By Michael Cignoli (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
NIXA – As runners crossed the finish line at the Riann Lubinski Invitational on Tuesday afternoon, their final times, places and team scores weren’t their most immediate concern.
Those were the kinds of things best discussed around a water cooler.
When officials fired the gun for the start of the first of four races at Inman Intermediate School, thermometers read a blistering 93 degrees. The unseasonably high temperature affected the strategies of each of the four individual champions, leading to four distinctly different outcomes.
But no matter where a runner placed in the pack, his or her post-race trip to the water cooler – or the bathtub filled with water near the finish line – was likely done in personal-record time.
Republic’s Gracie Troester, for example, won the large-school girls race in decisive fashion – finishing a full 48 seconds clear of any other competitor. Nearly five full minutes after the race ended, she still had not even checked to see her own time — much less her margin of victory.
“I have actually no idea,” the sophomore said. “I crossed the finish line and I just wanted water.”
Troester reached the finish line in 20 minutes, 36.1 seconds – and the elusive water coolers a few seconds after that. Coincidentally, she did so by eluding a competitor named Rebecca Waterman, a Parkview runner who came in a distant second place in 21 minutes, 24.1 seconds.
It was the largest margin of victory on a day that also saw Branson’s Tristen Bough, Lamar’s Kiersten Potter and New Covenant Academy’s David Kendall win their respective races.
Nixa’s boys and girls swept the large-school team titles at the annual event bearing the name of the former Nixa High School teacher and standout runner who lost her battle with cancer in 2020. Lamar’s boys and the College Heights Christian girls had the best small-school team scores.
Troester’s time was a full 82 seconds off her personal-record time of 19 minutes, 14 seconds, which she set last season. But with the Gans Creek Classic looming on Saturday – and the unrelenting heat in full force – this was hardly the day to try to shave any time off that mark.
“(My coach) was like ‘Go out and try your hardest, but make sure it’s like a basic practice so that you don’t run out of energy for Saturday,” Troester said. “I just went out and did what I normally do at practice when it’s hot and ran at a relaxed pace.”
Runners completed two laps around the Inman Intermediate School course, which is heavily shaded in the second half of each lap. The first half offers very little shade, and there was almost no cloud cover for any of the races – another reason to take it easy.
“I was going slower over here so I wasn’t going to pass out – because the heat definitely gets to runners,” Troester said. “When I entered the shade, I made sure to pick up my pace so I was still getting even splits.”
Bough, who won the large-school boys race, employed a similar strategy – and actually trailed Monett’s Julio Cruz for the majority of the first two laps.
It wasn’t until he reached a landmark on the final lap that he finally overtook Cruz.
“There’s a stop sign up at that top hill there,” Bough said. “That’s my 800-meter mark and that’s where I go. We have a big, long downhill and usually catch momentum.”
Bough, a junior, said he has been taking off at that stop sign since his eighth-grade year. He finished in 16 minutes, 36.71 seconds, about four seconds ahead of Cruz.
For Bough, who has his sights set on an all-state finish, the heat presented a unique opportunity.
“Working in the heat like this, it’s not something you get very often,” Bough said. “It really builds up your stamina.”
Bough said he was encouraged by the time, having just competed at Missouri State Southern University on Saturday.
“Coming off a race like MSSU only three days ago, I knew the legs were going to be a little bit tired,” he said. “You could see most of the varsity runners weren’t actually out here because they were resting their legs. That’s just something I feel like you have to fight through.”
Potter, of Lamar, was engaged in her own battle with Spokane’s Lily Hunsucker during the small-school girls race, as the pair of all-state runners were neck-and-neck throughout the race.
“She’s really good on stretches. … I just had to go with her,” Potter said. “It’s just that mentality. Just keep up with them and keep going, even though it’s super hot.”
Potter trailed the fellow senior at the start of the second lap, but overtook her and held on for the win. Potter finished in 20 minutes, 10.07 seconds, just over three seconds ahead of Hunsucker.
“My coach just kept saying ‘You can get away from her. You can drive.’” Potter said. “He could see that I could do a lot better. I’m glad I pushed myself on the second lap.”
The small-school boys race saw a Lamar runner get passed on the last lap, as New Covenant’s Kendall overtook Lamar’s Blaine Breshears and pulled away in the last kilometer.
“There’s a big hill and I was just trying to push up that hill because I didn’t know where he was behind me,” Kendall said.
Kendall finished in an even 17 minutes, 54 seconds – 16.7 seconds clear of the field.
Given the forecast, Kendall’s coach had asked him to conserve energy in the first half of the race and save it for the second half. It’s something Kendall had struggled with in previous races, but it worked to perfection on Tuesday.
“In a hot race like this, I think it really helps keep your metal state good,” Kendall said. “You’re still feeling fresh and then really kick it when everyone else is starting to feel a little tired.”
Nixa had seven of the top 12 finishers in the large-school boys race, and their team score of 37 was well ahead of runner-up Branson’s 84. The Eagles also had six of the top 13 girls finishers to post a field-best 28 points, which was 14 clear of Republic.
All five of College Heights Christian’s giving placed in the top 10, giving them a small-school-best total of 32. Mansfield was second with 50.
Led by Breshears, Lamar’s boys placed four runners in the top seven and also scored a meet-best 32 points. Springfield Catholic finished as the runner-up with 97.