Glendale’s Spencer Haik and Chris Mooneyham had finished in the top two of three races so far this season, so it came as no surprise when the Falcon duo were also the first two to pop over the final hill towards the finish line of the Ozark Conference Cross Country Championships on Saturday at Springfield Lake.
The consistent close finishes are no accident.
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“In cross country it is much easier to run with someone who has similar abilities. In cross country we always try to teach them to pack. They are a pack by themselves,” Glendale head coach Jeff Berryessa said. “It has become a natural mix those two together.”
It is a mix the two runners appreciate.
“We have been running like this all season. We train like that. We are always together in all the races. I am glad to have him with me,” Haik said.
On this day Haik got the better of Mooneyham in a time of 16:09.52. Mooneyham was on his heels at 16:13.84.
The win marked Haik’s first Ozark Cross Country title and his fourth victory of the season overall. Haik, a successful track runner, is still getting used to breaking the tape first over the rolling hills of the cross country course.
“This season is my first time winning any cross country meets. I am not really as much of a cross country guy,” Haik said. “I have evolved this year I guess.”
Kickapoo’s Ian Frazier battled the Glendale duo for much of the race, but faded to third in a time of 16:30. Joplin’s Matt Riechman-Bennet and Parkview’s Cameron Byrley rounded out the top five in times of 16:49.90 and 16:50.43, respectively.
The team race was won by the West Plains and its tight pack.
The Zizzers didn’t put any runners in the top five, but all five of the scoring runners finished between sixth and 12th to score the winning total of 43 points, which was 19 points better than second-place Kickapoo’s 62-point output.
Zizzer head cross country coach Joe Bill Dixon, now in his 35th-year at the helm of West Plains, knows the strength of his team is in its depth.
“I have had several years where the power of the team lay in the pack and this is one of those teams,” said. “We have a lot of depth. About our eighth or ninth man (Kameron Moss) subbed in today and he ended up fourth today on this team. We have that kind of depth. What we don’t have is any one great runner, but we have nine or 10 good runners.”
Glendale finished third in the boys’ team race with 70 points, but the Falcons have improved as a team as the season has progressed. In the opening meet of the year, Glendale finished 56 points behind Kickapoo in a 93-runner field. On Saturday, the Falcons were just eight points back of the Chiefs in a 65-runner field.
The girls’ race was eerily similar to the boys’ race with Glendale taking the individual title and West Plains and Kickapoo finishing first and second in the team competition.
Glendale senior Ellyn Atkinson ended up winning the race, but it was Camdenton’s Tessa Weber that was out front early that forced Atkinson to wait for the right moment to attack.
“She is a very patient runner. She is very strong,” Berryessa said. “She knew that it would make no sense to try and catch the leader in the first small bit of a race. So she just stayed with her until the other person backed off the pace and then she made her determination to go at that point.”
And go Atkinson did.
She rolled to a time of 19:23.34 to easily win the Ozark Conference title and finish 23 seconds ahead of Weber.
The win has been a long time in the making for Atkinson.
“This is a big deal,” Atkinson said. “It feels awesome because last year and injury took me out of this race and that was pretty devastating. This year I wanted to take my revenge on the course.”
The West Plains duo of Lauren Franz and Lindsey Hutchinson finished third and fifth. Parkview senior Sayra Villela was sandwiched in between the two in fourth.
West Plains used a solid second pack behind its front two to win with 57 points. Kickapoo posted 71 points in second and Rolla was third with 77 points.
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