By Nolan Epstein (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Liberators head coach Ron Bandy has been steadily maintaining a culture of success at Bolivar for years. On Tuesday, both his boys and girls cross country teams made sure the rest of the COC Small remembered that.
Highlighted by Top 10 finishes by three Bolivar runners in each varsity division, the Liberators took the top spot on the boys and girls side at the COC Small XC meet in Hollister – adding another accolade to a pair of decorated programs.
“We’ve been blessed,” Bandy said of his teams following the sweep. “I’ve got good kids who work hard together, and they just kind of brought each other up over the last few weeks. Not that we haven’t had success this season, but today was proof of how hard these kids have worked and how bad they want it.”
The impressive showing acted as an instant replay of sorts for Bolivar as the Liberators also completed a sweep in the same event last season. You can bet that wasn’t lost on their competition, who knew they were in for a tall challenge.
Bandy’s group embraced the test – and passed with flying colors as each runner recorded a personal record in the process and finished no lower than 18th place.
“We have a target on us and teams have pointed that arrow on us, and they’re going to come get it,” said Bandy. “If we don’t start making that transition today heading into these next couple of weeks, we’re not going to get it done. They answered my call today.”
Kelie Henderson, a second-place finisher in last year’s race, perhaps put up the most notable performance of the day for Bolivar as the senior literally ran away from the competition and finished the course with a time of 18:23.67, nearly a full minute ahead of teammate and runner-up Laci Lindsay in the girls race (19:12.48).
For Henderson, the biggest difference came in the latter stages of the run.
“I started out a little too fast at the beginning and my two-mile (time) was a little behind what it was at Chile Pepper (Cross Country Festival), so I knew I had to make up some ground there,” Henderson said. “Overall, I think I did a really good job. I just kept pushing myself.”
Anna Bandy, the fifth-place finisher and the third Liberator to claim a spot in the Top 5, recorded a time of 19:16.78. All told, the Bolivar girls team finished with a score of 23, 21 points better than second-place Catholic (44).
In the boys race, Bolivar was paced by junior Caleb Pyle (16:11.81) who took second place overall. He was followed by a pair of fellow Liberators in the Top 10 – fourth-place finisher Tracen McKinney (16:28.85) and Peter Bowling (17:12.78), who earned the tenth spot.
The performance was good enough to best a strong Rogersville squad, 39 to 56.
“They just have some talented kiddos and they had us,” Bandy said of Rogersville, which took second place as a team. “In the huddle, we talked about each man having to do their job. Each guy has to get their piece of the puzzle put together and each one responded. Man, they just got it done today and just kind of rose up.”
Taking the prize for first place individually on the boys side was Buffalo’s Trenton Wells, who embraced a temperature that fell to the low 50s during the meet.
“This is the weather I run best in,” said Wells. “Once it starts getting cold is when I start getting fast.”