The XC Stars
The writing was on the wall with Festus super-frosh Cullen Krieg. A stud in middle school, it was only a matter of time before he became one of the best freshmen cross country runners in state history.
Krieg wasted no time breaking 5:00 in the 1600, accomplishing the feat 7 times as a 7th grader in the 2018 regular season before finishing third in 4:54 at the Festival of Miles. As an 8th grader, Krieg would improve his 1600 best to 4:42.58 and pick up a runner-up finish at the Festival of Miles in 4:47.23.
This fall, he helped Festus pick up their 6th straight Class 3 team championship when he finished 6th overall in 15:59.00. He became the 5th fastest freshman in state history, only 13 seconds behind Austin Hindman's 15:46.40 state record.
It's hard to believe Krieg would not have made an impact for his Festus squad this spring and that he won't continue to lead the Class of 2023 throughout his high school career.
It would appear that, even though they will stay in different classifications for the foreseeable future, Cullen Krieg's biggest competition among the Class of 2023 will be Liberty's Myles Thornburg.
Thornburg played a significant role in Liberty's strong 2019 campaign this fall. He finished in every position in Liberty's top 5 except number 4 at least once this season, helping them earn wins in the Forest Park XC Festival Green Division, Gans Creek Classic Gold Division, KC Suburban Conference Red Division, and Class 4 District 8. They also finished as the runner-up at the Tim Nixon Invitational and Class 4 Sectional 4 meet before finishing 8th at the state meet. Thornburg was the fastest freshman in the Class 4 race and second fastest on the day when he finished 32nd in 16:09.80 as the Blue Jays number 2.
Thornburg was no slower than 17:17 in his first cross country campaign and under 17:00 5 times, including an 11th place finish in the freshman/sophomore division at the NXN Midwest Regional meet.
In middle school, he posted 2:29 and 5:02 times in the 800 and 1600, but those marks were surely plummeting this spring.
Steelville's Conner Diaz showed an abundance of potential as a middle schooler, especially after posting 2:07.79 and 4:48.20 marks in the 800 and 1600 respectively in his 8th grade season. He also posted three marks under 8:35 in the 2400 meter run and three more under 8:25 in the 2500 meter run during the 2018 cross country season.
Diaz quickly made an impression in his first high school campaign, debuting with a 16:17.89 for the win on the always fast Vienna course. He remained fairly consistent throughout the rest of the season before capping it off with a 16th place finish at the Class 2 state meet in 16:51.50.
Diaz's track record as a middle schooler combined with his strong cross country season spells the potential for a future Class 2 track star.
At Rock Bridge High School, a perennial contender at the state level, it can be hard to break into the top seven as a freshman unless you are truly an impressive talent. It appears that Ian Kemey checks that box.
After a respectable 8th grade cross country and track and field campaign at Columbia Independent, Kemey helped the Bruins finish third at the Class 4 state cross country meet when he finished as the number 4, 51st overall in 16:22.70. Kemey was the third fastest freshman in the race and on the day.
Kemey surely benefited from the leadership of Coach Neal Blackburn and his Rock Bridge teammates, but paved his own path with his victory in the freshman division at the Parkway West Invitational in early October. After this win, he made the leap to the varsity squad, posted a 1:00+ personal best in Kentucky the next weekend, and proceeded to break 17:00 over his final four races.
Though it's a deep squad, Kemey could very well have been on the breakout path before this pandemic.
Brooklyn Creehan headlined one of the most impressive freshman teams we have seen since the 2013 Lafayette squad. With four boys under 17:00 this fall, the Kickapoo Chiefs may be about to take the state by storm in the distance races.
Creehan was the top finisher among the Chiefs' 2023 runners. He ran faster than 17:00 four times, but couldn't squeak into the top 30 at the blazing fast Class 4 Sectional 3 meet. His 16:24.10 is one of the fastest non-qualifying mark we have ever seen.
As a middle schooler, Creehan posted a 4:59.08 1600 best, but it's easy to see how that mark was most likely coming down this spring.
For your edification, here were the top 4 freshman teams this fall, more evidence of the strength of this young Kickapoo team:
The Track Stars
Zachery Grace (Kearney): Even though his middle school personal best came with a 1 kg discus as opposed to a 1.6 kg one, Kearney freshman Zachery Grace was looking to mix up the Class 4 discus scene in his first high school campaign.
Grace chucked the lighter discus 164-6.75 for the runner-up finish at last summer's AAU Junior Olympics. Not considering weight, this would already be second among Class 4 returners in the event. He also threw 42-1 with the lighter shot put. He could further make an impact in the javelin should he give it a try or even the 110m Hurdles after running 15.69 in the 100 Hurdles this past summer.
Ethan Magee (Battle): The younger brother of hurdle phenom Paige Magee, Ethan was looking to make a name for himself this spring. As an 8th grader, Magee ran 14.79 in the 100m Hurdles and 26.69 in the 200m Hurdles while adding a 55.67 mark in the 400 Meters. After seeing his sister flourish with the Spartans, a stellar freshman campaign was surely in the offing for Ethan.
Karon Johnson (Willard): Willard's throws crew has quietly been one of the best in the state over the past decade and this spring they were looking forward to adding Karon Johnson to the mix. As an 8th grader, Johnson threw 159-2 in the discus and 49-11 in the shot put, both marks that, disregarding the weight of the implement, would put him in the top 5 among Class 4 returners in both events.
Luke Noland (Kearney): Another Kearney freshman, Norland could be primed to make noise in several events. Norland posted 11.75, 24.34, 14.27, 5-10, and 20-4.75 personal bests in the 100, 200, 100m Hurdles, High Jump, and Long Jump, respectively, as a middle schooler. A competition jump with the move to high school could have led Norland to a strong freshman season across multiple events.
Brayden Acton (Harrisburg): Among middle schoolers last spring, Brayden Acton was the top pole vaulter with his 11-7 clearance. Harrisburg competes in Class 1 so Acton, with that 11-7 mark, would already be the 7th best returner in the event.