By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Nixa, Mo. — While it’s not quite as enjoyable for spectators, runners love the colder temps.
Tuesday’s cross country championship for the Central Ozark Conference Large Division featured brisk and breezy temps in the low 50s, and 112 varsity runners from nine schools were up to the challenge.
The girls race featured a handful of runners capable of turning in a winning performance; however, Willard’s Sydney Pyrah quickly rendered that discussion moot.
The sophomore raced out to a fast start and then ran away from a competitive field, finishing in a personal best 19:06.50.
Pyrah bested her previous time by 30 seconds, attributing the success to a grueling first-mile pace.
“I think my first mile is my best mile to get out and get going,” Pyrah said. “I knew that if I went out hard on my first mile, I could push the second and third. Today, I just pushed myself as hard as I could to do whatever I could to win.”
While it’s always an honor to win an individual race, Pyrah’s victory featured a special bonus.
Jason Pyrah, former Olympian and official starter for the meet, moonlights as Sydney’s father in his spare time.
“It seems like yesterday that it was me out here competing,” the elder Pyrah said. “To think I’ve got a kid already that’s running in high school, and to have her come out and win a conference championship, it puts a smile on your face … it really does.”
Webb City’s Cami Roy finished second in 19:19.9, and Branson’s Madeline Caruthers rounded out the top three with a time of 19:41.0.
In the team competition, Webb City edged Branson for the overall title by a 51-67 margin.
The Lady Cardinals placed three runners in the top ten and all five in the top 16 to pull off the victory.
Webb City girls and boys head coach Dustin Miller attributed the strong showing to great training and mental toughness.
“Our girls were just mentally tough,” Miller said. “I knew we could run like that, but we’ve only done it once this season, and it was on a tough, hilly course. To see that on a fast course, it’s a good sign going forward.”
The boys race proved to be yet another showcase for one of the state’s top runners in Webb City’s Ryan Riddle.
Riddle led the race wire-to-wire and finished with a season-best time of 15:30.7.
Carthage’s Clayton Whitehead and Branson’s Keifer Dooley finished second and third in 16:12.5 and 16:13.3, respectively.
The Cardinal senior talked about enjoying the favorable weather conditions.
“I love this kind of weather,” Riddle said. “The cold air is really better for me. My goal today was just to take it out hard and see what happened,”
Riddle, the state track and field 3200 meter champion, has his sights set on adding a cross country title, as well, this season.
A major threat to that goal has emerged this season in the form of Victor Mugeche.
The Blue Springs senior posted a blistering 15:11.4 PR earlier this season, and edged Riddle later in a highly-anticipated showdown at the Rim Rock Classic in Lawrence, Kan.
Should both reach the Jefferson City state final, as expected, the state record of 15:22.40 could be in jeopardy. While Meguche has certainly been posting solid times, as of late, Riddle feels he has plenty of time still out on the course to drop.
“I think my struggle is definitely in the middle part,” Riddle said. “Just mental focus. If I can work on that, I should be just fine going in with him.”
Riddle’s individual victory helped pace the Webb City boys to the overall title. The Cardinals bested Nixa by a narrow, 39-46 margin.
Coach Miller attributed the victory to his team’s strong finishes, especially in the middle of the pack.
“The Nixa team; they beat us earlier in the year, and they brought it today. That was a great race with good finishes. Our number 2, 3 and 4 could have easily given up a point, but they finished and caught a person. For us, that was all the difference.”
Miller also noted a pleasant surprise for the team who continues to pay dividends.
“We’ve been struggling at the five-spot all year,” Miller said. “But Greyson Trenberth, a senior, decided after Rim Rock, ‘I’m that man.’ He ran so courageous today, and he didn’t have anything else to give us.”