The 2023 MSHSAA State Championships are finally upon us and we are excited for another thrilling and chilly November weekend of racing!
This year's Class 5 Girls State Championship will be the final race of the weekend with a 2:15 start time on Saturday. The race features two of the state's all-time greats - one being an individual and one being a team.
2023 MSHSAA STATE MEET XC PREVIEWS:
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Check out our preview of the field, with District champions highlighted and the other major contenders discussed among the strong field of candidates. This year, the Top 4 teams will still continue to be honored with a trophy, but a new development means the Top 30 athletes will be honored with medals. According to MileSplit's rankings, the 30th fastest runner in Class 5 Girls is currently 19:06.91.
The District Champs - Individuals
Many expected that 2023 would be a good year for Lafayette's Natalie Barnard, but we are not exactly sure anyone thought she would put herself in the conversation with Hannah Long and Taylor Werner as Missouri's Greatest of All Time.
Barnard has solidified herself among the greats not only in state history but in the country this year. Her slowest time of the season so far came at the Festus Bowles Invitational, when she ran 17:57.53 and won by 2 minutes and 4 seconds. Her fastest time of the season so far came at last weekend's Class 5 District 1 meet where she ran a US No. 14 and MO No. 3 all-time 16:53.30 on the Northwest Intermediate School course in Cedar Hill. Her margin of victory here was 1 minute and 7 seconds over Kirkwood phenom Josie Baker.
A dominant season for the ages comes to its close on Saturday afternoon, but will surely continue on to the national meets circuit. Barnard is clearly the favorite as she has disposed of pretty much every Class 5 foe who has come her way this season with ease. With a gold medal almost guaranteed, the only thing left to do is take out the course record of 17:24.80, a mark which she has bested twice this season and come within 2 seconds of one other time. She ran 17:48.60 at this year's Gans Creek Classic.
The District 2 champion from Republic deserves some serious recognition after taking out some of the state's best this past Saturday. Senior Gracie Troester is looking like a clear Top 5 contender heading into this weekend's Class 5 State meet a year after finishing 60th.
Troester is on a winning streak dating back to September 26th when she won her home invitational. She's picked up victories since then at the Camdenton Laker Invitational, Cedar Ridge Invitational, COC Championship, and, now, District 2. She also boasts big wins at the SWCCCA Richard Clark Invitational and Lebanon Invitational to go along with a runner-up finish at the Willard Highline Invitational. Her 18:12.80 personal best last weekend has her rolling at the right time and should bode well for her heading into this weekend's jaunt in Columbia.
It has been an impressive and dominant season for the Cor Jesu sophomore Mary McKenzie in 2023. After losing her dynamic duo partner, Adrienne Luna, to graduation, McKenzie has had to carry the torch for the massive Chargers team and has done so admirably. In her eight races so far this season, she has picked up six victories, losing only to Francis Howell's Evyn Humphrey at the Parkway West Invitational (who she promptly beat at the Class 5 District 3 meet) and Harrisonville's Kayleigh Norris at the Missouri Southern Stampede, even though she ran her personal best of 17:52.13. Otherwise, McKenzie has picked up wins at the Fleet Feet Classic in Arnold, Forest Park Green Division, Ed White Festival, inaugural running of the GISL Conference, Big River PR Invitational, and District 3 meet.
McKenzie has yet to meet up with Natalie Barnard on any courses this fall, strangely enough, considering their proximity. But Barnard, at this point, may be the only girl in Class 5 that could take out the super-sophomore. Even if she finishes second this year, expect Mary McKenzie to be the name atop the Class 5 rankings as we head into 2024.
On the west side of the state, we get Kansas City's best hope for an individual title upset - St. Teresa's Academy senior Gracie Jacobs.
The Gracie's had a good day this past weekend, with Jacobs joining Troester as two of the four District champions. Jacobs' time was slightly slower as she crossed the line in Staley in 18:36.51, just ahead of another title contender in Abigail Brackenbury. Her District 4 victory was her fourth of the season, as she also boasts gold medals from the Kearney Invitational, KC XC Classic, and Kris Solsberg Invite. She also earned silver medals earlier in September at the Tim Nixon Invitational and Olathe Twilight meet. At Olathe Twilight, she dipped under 18:00 with a 17:54.70 personal best.
Jacobs finished 15th at last year's Class 5 State championships but should be considered a contender for a Top 5 finish this year.
The District Champs - Teams
In perfect conditions, on a fast course, with the St. Louis Metro area's best competition, both the Kirkwood boys and girls emerged as the champions in District 1.
The Lady Pioneers were led by their veteran frontrunner Josie Baker's runner-up performance. Her 18:00.80 would have won the other districts with ease, but she was well behind champion Natalie Barnard in this one. Nevertheless, her two points were a major boon as the final team score count was a nail-biter with Lafayette. Two points separated the squads as they were very evenly matched. Senior Phoebe Canatsey's big 19:17.00 personal best was one of six season bests for them, marking a banner day for the squad. Eureka was third and Seckman earned their first-ever team berth to the state meet with a fourth-place finish.
Kirkwood enters the Class 5 State meet among seven teams that could reasonably find themselves in the top four. They will benefit from a very low score from their top girl but will need big days from their supporting cast once again. It looks like they may be peaking at just the right time, though, and could climb onto the podium for the first time since 2000.
After a runner-up finish in 2022, the Ray-Pec Panthers looked like a major contender for the state title this fall. They still do, but they looked that way pre-season, too.
One of the best 1-2 punches in the state in Ashlyn Smith and Maya York has the ladies flying high coming off of a dominant District 2 win. Smith and York finished second and third, with fellow senior teammates Ellie Barker and Isabel Chatfield in 10th and 14th, respectively. It's a veteran team with experience at the highest level who have been doing damage all season everywhere they have gone. In fact, the Lady Panthers have picked up victories at their home invitational, the Kris Solsberg Invite, and Haskell Invite (KS), while earning a runner-up finish on a tie-breaker to Blue Springs South at the KC Suburban Gold Conference, and third-place finishes at the Augustana (SD) Twilight and Gans Creek Classic.
You cannot put a price tag on leadership and experience when it comes to competing for state championships. With four seniors at the front of the pack for the Panthers, it truly is a terrifying prospect to try to hold off their charge for their first state title since 2001.
Touted as one of Missouri's all-time best teams, Father Tolton has made easy work of basically all of the state's top contenders this fall as they swing for an unprecedented feat: Three straight State Championships in three different classifications.
The 2021 Class 3 and 2022 Class 4 State Championships are in a "stars aligning" kind of position when it comes to enrollment and the championship factor. Their school only needed to add a handful more students than it had last school year to push Tolton's base into Class 3 and, thus, push them up to Class 5 on the championship factor. It's right where they should be, though, as they have thoroughly dominated all year regardless of the teams they have faced.
Led by...well, it is hard to say who exactly leads the Lady Trailblazers at this point. Is it 2021 State Champion and 2022 seventh-place finisher Elyse Wilmes, who has run 17:51.00 this season and earned gold medals on the track in the 800, 1600, and 4x800 meter relay, as well? Or is it the girl who finished ahead of her at the Class 5 District 3 meet, Madison Taylor? Taylor has run sub-19:00 only twice this year, but her 18:54.57 best on Saturday was a new personal best. Is it freshman phenom Angelina Cottone? Or maybe Makaylin Viet? Either way, whomever is leading Tolton this weekend will surely have a tight contingent of girls close behind. They are the only Class 5 school to boast four girls under 19:00 this year, but still need that last piece of the puzzle from No. 5 runner Sarah Kesterson. If Kesterson can clear 20:00 for the first time in her career, and the other four are on their A-game, this should be a cakewalk for Tolton.
If there has one thing we have learned in the Blue Springs South Ryan Unruh era, it is do not forget about the Jaguars because they will be ready for the postseason when it arrives.
Another year has brought about another strong group of girls at Blue Springs South. Led by junior Ella Rew, they have picked up key victories at the Class 5 District 4 meet, KC Suburban Gold Conference over fellow title contenders Raymore-Peculiar, and the Tim Nixon Invitational Gold Division. Rew's 18:22.97 is a solid low-stick for the squad and is insured by Emmerson Allen's 18:45.51 and Ashlyn Wahrenbrock's 18:49.29 bests. They have earned seven state trophies in the last nine years, including a championship in 2021. This year's team is sneaky and could make a major play for the victory again this weekend.
Keep an eye out for...
Rock Bridge is, once again, in the mix for a state trophy on both the boys and girls sides. After being shut out last November, they will be on the hunt to reclaim their spot again on Saturday.
The biggest key will be whether or not we see super-sophomore Mae Walker. Walker has been missing in action since the Nike XC Town Twilight on September 30th, an absence that, while significant, has not made the shockwaves one would think it would make. Even without her, they were able to secure a second-place finish at the Class 5 District 3 meet, ahead of last year's fourth-place team, Cor Jesu, and similarly strong Francis Howell Central. Sophomore Claire Richardson led the charge and boasts an 18:35.60 personal best at the time. Four more girls from 19:25-19:45 led by Kaitlyn Reid give some confidence that they could still find their way onto the Greg Hall stage without Walker, but with her, they should be considered a near-trophy lock.
The Liberty girls took a major step forward this season and find themselves in team title contention heading into state weekend.
Though they only have one win on the season - KC Suburban Silver Conference - they are still among the top teams heading into Saturday's showdown, led by Ella Brown and Cambell Grosdidier. Brown's 18:52.80 personal best came early on at the Olathe Twilight, but she also ran 18:54 for the Silver Division Conference win, and Grosdidier ran her 19:02.05 at the conference meet. It is the tight 2-5 spread that will take Liberty across the trophy threshold for the first time since their championship run in 2006. There are only 62 seconds between Grosdidier at No. 2 and Addyson Moffitt at No. 5.
We have profiled many of the contenders for either the state title or a top 5 finish already, but we would be remiss if we did not at least mention Abigail Brackenbury as one to watch this Saturday.
Brackenbury, a recent Mizzou commit, was a close runner-up to Gracie Jacobs at the Class 5 District 4 meet this past weekend and boasts victories at the Raymore-Peculiar Invitational and Grain Valley Sock It to Cancer Invitational. Her 17:52.30 personal best earned her third place at the Missouri Southern Stampede and has her among six girls in the entire state, regardless of class, who have broken 18:00 this season. If anyone is going to pull off the upset of Natalie Barnard this weekend, it may very well be Abigail Brackenbury on her soon-to-be-home course.