Halfway through the 2023 Cross Country season, we have come to a major annual checkpoint: The Gans Creek Classic, aka The State Preview Meet.
Throughout the last four seasons, the "new" (if you can still call it new at this point) state championship meet course has played host to the state's most competitive meet, showcasing all that Missouri has to offer. We have seen Connor Burns break 15:00 in 2022 with Sage Wilde close behind in 15:01, a breakout performance from Amelia Arrieta in 2021 when she ran 17:24, and several amazing team races, like last year's Boys Gold race in which Liberty North ran a team average of 15:58 and held off fellow future State Champions Hillsboro by a mere 15 points.
We'll take a quick peek under the hood at the entries and what to expect this weekend. If you are interested in seeing the top 100 individuals and top 20 teams in each division based on this year's marks, we released all 6 virtual meets on Thursday. Take a look here.
Boys Varsity - Gold Division
Last year's top 2 teams won't be in attendance this year, and the top 4 individuals have either graduated or will be in action elsewhere, so expect a bit of a shake-up near the top.
The usual suspects will be out in force with Rock Bridge's Andrew Hauser and Lincoln College Prep's Isaac Rivera at or near the top. Hauser broke 15:00 at the Olathe Twilight meet earlier this month and Rivera posted a personal best 15:04.70 at last weekend's Kris Solsberg Invitational. These two phenoms should be right out front from the get-go in this one. Rock Bridge super-sophomore Luke Sievers broke through in a big way at the Olathe Twilight with a 15:03.40 mark. This was after a 16:02.18 personal best at the Memphis Twilight. Platte County's Andrew Johnson makes it four boys under 15:10 so far this season with his stunning 15:05.60 performance at the Tim Nixon Invitational. According to the virtual meet, you may have to be under 16:00 to get a medal in this race, which, this early on in the season still, is incredible.
In the team race, the battle between three of the state's current powerhouses in Rock Bridge, Liberty, and Nixa will be fun to watch. They all three enter with 1-5 splits under 16:00 already this season and are sure to bring the fireworks. Liberty is led by 15:23 man Peyton Willbanks and junior Connor Nicholson, who has a 15:41 best to his name so far. As for Nixa, they are having success with returning No. 1 man Mason Shank currently positioned as their No. 8, which really shows their incredible depth so far this season. Aaron Ashley went 15:19.03 for the 2nd place finish at the Missouri Southern Stampede this past weekend and leads the way for this impressive Eagles squad. In this race, the top 20 teams come in with a 1-5 average of 17:00 or better. Expect some fireworks in the Gold Divison boys' race!
Girls Varsity - Gold Division
Much like the boys, the Girls Gold race is missing four of last year's top five girls so the top of the race should look a little different in 2023.
The one mainstay is Lafayette's Natalie Barnard. The Lady Lancer senior has already sent two serious messages to the rest of the state with TWO sub-18:00 performances already, including a US No. 37 17:34.80 at the Ft. Zumwalt North Twilight and a dominant 17:57.53 victory at last weekend's Fulton Invitational. We knew she would be a top contender for Class 5 supremacy this season, but she is exceeding all expectations in the early-goings. Other top contenders in this race include two other sub-18:00 girls in Harrisonville's Kayleigh Norris and Blue Springs senior Abigail Brackenbury. Rock Bridge's Mae Walker and Father Tolton's Elyse Wilmes round out the top 5 projected runners based on current season's best, but that doesn't include Kirkwood superstar Josie Baker or any of the other 9 girls with a sub-19:00 season's best. This will surely be the deepest girls' race of the season so far in Missouri.
The team race features a major test for newly minted Class 5 Father Tolton. A pick to click when they were in Class 4, unfortunately for the Trailblazers, a couple too many kids enrolled at Tolton this year which pushed their base into Class 3 and pushed them all the way up to Class 5 based on the Championship Factor. Nevertheless, they have shown so far this season that they are still a major player in the Class 5 team race this fall and should benefit from some home-field advantage this weekend. Cross-town rival Rock Bridge will give them their biggest challenge with the Liberty girls following close behind. Keep an eye out for Raymore-Peculiar, who has already put their top two girls under 19:00 and will be looking to make a statement in their Class 5 title campaign. Blue Springs will be in the mix as the reigning Gold Division champions after having beaten Lafayette by 1 point last September.
Boys Varsity - Blue Division
The Blue Division is the second tier race at the Gans Creek Classic and provides some interesting storylines in its own right.
Three boys come in with season bests under 16:00 so far. East Newton's Chase Sorrell, a Class 3 state title contender, leads the way with his 15:40.52 best from the Missouri Southern Stampede. He ran 15:38.23 later on in the 2022 season so he may have something in the tank ready to go for this year's Gans Creek Classic. The other two sub-16's belong to Glendale's Sam Rinehart and Rolla's Cameron Martensen. Reinhart ran 3 races last season, with his final one being the Missouri Southern Stampede, and posted a 16:06.10 personal best there. In 2023, he has run under 16:00 twice already and is enjoying a breakout senior season. Martensen is enjoying a solid sophomore campaign so far with a 15:47.90 personal best to his name so far this fall. Last year, runners had to hit 17:19 or better to earn a medal. Heading into the meet, it may take a 16:56 or better.
Glendale is enjoying a stellar season so far in 2023. Heading into the year, they were ranked 15th in Class 5 with a 17:13 returning 1-5 average. So far in 2023, they have posted a 16:38 1-5 average already, led by Rinehart and 16:02 teammate, sophomore Lincoln Crews. They are a heavy favorite to take home the Blue Division crown. Desoto is also enjoying a renaissance season with the help of freshman phenom Cruz Anders and sophomore Carson Koerber. We may be seeing the emergence of a new powerhouse in the state as Desoto has posted a 17:03 1-5 average with 4 boys non-seniors under 17:17 and a senior at No. 5 that could really push them over the edge. Rolla is not far behind Desoto, led by Martensen and fellow sophomore Brayden Shenefield.
Girls Varsity - Blue Division
The Blue Division Girls race is headlined by several of the state's top Class 3 and 4 schools.
The top ranked girl heading into the race is Fulton's Emery Mayfield at 19:00.53. Mayfield had her major breakout race here last year as she edged out Platte County's Sisely Mitchell for the win in the 2022 Blue Division contest. Mitchell has moved into the Gold Division which means Mayfield's biggest challenge will come from one of Owensville's Ilene Limberg (19:26.39) or St. Joseph's Academy sophomore Savannah Amann (19:34.30). Amann had a major comeback victory in the Forest Park Gold Division race two weeks ago and Limberg is looking to build off her season best from last weekend's Missouri Southern Stampede. Only two other girls come in with a sub-20:00 season's best, but it will most certainly take a sub-21:00 mark to earn a medal in this one.
In looking at the teams, Kearney appears to be a run-away favorite, much as they are a top contender to win the Class 4 State Championship this fall. It's a tight pack led by Heidi Adams at 20:14 and a No. 5 at 20:58. Alexandra Kinstler is still lurking, looking to build off that 18:36.80 lifetime best she ran on this course in 2021. Three more Class 4 schools will battle out it out for the second team award, with St. Joseph's Academy, MICDS, and Parkway Central all in the mix.
Varsity Boys - White Division
The Varsity White Divisions feature several small schools battling it out amongst each other to grab an edge heading into the second half of the season.
In the Boys' race, we see five boys heading in with a sub-17:00 best to their name, led by Montgomery County's Jadrian Thurmon. Thurmon posted a victory at the Mexico Fall Invitational and a personal best of 16:40.82 at the Missouri Southern Stampede. Priory's Gregory Britt heads in second ranked with his 16:43.22 best for the win at last weekend's South Callaway Invitational. Dexter's Cameron Bell has posted his first two sub-17:00 performances of his career in the early goings of 2023. He was the runner-up at the Arcadia Valley Invitational two weeks ago.
The team race appears to be Knob Noster's to lose this Saturday. A solid 55 second 1-5 spread and the leadership of Micah Rivera and Tyler Zink has the Panthers running pretty well so far in 2023. They may receive a challenge from Dexter, but the next closest team after that is Priory with a projected 81-point deficit to Knob Noster. They should find themselves in a battle with Dexter for that second team trophy.
Varsity Girls - White Division
Many of the state's top small-schoolers will be in higher divisions or elsewhere from the Gans Creek Classic, but a few of the state's better all-around runners should make this White Division race a fun one to watch.
Sullivan freshman Mariah Denney is a heavy favorite for the individual crown with her 19:31.23 personal best so far. Denney was 3rd at the Fleet Feet Classic at Arnold Park and won her home meet, before throwing down that personal best mark at the Southern Stampede this weekend. She is certainly living up to the hype so far. Behind her at the moment is Pleasant Hill 400m State Champion Brooke Beck. The long-sprint/mid-distance track star has run 19:58.70 so far this fall, but boasts a lifetime best of 19:17.10 from last year's Class 4 State meet. Another girl to watch for is Montgomery County's Malia Rodgers, who was 3rd in the 2021 Blue race in her lifetime best of 19:01.30. She has been off pace over the last few seasons, but could break back out at any time.
Lexington is living up to the preseason hype so far this season and projects as the top team heading into this weekend's race. Their top 3 of Addison Smith, Tessa Lovell, and Sonya Rodekohr are really pulling the Minutewomen along well this year. It appears to be a two-horse race based on our Virtual meet, with nearby rival Lafayette County coming in just 6 points behind them, led by senior Hailey Linebach.