SMITHVILLE — The Smithville girls cross country team took first place during districts Saturday, Oct. 31 at Jesse James Park in Kearney, as did the team’s top runner Olivia Littleton.
The Warriors scored 32 points to beat Kearney’s 42 and Platte County’s 47 as Smithville’s top five averaged 20:46 and allow the team to qualify for state.
Littleton finished ahead of the pack with a time of 19:24.50. She will head into the Class 4 ready to cement her cross country legacy by adding an individual state championship to her three district titles. The senior runner placed third at state as a sophomore and second last year.
Littleton said she is grateful for the opportunity to compete in these final meets as the COVID-19 pandemic has left sports teams living the old adage of taking one competition at a time.
“I didn’t even know if we would have a season,” Littleton said. “After not having the track season (in the spring), it would have been heartbreaking if we didn’t have this.”
Littleton, who won a state title in the 3200-meter run during the 2019 track season, said this race was extra special because the team’s top four girls are all seniors trying to finish strong and close out their careers with another state team trophy.
“We’re just so strong this year and it’s so cool to be able to compete one last time,” she said.
The Warriors finished second at state the last two seasons and now have a really good chance of pushing for the state championship 8:30 a.m. Friday, Nov. 6 at Gans Creek in Columbia.
In the typical race for second behind Littleton, her teammate Lily Cutler took home the honors with her time of 20:16.30. Cutler said the other runners were formidable competition, but she was confident her other teammates would not be far behind Littleton and herself.
“I think we all have the will to do better, so I wasn’t afraid,” Cutler said.
Cutler was right as the Warriors placed five girls in the top 14 and seven in the top 20. The other two seniors, Riley Kochanowicz and Emma Chevalier cracked the top 10. Kochanowicz finished sixth with a time of 20:59.50 and Chevalier finished 10th with a time of 21:17.90.
The other competition included the hosting Kearney Bulldogs. Sophomore Abby Elam crossed the finish line in 20:24.00 for third place and senior Jillian Vaughn snagged fourth with a time of 20:37.70.
Abby Elam said she enjoyed pushing herself against the top runners who were chasing Littleton, who in turn was chasing the ATV vehicle that worked as the pace car for the race.
“I feel like it definitely pushed me to be better and run a lot faster,” Elam said. “These girls are amazing and being up there with them feels really, really good.”
The Bulldogs edge out Smithville by 1 point to take second place with 50 points, 22 behind district champion Platte County.
The Kearney boys were a little surprised when they found out they’d be joining the girls team at state, the first time the boys have advanced as a team since 2011.
After the Pirates top two runners finished the race in first and second, Kearney senior Isaiah Skidmore pushed well ahead of the next group of runners as he took third place. Skidmore had a time of 17:46.20.
“It was so nice to get the whole team to state,” Skidmore said. “It’s been our goal all year. It was an amazing race today.”
His teammate, senior Reed Beyeler, took fourth with a time of 18:03.80 to help give the Bulldogs the boost they needed to earn the automatic state qualifier as a team for getting second place.
“Our team hasn’t made it to state in a really long time,” Beyler said. “It matters about how our team runs as a whole, and I’m really proud of all of us today.”
Bulldogs head coach Jeff Roberts said it was amazing to see both of his teams qualify as the only returners with state experience were Vaughn and Elam on the girls team. Twelve runners for the Bulldogs will get to experience state for the first time.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Roberts said. “They competed, they ran well. … It’s just so neat that these kids got to be successful today.”
The Warriors fell just short of that same opportunity after senior Quinton Wilson willed himself to a fourth place finish with a time of 18:03.40.
Wilson awaited the award ceremony with a bag of ice strapped to his ankle after twisting his ankle during the race. He said he had a misstep around the first mile of the race but powered through.
“I was just hobbling through the race, trying to do my best,” Wilson said. “It was definitely a challenge going up that hill.”
Junior Regan Dunn pushed ahead of the next pack of runners to take seventh place with a time of 18:25.90. Dunn said he thought the team struggled a little bit during the event but each runner fought hard to try to place in the top 14 to at least qualify for state as an individual.
“I think our motivation was trying to push to get past that next person, so we could still place our team into state,” Dunn said.
Without the team qualifier, the team will instead send four individuals to the state meet with Wilson and Dunn being joined by juniors Isaac Edson and Carter Massie. Edson took ninth with a time of 18:30.60 and Massie finished 14th with a time of 18:53.80.