By Nolan Epstein (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Stockton Tigers boys and girls cross country teams proved they were up to the task on Thursday as both groups finished at the top of their respective divisions at the Mid-Lakes Cross Country meet in Fair Grove.
While the boys race unfolded into a fairly easy victory ahead of second-place Strafford, much higher drama was showcased on the girls end as the Tigers were able to fend off a poised Ash Grove squad, 27 to 31.
For Stockton head coach T.J. Sanderson, who built the program from scratch nine years ago, the possibility of a nail-biter in the chase for first was a foregone conclusion.
“That’s kind of what we expected,” Sanderson said of the tight battle. “We just wanted to be on this side of it.”
In fact, Ash Grove’s Ashley Rolewicz nabbed the top spot to give the Pirates a fighting chance – finishing with a time of 22:58, which was good enough to finish 27 seconds ahead of Stockton runner-up Luella Bradshaw (22:55).
However, along with Bradshaw, teammates Melissa Bowles (25:57), Sarah Hottes (26:46), Liana Bothman (27:25), Shanae Potts (27:36) and Raelene Angle-Graves (28:26) all finished in the Top 15 for the Tigers, compared to three Top 15 runners on the day for Ash Grove.
In the end, it was enough to make all the difference and infuse plenty of optimism into a team that’s ready to continue its success come district time.
“Hopefully, we can take this momentum into districts,” said Sanderson. “I know they’re all pumped up here. They can take the next couple weeks to practice, really get after it and do what we need to do to get ourselves into position to be there.”
With significantly less tension in the boys race when it came to claiming a team victory, Stockton made it known it was the clear team to beat in the conference – running away from second-place Strafford for a 44-point margin win.
The Indians have made a habit of pushing Stockton back into a second-place finish in recent years, but due to roster turnover and improvements made by the Tiger runners, the script was flipped for 2017.
“We kind of knew this year going in that we were going to have a leg up because (Strafford) graduated some, and our boys just kept getting better,” said Sanderson. “We weren’t really that surprised. We knew that it was going to be a tighter race on the girls side. Just keeping (the boys) healthy was going to be key.”
The top 20 spots were flooded with Tigers as eleven runners from the school managed to take a spot within that range. Junior Bryson Coulter (18:06) took top honors in the race, while teammate Tyler Adams (18:09) pulled in right behind him for second.
Joseph Dearman, Cody Bock, Morgan Thomas and Justin Harrison also finished in the Top 10 for the Tigers to earn medals. Strafford’s Patrick Davis (18:39) finished in third place and represented the first non-Stockton runner to cross the finish line.
The recent success on the boys side has perhaps introduced a much-welcomed turning point for Sanderson’s unit, particularly when it comes to individual achievements.
“Our guys that were at state last year are that much better,” he added. “I think now, instead of having everybody on the cusp of all-state, we’ve got two, three or maybe even four that have a chance of being right up there.”
Girls Individual Results (Top 10)
1. Ashley Rolewicz, Ash Grove, 22:28
2. Luella Bradshaw, Stockton, 22:55
3. Madelynn Ward, Strafford, 23:37
4. Ella Fabro, Strafford, 23:56
5. Jocelyn Lane, Pleasant Hope, 25:31
6. Hallie Vaughn, Ash Grove, 25:43
7. Melissa Bowles, Stockton, 25:57
8. Erin Hall, Ash Grove, 26:14
9. Taylor Pinon, Skyline, 26:43
10. Sarah Hottes, Stockton, 26:46
Girls Team Results
1. Stockton, 27
2. Ash Grove, 31
Boys Individual Results (Top 10)
1. Bryson Coulter, Stockton, 18:06
2. Tyler Adams, Stockton, 18:09
3. Patrick Davis, Strafford, 18:36
4. Joseph Dearman, Stockton, 18:39
5. Ryan Odom, Fair Grove, 18:57
6. Cody Bock, Stockton, 19:02
7. Gavin Stanton, Marionville, 19:10
8. Morgan Thomas, Stockton, 19:14
T9. Justin Harrison, Stockton, 19:23
T9. Austin Woodring, Strafford, 19:23
Boys Team Results
1. Stockton, 21
2. Strafford, 65
3. Skyline, 95
4. Marionville, 103
5. Fair Grove, 125
6. Ash Grove, 126