2023 Missouri XC Season Preview: Class 5 Girls

The 2023 season is officially upon us! We are ready to preview all of the craziness that comes with it. 

Take a look at the athletes, teams, and storylines to watch for in Class 5 this season. The other four classes will be released over the coming days. 


BOYS: Class 5 | Class 4 | Class 3 | Class 2 | Class 1

GIRLS: Class 5 | Class 4 | Class 3 | Class 2 | Class 1 


Top 7 Contenders

Josie Baker - Kirkwood

The St. Louis area has much more to say on the girls' side this fall, starting with Kirkwood superstar Josie Baker

Baker came into her high school career as "the sister of 5-time State Champion Christian Baker," but appears to have made her own name for herself heading into her senior season. A State Champion in the 1600 now, Baker looks poised to add another gold to her trophy case this fall. 

A postseason 17:56.50 personal best has her firmly planted as the top returner among Class 5 girls heading into the season. She posted massive bests this spring of 2:12.40 (just off her 2:11.88 lifetime best) in the 800, 4:47.55 in the 1600, and 10:54.05 in the 3200. All signs point to Baker pushing into the mid-to-low 17s and competing not just on the state level, but also the national level. How far can she go under 18:00? We shall see!


Natalie Barnard - Lafayette Wildwood

The graduation of Grace Tyson and Elissa Barnard leaves senior Natalie Barnard left to carry the torch for the Lafayette Lady Lancers in 2023. 

Barnard was able to showcase her talents in her own right after teammate Tyson went down with an injury during the 2022 season. She took advantage of the opportunity in the spotlight and earned a victory at the Festus Bowles Invitational, to go along with runner-up finishes at Dale Shepherd Invitational and Suburban Conference Championships, and a third-place finish in the Gold division at the Gans Creek Classic. She then went on to storm through the final kilometer en route to a runner-up finish behind Tyson at the Class 5 State meet. Her 18:24.80 personal best came at the State meet and was her final performance of the season. 

This spring, Barnard posted a leg on the Class 5 State record 4x800 Meter Relay and then broke the Class 5 State record in the 3200 with a 10:35.60 for her first-ever individual state championship. The Barnard vs. Baker clashes should be fairly frequent this fall and should be fun to watch, all the way up to the finale in November. It's anyone's game as we head into the racing season. 


Mae Walker - Rock Bridge

The Carolyn Ford era has ended at Rock Bridge, which means it is time for Mae Walker to emerge as the top Bruin on the course and track moving forward. 

Only a sophomore, Walker lived up to the hype during her freshman campaign, posting personal bests of 18:09.60, 5:03.32, and 11:03.38. She was 4th at the Class 5 State meet last fall and has no problem running from the front on her home course. Walker has a bright future ahead of her and should not be discounted as a contender for individual gold this November.


Mary McKenzie - Cor Jesu Academy

Cor Jesu is losing a couple of top contributors to their success over the last few years, but they appear to have their next perennial superstar in rising sophomore Mary McKenzie

McKenzie showed promise throughout her middle school career and didn't skip a beat as she moved into the high school ranks last season. She made an immediate impact with an 18:48.77 mark at the September 17th Missouri Southern Stampede and moved down further to her 18:30.40 personal best for 3rd at the District 1 meet. After finishing 7th at the State Cross Country meet, McKenzie posted personal bests on the track of 2:30.21 in the 800, 5:25.21 in the 1600, and 11:39.20 in the 3200. 

McKenzie will have to battle it out with several others for St. Louis area supremacy but appears to be a clear top 5 candidate in Class 5 this year. 


Abigail Brackenbury - Blue Springs

The top returner out of the western side of the state is Blue Springs senior Abigail Brackenbury

Brackenbury enjoyed a stellar junior season last fall, with victories at the Tim Nixon Invitational, Raymore-Peculiar Invitational, Missouri Southern Stampede, Grain Valley Invitational, and District 4 meet. She posted an 18:27.50 personal best at the Southern Stampede, while consistently sitting at 18:57-19:18 throughout the rest of her meets. At the State meet, she was 9th across the line in Class 5. 

On the track, Brackenbury finished out her junior campaign with shiny new personal bests of 5:06.24 in the 1600 and 10:59.96 in the 3200. Her lone medal in the star-studded distance races came in the 3200, but she left as one of the top returners heading into this 2023-2024 season and a contender to win it all in November.


Ashlyn Smith - Raymore-Peculiar

The top Kansas Citian across the line at the 2022 Class 5 State Cross Country meet was Raymore-Peculiar's Ashlyn Smith, whose 18:59.60 mark was good enough for 8th. She returns with one of the fastest lifetime marks of any Class 5 girls with the 18:34.90 clocking she posted at the 2020 State meet. 

The three-time all-stater Smith really hit her stride in October last fall, grabbing back-to-back-to-back victories at the Haskell Invite, KC Suburban Gold/Silver Conference meet, and Class 5 District 3. Her 18:45.75 average in her final 4 races of the 2022 season should have her firmly on everyone's radar as we move into the postseason. Watch for Smith to climb into the top 5 this year as she leads her squad back to the podium. 


Reese McDevitt - Francis Howell Central

Representing St. Charles County, Francis Howell Central junior Reese McDevitt would like to throw her hat into the ring as one of the top returners in Class 5 this fall. 

McDevitt powered to an 11th-place finish on the Gans Creek course last November and showed throughout the season that she is happy to race from the front. She picked up victories at the First Capital Invitational, Warrenton Invitational, Border War Championship, and Northwest Last Chance, where she posted her personal best of 18:55.80. Runner-up and third place finishes to girls mentioned here earlier or who have since graduated came at the Stan Nelson Invitational (Baker), GAC Championships (2023 grad Julia Donnelly), and District 3 race (2023 grad Carolyn Ford and Mae Walker). 

Watch for McDevitt to push the envelope wherever she goes and move into the top 5 in Class 5 later this fall.




Freshmen To Watch

Lily Hurt - Liberty

Incoming freshman Lily Hurt already appears ready to make an impact on a solid Liberty Blue Jays team. 

Hurt comes in with impressive track personal bests of 2:26.82 in the 800 and 4:56.09 in the 1500 (converts to 5:17.91 in the 1600). She has also run 13:15.80 in the cross country 2 mile but has done the bulk of her damage on the oval so far in her career. Liberty may be able to boast the freshman in Class 5 this fall if she can translate that middle-distance success to 5K success. She has, after all, already completed their yearly 5-mile Steady State workout (5 miles under 7:00). 


Danaka Davenport - Glendale

Glendale's Danaka Davenport enters the 2023 season with personal bests of 2:37.75 in the 800 and 5:46.41 in the 1600, to go along with cross country marks of 9:35.22 in the 2500 Meters and 12:44.20 in the 2 Mile. Davenport is sure to make an impact on the Class 5 scene this year and could climb the Southwest MO ranks very quickly. 



Top 4 Teams


The Lady Panthers of Raymore-Peculiar were hard-luck runner-ups in 2022 as their 80-point performance probably would have been good enough to win every other year, but they ran into a historic Lafayette team. 

They graduate two of their top three from the 2022 season in Avery Raymond and Alexis Borum, but senior Ashlyn Smith is back to score single-digit points again this year. She headlines an experienced 2024 group of returners that includes Isabel Chatfield, Ellie Barker, and Maya York, to go along with all-state rising sophomore Brooke Stephenson. Their 19:36.77 1-5 average among returners is tops in Class 5 heading into the season. It's fair to call Coach Jay Johnson's crew the favorite to win it all for the first time since their 3A title in 2001. 


Blue Springs South

Coach Ryan Unruh's girls at Blue Springs South have left the Class 4 or 5 State Cross Country meet with a trophy in each of the last six seasons and do not appear ready to end that streak in 2023.

An impressive 18-second 1-5 spread, with finishing places ranging from 23rd to 40th at last year's State meet, the Jaguars put on a clinic in pack running to secure a third-place trophy. Ella Rew was their top finisher in 23rd, but she's their third fastest returner as Emmerson Allen (19:08.90) and Ashlyn Wahrenbrock (19:26.00) come in just ahead of her 19:29.40 best. Molly Hays and Caroline Haines round out the returning top 5 and will hope to fill in for the graduating seniors Magdalene Boley and Caitlin Grover, two girls who were stalwarts for trophy and championship teams over the last four years. 

Blue Springs South knows how to put it all together when it matters and truly run as a team, with any of their top 5 capable of carrying the torch on any given day. They will be dangerous once again this season.


Francis Howell Central

Francis Howell Central has never reached the podium in Cross Country, but 2023 may be the year that they finally break through. 

Led by Reese McDevitt and Ava Breuer, the Lady Spartans return an experienced and tight-knit group from 2-6. The key to their success will certainly come from the group of Laney Parmeley, Camrin Watkins, and Madison McGowan who all three return between 20:00 and 20:28. If those three can push into the 19s, this is a group that could surprise a lot of teams and push for the Class 5 championship. 



With Josie Baker up front, Kirkwood returns a strong contingent ready to reach the podium for the first time since 2000. 

Baker will be competitive for a single point at the state meet and can feel optimistic in her teammates' abilities with how they are returning for the 2023 season. Regan Braig and Calpurnia Durnin have both broken 20:00 in their careers already and will add strong upper-classman experience and leadership to the charge. Fellow seniors middle-distance specialist Phoebe Canatsey and XC-only Morgan Barthelmass are solid fourth and fifth returners for the Pioneers. It's a crew that has all the makings of a title contender. 


Dark Horse Team To Watch


Not exactly a dark horse as they enter the season right on the cusp, but should get a huge boost from the resurgence of Olivia Pearce this spring. Pearce finished out her sophomore campaign well back of her freshman season personal best of 19:54.80 but seems to have regained her strength this spring with a sub-12:00 3200 performance. She gives the Wildcats three returners under 20:00 heading into the season. Their depth is solid with six girls after Pearce coming into the season between 20:00 and 21:00. With Kirra Dunscombe and Daphne Bishop side-by-side at the top of the roster, on paper, they aren't the top squad heading into the 2023 season, but when you take a look under the hood, it looks like Eureka has the pieces to put together a challenge at the state level.