Nixa, Mo. — A cold and rainy Inman Elementary course played host to 163 runners from 13 area Class 5 schools during Saturday’s District 5 championship.
Kickapoo boys and West Plains girls captured overall team honors, while Nixa’s Eros Sustaita and Kickapoo’s Klarie Brown won the individual events.
A week after edging out West Plains by a single point in the Ozark Conference championship, Kickapoo captured a Class 4 District 5 title by the same margin.
Despite the pair of wins over the Zizzers, Kickapoo head coach Jeremy Goddard was quick to downplay the notion of a rivalry between the two schools.
“In 40 years of coaching, there’s only been about four years [West Plains] hasn’t brought home a trophy,” Goddard said. “To be a rivalry, we have to win every now and then, and we don’t beat them very often. So, to say we have a rivalry with them isn’t necessarily being fair to them. They are our goal and, if you even get close to them, you’re going to be where you want to be at the end. To have the chance to step in and beat them one time or two is pretty good.”
The victory wasn’t without a bit of controversy, as the initial results showed West Plains winning by seven points, 47-54.
Goddard thought the margin was a bit high at the time and, moments later, discovered the reason.
Kickapoo’s No. 3 finisher, Colby Garner, wasn’t listed on the results due to an apparent chip malfunction at the finish line.
Garner, a junior, finished 10th overall with a time of 16:59.0.
“It just didn’t pick it up,” Goddard said. “Sometimes, I guess, that happens. The foot chips are a little more accurate than the bib chips, because there isn’t as far to go. Maybe the chip was faulty — maybe it just freaked out — I don’t know.”
Once the results were recalculated, with Garner included, Kickapoo was declared the winner by a score of 49-50.
The Chiefs placed all five runners in the top 16 scoring positions, including Brady Bauder (2nd), Brooklyn Creehan (8th), Garner (10th), Tyler Harris (13th) and Brooks Barker (16th).
Nixa finished third in the team overall standings with 77 points, and Branson rounded out the top four with 129.
Nixa’s Eros Sustaita captured the boys individual title after a 200-meter dead sprint to the finish with Kickapoo’s Brady Bauder. The pair finished in 16:04.1 and 16:05.3, respectively.
Less than a week removed from winning the COC title — also on his home course — the Nixa senior ran a tactical race and stuck with Bauder and West Plains’ Riley Simpson.
As the race emerged from the woods into the long, final stretch, Sustaita knew he would likely have the advantage in finishing sprint.
“We came around the final curve and I didn’t know how much [Bauder] had left, but I saw he was slowing down,” Sustaita said. “I was, like, you know what — I think I’ve got this.”
West Plains continued its impressive leadup to the state series with a dominant victory 29-65 victory over runner-up Kickapoo in the team overall standings.
Spearheaded by a 3-4-5 finish from Mia Harris, Jayna Gunter and Brayden Kantola, the Lady Zizzers stacked all five runners in the top ten.
Kyia Wesibrod and Kaylee Labe finished 8th and 9th, respectively.
Gunter was quick to point out Wesibrod’s contribution to the team.
“Our all-star again today was Kyia Wesibrod,” Gunter said. “She’s run our seven spot all season long. She’s solid and dependable, but at conference … she was an all-star. Today, she was up there in the fourth spot, and that’s what we need right now. Everyone else ran their normal spot, so she was a bonus.”
The West Plains runners spent the majority of the race grouped in two bunches, which was by design, according to Gunter.
“I just really wanted them to run for team,” Gunter said. “I didn’t want to go out for any individual performances or individual wins. I want them to run as a team and just do what we’ve done all year long. I know today’s a special day because it’s do-or-die, but I try to get in their heads that today is what we do every other week — we follow the plan, we run as a team, we run in our groups and we run up on people. We try to practice for this every day.”
Nixa and Branson finished behind the top two teams with 115 and 121 points, respectively.
Kickapoo’s Klarie Brown captured individual honors with a finishing time of 19.11.7.
The freshman paced a tightly-grouped pack of four runners for most of the race until she was finally able to stretch her lead a bit in the final mile leading through the woods.
After the race, Goddard praised Brown’s poise and tactics.
“We talked about running smart — you can’t win it in the first mile, but you can lose it,” Goddard said. “She ran smart. She just kept the pace hot and and and just tried to keep them from hanging around. They let her lead, which I didn’t love, but sometimes leaders have to lead, and you just have to challenge everybody to go with you … and she did.”
Nixa’s Alicen Ashley was second with a time 19:21.1.