Joplin boys, Republic girls win COC XC team titles

By Michael Cignoli (For OzarksSportsZone.com)

NIXA — The Central Ozark Conference crowned three new champions and a fourth repeated at its annual end-of-year cross country meet on Tuesday afternoon at Inman Intermediate School.

The Joplin boys won their first team title in school history, ending Webb City’s seven-year run atop the conference, and the Republic girls won their first conference title under 12th-year head coach Christie Bishop, who said it was also believed to be the first such win in program history.

Neosho senior Kaden Cole crossed the line in 15 minutes, 49.6 seconds to win the boys race and claim his first individual conference title. Nixa senior Alicen Ashley was the only reigning COC champion to repeat, winning her third straight title with a time of 18 minutes, 50.9 seconds.

The meet was a far cry from last year’s event, which saw the boys and girls team races decided by a combined six points. Joplin ran away with the boys race, placing four runners in the top 14 to finish with 58 points, good enough for a 31-point victory over second-place Branson.

“We came in last year thinking we had a shot and just didn’t run very well,” Joplin coach Dustin Dixon said. “We came in today a little sharper focused and I think it showed.”

Joplin’s Hobbs Campbell finished in second place, .8 seconds behind Cole. Nicholas Horton (eighth), Zaben Barnes (11th), Chance Tindall (14th) and Ian Horton (23rd) rounded out the scoring as the Eagles avenged last year’s third-place finish and dethroned the longtime champs.

Webb City was fifth behind Willard and Nixa.

“We came in believing we were the best team and I think we’d shown that throughout the year,” Dixon said. “But believing you are one of the best teams in the conference and then showing it on a day like today are different things, right? We thought we were one of the best teams last year and Webb beat us pretty handily here. We feel pretty good about where we are and we’re looking forward to next weekend, going up to Bolivar and doing well at districts.”

CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS OF THE RACES

The Joplin girls won last year’s COC title — the school’s first in either gender — but finished second in a girls race that amounted to a four-way battle also involving Republic, Nixa and Webb City. The Tigers, who did not have enough runners to field a full team last year, recruited heavily in the offseason and went from not scoring at all in the event to winning it outright.

“I’m in shock,” Bishop said. “I really am. We’ve been trying so hard all year and the girls have just been amazing.”

Mihane Nambara finished third in 19 minutes, 5.2 seconds, leading four Republic runners who finished in the top 19. Gracie Troester (seventh), Misora Nambara (11th), Kristin Probst (19th) and Trinity Lawler (33rd) also scored for Republic, which finished with a field-best 74 points.

Joplin was eight points back with 82, while Nixa (87) and Webb City (90) were also in the mix. With so many potential champions, the Tigers leaned heavily on their scouting and strategy.

“We’ve really crunched the numbers of who we’ve got to beat and who this person has to be in front of,” Bishop said. “We just really made sure the girls knew where they needed to finish and they did. They executed it. They did exactly what they asked of them. We’re just super excited.”

Cole, the boys champion, shared that level of excitement after winning the conference title for the first time in his high school career. After finishing fourth in 16 minutes, 28.63 seconds last year, he dropped nearly 40 seconds off his time and outran Campbell in the closing leg.

“It feels great,” Cole said of being named champion. “I’ve been looking forward to this moment for the last three or four years. It feels good to come in and finally own that title.”

Cole said his time was — by far — a personal record on the Nixa course, but just behind his all-time best of 15 minutes, 37 seconds. He hopes to top that in the district or state meet.

“I’m starting to taper,” Cole said. “I’m just getting my speed back. The last couple of meets, I’ve just been dead from all the speed workouts. Definitely starting to feel the speed coming in.”

Ashley, the girls champion, finished seven seconds clear of Joplin’s Jennalee Dunn — a virtually identical margin of victory and result as last year’s race. Ashley, who was battling an illness, finished her final race on her home course about 33 seconds off her personal-record time.

“It means a lot to me just because it’s my third time in a row,” Ashley said. “It was a really great way to end my senior year. It’s my last time running this course and it’s my home course. For six years I’ve been running cross country for Nixa on this course. It felt really good ending it with the win.”

Ashley’s personal record of 18 minutes, 17 seconds is about five seconds behind the school record held by Olympic silver medalist Courtney Frerichs. One of Ashley’s preseason goals was to eclipse Frerichs’ record and she has a legitimate chance to do it at Nixa’s district meet.

“I really look up to her,” Ashley said. “Not because she was really fast and ran for Nixa, but I can just tell she’s a really, really good person. She’s always been very intentional with connecting with us, even though she has all of this fame. She always comes back. She always takes time to talk to me or text me personally about my races or how college searches are going. She’s definitely someone I’m inspired to not only run just as fast as, but be like her as a person.”

BOYS TEAM RESULTS

1. Joplin, 58
2. Branson, 89
3. Willard, 92
4. Nixa, 97
5. Webb City, 101
6. Ozark, 145
7. Neosho, 172
8. Republic, 190
9. Carthage, 211
10. Carl Junction, 223

BOYS MEDALISTS (TOP 10)

1. Kaden Cole (Neosho), 15:49.6
2. Hobbs Campbell (Joplin), 15:50.4
3. Gabriel Bauer (Ozark), 15:59.6
4. Thomas Shuster (Willard), 16:04.1
5. Roman Borboa (Webb City), 16:21.8
6. Dustin Brockmiller (Webb City), 16:23.2
7. Wes Hartman (Nixa), 16:28.6
8. Nicholas Horton (Joplin), 16:33.8
9. Tristen Bough (Branson), 16:39.2
10. Ethan Haynes (Republic), 16:40.5

GIRLS TEAM RESULTS

1. Republic, 74
2. Joplin, 82
3. Nixa, 87
4. Webb City, 90
5. Ozark, 111
6. Carl Junction, 133
7. Neosho, 143
8. Branson, 176
9. Willard, 221
10. Carthage, 261

GIRLS MEDALISTS (TOP 10)

1. Alicen Ashley (Nixa), 18:50.9
2. Jennalee Dunn (Joplin), 18:57.8
3. Mihane Nambara (Republic), 19:05.2
4. Riley Hawkins (Webb City), 19:10.2
5. Abigail Street (Webb City), 19:37.4
6. Elizabeth Kitchin (Ozark), 19:53.8
7. Gracie Troester (Republic), 19:54.8
8. Riley Kemna (Neosho), 19:54.8
9. Lilli Sever (Branson), 20:00.7
10. Adelyn Janssen (Nixa), 20:04.7

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