By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Since 1976, the state cross country championships have been held in in Jefferson City. The Oak Hill course, home to legendary firehouse hill, has become a source of heroics, nostalgia and — depending on your perspective — nightmares.
While the meet is set to move north to Columbia in 2019, 1,346 high school runners in four classes took one final stab at history on Saturday.
It was a banner day for Bolivar in the Class 3 competition.
The Liberator girls racked up 77 points to capture the overall title over 94 from runner-up Festus.
Bolivar was paced by a pair of all-state finishers in senior Anna Bandy (7th – 20:14.35) and sophomore Mackenzie Duncan (13th – 20:26.07).
Liberators head coach Ron Bandy credited his squad’s chemistry and close-knit relationships with one another for the successful season-long journey.
“It’s been beautiful to watch,” Bandy said. “Probably the closest group of kids — top to bottom, girls and boys — that I’ve ever had.”
The genesis, according to Bandy, occurred early in the summer.
“We’ve always had a summer program, but they just started running together,” Bandy said. “To be honest with you, though, it was the boys. They got close, and then they started texting the ladies and said, ‘Hey, we want you here on Saturday and Sunday with us.’ The boys just brought the girls together.”
Sophomore Cora Stimpson, junior Sara Green and junior Jillian Porter rounded out Bolivar’s top-five scorers in the race, which was won by Christian sophomore Mercedes Schroer (19:36.26).
The area’s other all-state finishers included Willow Springs freshman Bethany Waggoner (23rd – 20:47.20) and Aurora freshman Kaci Singer (25th – 20:49.84).
Bolivar missed out on a double team victory in the boys race, finishing runner-up to Festus (43-71).
Festus senior Maxwell McDaniel winning time of 16:12.10 bested the 16:25.89 posted by Notre Dame Cape Girardeau junior Blake Morris.
Bolivar senior Caleb Pyle was the area’s top finisher, tallying a 16:40.11 time for fifth place overall.
Locked in a dead sprint over the final 100 meters with Herculaneum junior Jonathon Coffman, Pyle pushed forward in a gritty finish to capture valuable points for Bolivar’s cause.
“I needed to do it for my boys,” Pyle said. “I got into the last 200 and all I could think was, ‘We need this trophy,’ and I didn’t know what the odds were, but I was just going out there. I saw that guy and I was, like, ‘I need to get this point. Every point matters.’”
The area’s other all-state finishers included Rogersville junior Jay Strausbaugh (8th – 16:52.38), Bolivar junior Peter Bowling (9th – 16:54.41), Rogersville sophomore Landon Hendrickson (13th – 17:07.13), Bolivar senior Tracen McKinney (18th – 17:16.03) and Springfield Catholic junior Jack DelVecchio (22nd – 17:17.68).