practice for arms and hammering at the end,” Weber said. “I knew in order to get I was going to really have to throw my elbows back and charge to the finish line.”
Now Weber can forever call herself a state champion as she heads off to SBU next year. Even though she won’t run for Gray anymore, their relationship will endure.
“She has given me five seasons (that were) just a blast. We jokingly call her my kid and she is. This one is the greatest kid you could ever coach,” Gray said. “The fact that she gets to go do greater things makes me happy.”
In addition to Weber and the three Bolivar girls, the area had four other all-state finishes.
Catholic senior Anna Galligos (17th), Nevada freshman Calli Beshore (21st), East Newton junior Kinsey Sorrell (23rd) and Reeds Spring junior Rachel Bagg (25th) all earned all-state honors.
Kielhofner makes it two state titles in two different classes
Last year Catholic’s Stephen Kielhofner romped to a state championship by 23 seconds in Class 2.
When the new class assignments came out this summer, Catholic was moved up to Class 3.
That meant Kielhofner would have to see Ste. Genevieve’s Ben Naeger. Naeger won the Class 3 state championship in a time of 15:34.56 last year. It was the second-fastest time recorded by any runner on that day, and 39 seconds better than Kielhofner.
With that in mind, Kielhofner knew he would have his hands full on Saturday morning.
“I was freaking out the night before,” Kielhofner said. “I actually only got an hour and a half of sleep. I hadn’t run with him before. I was just so excited.”
It would turn out Kielhofner would have nothing to worry about. The two came through the two-mile together in 9:57.
“The first mile actually felt really good. It’s a state race and you’re just full of adrenaline, so the first mile is always going to feel really good. The second mile, the plan was I was going to have to drop a really fast second mile,” Kielhofner said. “I didn’t follow through but luckily I was able to pass Ben Naeger on Firehouse Hill. Which surprised me, actually, since Ste. Genevieve is known to be pretty great at hills. I guess it just worked out and I was able to kick past him on that hill.”
The Catholic junior ran a 5:08.83 for his third mile, which was eight seconds better than Naeger to put the race away.
“It was a great race. I’m super glad I was able to run with Ben Naeger. I wish I could have ran with him more because he’s a great guy and a great runner. He really pushed me,” Kielhofner said. “I know I would not have gotten that time if he wasn’t there. It was definitely going to be an interesting race, we all knew that, and I’m glad he was there to run with.”
Just behind the front two was Bolivar junior Nathan Painter who held off Festus’ Maxwell McDaniel down the homestretch for third place.
“I got to the finish and I didn’t even know he was on me. I just heard so much yelling,” Painter said. “I just found another gear and I was gone. I didn’t even know how close he was to that point.”
The area had two more all-state finishes in Buffalo junior Trenton Wells (17th) and Bolivar sophomore Tracen McKinney (22nd).
In the team competition, Bolivar was 6th, Catholic was 11th and Cassville finished 15th.