The 2023 season is officially upon us! We are ready to preview all of the craziness that comes with it.
Class 1 features a historic quest from Riley Blay, a tight team battle with the projected top 3 teams, and what should be a dogfight for the 30th spot this year.
Take a look at the athletes, teams, and storylines to watch for in Class 1 this season. The final classes will be released over the coming days.
2023 MISSOURI XC PREVIEWS:
Top 7 Contenders
The undisputed favorite for the Class 1 individual title once again, North Nodaway senior Riley Blay should once again challenge for the all-time great among the smallest schools in the state.
Already a two-time champion in cross country, and five-time champion on the track, Blay has significantly distanced himself from the rest of the returning Class 1 field. His personal best of 15:38.90 is 48 seconds ahead of the next closest returner and his 9:21.90 3200 best is among the ten best in the entire state regardless of class. He should have plenty of confidence in his quest to become the state's second-ever male three-time cross country champion joining only West Plains' Chris Zinn who won 4A titles in 1981, 1982, and 1983.
A key number two man throughout the season for the Hermitage Hornets, Justus Yates fell a few places behind his projected place at the Class 1 State meet in 2022, finishing in 17th on the warm November afternoon at Gans Creek.
Now the top returner for the defending state champion team, Yates will be carrying a load on his shoulders as the Hornets seek out the repeat effort. Yates heads into the season with a 16:26.77 personal best from the Buffalo Invitational, good enough for 2nd among returners. In the spring, his focus was on the 800 and 1600 where he improved to 2:03.63 and finished in 3rd in the Class 1 State 1600 in 4:32.19. An upset for the individual title will be tough, but Yates is in the best position to pull it off of anyone at the moment.
The second piece of a tough 1-2 punch in Hermitage, Bennett Mantooth (yes, Mantooth) is coming off an interesting track and field season, to say the least.
It isn't rare to see a Class 1 athlete try his hand in multiple different events to try to help his team out, but rarely do you see an athlete participate in the 4x800m Relay, 110m Hurdles, 300m Hurdles, and 3200m Run. He was a part of the 4x800 champion squad and earned 5th in the 300m Hurdles, which all fit nicely on the wall next to his 3rd place medal at the 2022 State Cross Country meet.
The third fastest returner with a 16:31.03 personal best, Mantooth is one to watch this fall for sure.
Marion C. Early senior Landon Duchsherer comes in 4th among Class 1 returners with his 16:39.75 personal best and is looking to improve upon a 5th place finish at last year's Class 1 State meet. He had a solid track season with runner-up finishes in both the Class 1 1600 and 3200 and finished out with marks of 4:29.81 and 9:57.43. Duchscherer is a sneaky pick to climb the ladder and challenge for the upset in Class 1.
Dora's Cade Nold has made a name for himself as one of the top up-and-coming 800 runners in the entire state already. As a freshman in 2022, he was the 2nd fastest 800 runner among Missouri freshmen with a 2:03.20 mark and all he did in 2023 was improve upon it with a 1:57.53 mark to run away from Riley Blay, who was in his quest for the distance treble. He also dropped a 49.63 personal best in the 400-meter dash en route to state gold there and the impressive 400/800 state double.
Nold has shown he has the foot speed to outrun anyone in Class 1, now the task is cutting down that 17:12.40 personal best which earned him 7th last fall. Now an upperclassman, we expect the experienced Nold to be up to that task.
Van Buren's Jaxson Houf opened up his season on the 30th at the Winona Run With The Elks with a decisive 18:09.79 victory. Houf was a fairly consistent racer in the mid-17s to low-18s in 2022 until he dropped a 16:49.70 mark at the Big Spring Conference. He then went on to earn 12th at the Class 1 State meet, the first all-state medal of his young career.
The senior also showed good foot speed in the spring, running 52.63 for the Class 1 Sectional 1 400m title and 2:05.00 for 8th in Class 1 in the 800m run. He opened up 45 seconds slower in 2022 so it appears Houf is already setting himself up to improve upon his marks throughout this campaign.
Mound City's Keaton Zembles enters the 2023 season as one of the more decorated Class 1 runners among the field, rivaled only by Riley Blay. In his career, the senior has earned seven all-state medals in Cross Country and Track.
Last year's 9th-place finisher in his personal best of 17:16.40, Zembles built off that success with a strong track season in which he set personal best marks of 2:02.33 in the 800 and 4:33.37 in the 1600. He's a top 5 candidate this fall, as well, especially if he can parlay this past spring's success into fall success.
Incoming Freshmen To Watch
Fordland's Eric Wilson picked up a pair of 3rd-place finishes in the 3200m run in his 8th-grade year - one at the Hermitage Cross Country Dam Invitational and one at the Missouri Middle School Championships in his personal best of 11:54.74. He also won the Summit Conference 2500m run in 9:42.53.
Van-Far's Garrett Hopke ran 12:39.07 for 12th at the Missouri Middle School Championships. In the spring, he ran 5:17.32 in the 1600 and was consistently between 5:17 and 5:22. Hopke may be a dark horse freshman to watch out for fall.
Top 4 Teams
There was no doubt that Hermitage would be a top 4 team to watch regardless of where their 4 and 5 are heading into the season. With a three-headed monster upfront of Justus Yates, Bennett Mantooth, and DeJuan Chambers, they are going to need some help from the back half of the team if they hope to pull off the three-peat in 2023. Right now, their fourth and fifth returners are Jaxon Wheeler and Gabriel Montejo in 18:12.98 and 19:17.00, respectively. That may be enough, but they may need some insurance with how tight the projections are at the moment.
Van Buren has been showing their strength on both sides of the coin over the last few years, but their boys are still waiting on their first overall state championship. Led by Caleb Ricker and Jaxson Houf to a runner-up in 2022, their first trophy since 2004, Houf is carrying the torch now and has a strong supporting cast. Three of his teammates are coming in just under 18:00 and within 3 seconds of each other - Patterson Crafton, Daniel Laughlin, and Blake Dorris. An 18:34 at No. 5 in Fletcher McSpadden has the Bulldogs looking really solid as they strive to hoist their first-ever state championship.
Oak Ridge is another consistent Class 1 powerhouse from Southeast Missouri. Over the last five years, they have earned four trophies, with the one they earned in 2019 being for first place.
This year, they are once again led by Brock Hobeck in 17:00.09. He is one who should very well be on the radar this fall as a breakout candidate. Grant Meyer, Karson Ward, and Cohen Hahs are all within 50 seconds of each other and should be able to move together as a pack. Watch for the Blue Jays to grind it out all the way to the top of the podium again this fall.
Legendary Coach Andy Youngworth has wasted no time getting McAuley Catholic up and rolling in Class 1. His short two year tenure has already produced a fourth place finish in Class 1 so far and he does not appear ready to stop the success this year. Led by Michael Parrigon, their depth will certainly be challenged and the success will come down to how many more boys they can put under 18:00 this season. Currently, we only see Parrigon at 17:30.34.
Coach Youngworth knows how to rally the troops and we should see McAuley pushing the front of each race they run once again this fall.
Dark Horse Team To Watch
Vienna is absolutely a team to watch this season, if only because they have two of the top 30 returners and could see a breakthrough season from another.
The Eagles' top two returners are Duncan Wilkinson at 17:46.00 and Cooper Auten at 17:59.80. Their third best returner is Brayden Ewers at 19:04.10, but Ewers showed this spring that he may be on the verge of a major breakout this fall. A senior who has only competed in one Cross Country season, experience itself could help him improve, but a 10:56.35 best in the 3200 has him knocking on the sub-18:00 door early this season.
They'll need help at 4 and 5 as their current returners in those spots are over 20:00. If Vienna can put it all together, they may sneak up the podium for the first time in school history.