LIBERTY — Liberty boys cross country delivered one more spectacular performance this season as the team secured a third-place finish at the Missouri Class 5 meet on Saturday, Nov. 7 at Gans Creek in Columbia. It was the best finish for the team since the Blue Jays did the same in 2008.
Liberty scored 136 team points, only behind state champion Rock Bridge at 109 and runner-up St. Louis University High School at 125.
Sophomore Myles Thornburg navigated the group of 16-25 runners to complete the course with a time of 16:11.60 in 20th place. Junior Samuel Cleary fell into the middle of the next big pack as he took 31st with a time of 16:28.70.
Thornburg said it felt good to finish really high as an individual, but even better for the team take third place as they entered the race as underdog. The feeling was a lot different from the team’s trip to state last year when they went feeling like they could push for a state title to ultimately land in eighth.
“This year we were going in it with an underdog mentality,” Thornburg said. “I’m really proud of our team this year.”
Senior Sam Savastino finished five seconds back with a time of 16:33.70, which was a big enough gap to slide to 39th. Senior Kage Lenger found his way into the top 50 with his time of 16:40.50 while senior Brady Maher finished it off with a time of 16:48.70 to take 65th.
“It’s been a crazy year obviously,” head coach Jordan English said in an interview with Ryan Taylor of MileSplit. “We’re happy we could compete. We’re happy we are here with fans. That feels like a huge win.”
English was quick to note that because of a change with how district qualifying worked this year without a sectional meet, his team easily could have been bounced the week before without a chance to compete for a team trophy at all.
“We knew one of the biggest challenges was to get out of our district,” English said. “That’s a weird spot to be in.”
Liberty also finished third at that event, running up against St. Joe Central and Liberty North along with countless other teams featuring elite runners packed into a district race that would only push through two automatic team qualifiers.
Just like most coaches for teams Liberty was competing against, English reminded his team they needed all five runners to stay in the top 15 to secure a chance to compete for a team score at state.
Blue Jays specifically needed its senior leader to close hard in the fifth spot of that race.
Kenneth “Kage” Lenger III, who often captures attention of spectators with his endless energy only partially contained by the Oakley sunglasses he sports on the course, pushed past the final group of top 20 runners, which included four Liberty North runners, to take 14th and give the Blue Jays a chance to accomplish what they did at state.
English referred to Lenger as both general and the captain of the team. His positive personality clearly lifts the spirits of his teammates, English said, in a sport that needs every ounce of energy to continue pushing through the finish line. Lenger said his attitude on the course is the same as it is off the course.
“I’m just a happy and excited kid,” Lenger said. “I like going out and competing. Every time I get to compete, it’s kind of a blessing.”
English said his team set the goal of a team trophy to start the year and they thought going into the meet they’d have an advantage facing such a larger field.
“We knew if we could get here we’d have more of a chance with just more bodies,” English said. “We think that this field was better suited for our team than a smaller district meet.”
After the Eagles finished 1 point ahead of the Blue Jays for a conference title and for second-place at districts, Liberty North finally had to settle for one spot behind their crosstown rival.
The Eagles were still happy with their finish as the team landed the final team trophy. Liberty North took fourth place with a score of 142, edging out district champion St. Joe Central at 145.
“We were watching the standings with Liberty,” junior Ethan Lee said. “We watched them go, then we saw our name next and we were ecstatic. It was awesome.”
Lee secured the top finish for area runners in the Class 5 boys race, placing third with a time of 15:40.60.
“We were all packed up for a while and then we started to separate,” Lee said. “I just tried to hold on to the top guys.”
Senior Luis Perezruiz found his way to the top 40 with his time of 16:33.70 while seniors Sam Travis and Justin King slid to 47 and 49 while finishing just a few seconds back. Travis had a time of 16:37.90 and King completed the race in 16:39.40.
Freshman Sage Wilde got his first taste of state competition with a 70th-place finish clocking 16:52.60. Sophomore Jorge Perezruiz was close behind at 16:54.60 to secure 74th place. Sophomore Grayson Tapp rounded out the Eagles times with 17:13.30 to take 92nd.