Editor’s Note: A longer version of this story is available at mycouriertribune.com.

The Eagles’ boys cross country team displayed impressive depth during the Tim Nixon Invitational Saturday, Sept. 4, at the Wildflower Cross Country Course.

Gold Division

Competing without one of their best runners, the Eagles’ top six competitors finished within less than a minute of one another on the way to a second-place showing in the Gold Division, coming within two points of winners Olathe South.

Senior Ethan Lee set the pace with a seventh-place finish in 16 minutes, 48 seconds, while junior Grayson Tapp (10th) and Jorge Perez Ruiz (19th) both took home individual medals for their efforts.

The team was without sophomore Sage Wilde, who was the top finisher at an earlier meet. Liberty North coach Dave Chatlos said he was glad to see so many strong showings from the Eagles.

“I think it’s pretty great. We were two points away from first without one of our top guys,” Chatlos said. “Getting second place without him just shows us the depth our team has.”

The potential is there for another stellar season for the Eagles, who placed fourth as a team at the Class 5 state meet and bring back four state competitors. That includes Lee, who was third overall last year, and was the team’s only senior on varsity for the meet.

In addition to the three medalists, Collin Kleinhen (21st), Asher Curp (27th) and Kaden Kleinhen (29th) all finished within 16 seconds of one another and give Liberty North a strong base of emerging athletes. Sean Forquer rounded out the effort in 49th.

Chatlos said he was glad to see so many of the Eagles rise to the occasion to help earn a team plaque and believes the team mentality will only make the team better throughout the year.

“I don’t think they look at is as competition, but they work together,” the coach said. “They ran well, and they really stepped up. It was a lot of fun.”

Liberty

Running in its first meet this year, Liberty clinched a solid third-place finish in the Gold Division, led by junior Myles Thornburg (eighth), senior Samuel Cleary (16th) and sophomore Peyton Willbanks (17th).

The Blue Jays graduated several key contributors from last year’s third-place finish at the Class 5 state meet, but coach Jordan English sees lots of promise in some of the newcomers to the squad and is eager to see how the team progresses.

“We had a few guys that had their first chance to show what they had at the varsity level,” English said. “We had a lot of pleasant surprises there, guys stepping in to fill roles from others graduating out.”

Smithville

An encouraging blend of experience and youth helped Smithville’s boys cross country team earn a team plaque in the Silver Division at the Tim Nixon Invitational — and come within a few points of the top overall spot.

Junior Asa Kellner set the tone with a fifth-place finish in 17:53, while freshman Liam Adair wasn’t far behind in seventh (18:12). The senior trio of Carter Massie, Isaac Edson and Regan Dunn were next across the line for the Warriors, who placed nine runners in the top 20.

Smithville coach Alex Moore said the entire team was still finding its rhythm and pace during the opening meet and was encouraged by the competitiveness he saw from the entire squad.

“We’ve got a lot of depth on the boys’ side, so there’s a lot of fighting for that sixth and seventh spot,” Moore said. “That’s going to be fun just in our own team, just being the best we can be.”

Kearney

Kearney meanwhile, placed fourth in the Silver Division and picked up two individual medals from Cody Adams (15th) and Jackson Elsea (19th). In addition to Adams, Noah Thurston and Kyler Chappell both have returning state experience, and coach Jeff Roberts said the team will look to build on the season-opening performance.

“We’ve got kids that are moving up. They’re working hard and trying, but we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Roberts said.

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