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 3 Boys State Championship will be the kick off the racing on Saturday with a 9:00am start time. The race features one of the state's historic programs vying for a return to the top and a freshman looking to make history over some stellar seniors.
2023 MSHSAA STATE MEET XC PREVIEWS:
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 3 Boys is currently 16:57.05.
The District Champs - Individuals
Another year, another Herculaneum runner at the top of the State ranks. This time, Sam Vaughn is looking to bring home an individual State title for the Bearcats after winning his first career Cross Country District title.
Vaughn has floated around is lifetime best of 16:07.33 all season, but has yet to eclipse it just yet, even though a 15:24.60 3 mile at the Granite City Invite is equivalent to a sub-16:00. He has picked up victories this year at the Festus Bowles Invitational, the Gans Creek Blue division, and District 3 meet, to go along with a runner-up finish at the JCAA Conference meet. He's leading his squad into a tough battle for the school's 14th state championship and second in three years.
El Dorado Springs freshman Wyatt Klaiber has asserted himself as one of the next big stars in Missouri cross country this season and enters Saturday's meet with a legitimate chance at becoming the first freshman state champion in State history.
Klaiber has had a busy fall with 11 races under his belt so far, a stark contrast to Herculaneum's Vaughn. He has picked up victories at Clinton, Cottey College, the Hermitage Dam Invitational, the first day of the Laker Invitational, the Ozark Highlands Conference, and his late-season home meet, before picking up the convincing victory at Class 3 District 2 with a personal best 15:45.48, his second mark under 16:00 this season.
Klaiber is a front-runner with no fear in the lead pack. He will certainly be chasing history as he puts the cherry on top of a stellar first high school season.
After a runner-up finish in 2022, Bowling Green's Ben Chance is rolling toward an individual state title on Saturday morning.
Chance has shown time and time again this fall that he can run and win against the best of the best in the entire state. He has won six meets this year, including the last four in a row at Orchard Farm, the EMO Conference, his home meet, and the Class 3 District 3 race last Saturday. He also has wins at the COMO Kick-off on the Gans course and the QND Raider Classic 3 mile. His 15:25.31 personal best is clear of the rest of the Class 3 field and his 16:01 season average would be fourth among Class 3 runners.
Watch for Chance to dictate the pace from the gun as he is the prohibitive favorite heading into the weekend.
Chillicothe's Luke Thompson made it four athletes with their first Class 3 District championship of their career after he crossed the line in 16:53.11, ahead of some serious all-state caliber competition. Thompson's District win was his fifth of the season as he has also picked up golds at the Chillicothe Invitational, Bishop LeBlond Invitational, Warrensburg Invitational, and the MEC Championships in his 16:27.36 personal best.
Thompson has shown down the stretch that he is among the state's best and should represent Northwest Missouri well in the Class 3 finale on Saturday morning.
The District Champs - Teams
Another year, another Herky team competing for a State title. This year would push them to the top of the all-time State lists as 14 would put them ahead of West Plains for the first time since the 1983...assuming the Zizzers do not pull in a State title of their own in Class 4. Herculaneum and West Plains have only each won a State title in the same year: 2008.
The Bearcats have a solid 1-2 punch, but will need to see just a little bit more from their 3, 4, and 5 men. Vaughn leads the way and could score low single digits. Nathaniel Wright is that strong second man for the squad who, like his teammate, has yet to set a personal best this year in the 5k. His 16:24.37 this season is two seconds behind last year's best. The team was District 1 winners on the Cape Notre Dame course with 39 points.
Seeded a comfortable third heading into it, Coach Davis's squad should at least pull in team trophy number 28 on Saturday. Expect them to be in the hunt at every kilometer checkpoint.
Two years removed from the Daelen Ackley era, El Dorado Springs may have found their next big superstar in Wyatt Klaiber. The freshman leads his squad into an epic battle for the team title after helping the Bulldogs to an emphatic District 2 win. They finished with 35 points, 76 ahead of Springfield Catholic in second.
This squad should be flying high after their massive District 2 victory where they their top 5 in the top 14 and posted a 1-5 average that would have placed third overall in the meet. Braxton Watts is a key second man as he has been right behind Klaiber all year. Though Klaiber is pulling away late on in the year, he will still be an important piece to their title dreams. Shane Fletcher, Sylas Fletcher, and Logan Fisk all come in within 25 seconds of each other to provide that necessary 3-4-5 depth to compete for a team title. Even if they do not win it all this year, they will be a heavy favorite heading into 2024 as they return their entire top six.
Imagine losing a 4:23/9:40 1600/3200 runner from your squad, and still being able to rally your group to win a Class 3 District 3 championship and be on the cusp of your school's first ever cross country state trophy.
Centralia lost JR Lesher to a move to California this offseason, but have been able to pick up the pieces and head into the 2023 Class 3 State meet seeded just one point behind fourth. Rohan Holiman has made a significant difference in the team's success as he has dropped a full minute year-over-year to 16:45.20 and has pulled his teammates right along with him. Dryst Bostick is also enjoying a stellar 2023 season as he has dropped just under a minute and a half year-over-year to 16:52.90. Carter Moss provides a solid number three to push the Panthers to the top, but the biggest boost will come from 4 and 5 on Saturday. Centralia is a sneaky dark horse pick Saturday morning, even after a comfortable District 3 victory.
After an impressive District 4 victory, St. Michael the Archangel is our pick to win it all on Saturday morning. They are rolling heading into the Class 3 finale and have shown throughout the season they can compete with the best of the best that Class 3 has to offer.
The Guardians' claim to fame is a shiny 23 second 1-5 split. Their crew may not put a single boy in the top 10, or even the top 20, on Saturday, but they will still score in the high 90 to low 100 range with the tight knit group they are bringing to Columbia. Johnny Joyce is the ringleader with a 16:48.30 season best. He was third last Saturday and the final medal-earner in Class 3 last season. Within 23 seconds ahead of him are four solid supporters led by Xavier Collins and Oliver Hotop. Watch for the Guardians to improve upon last year's fourth place finish as they challenge for the overall victory.
Keep an eye out for...
Chillicothe ran into a tough St. Michael the Archangel team last Saturday, but still finds themselves among the Class 3 trophy contenders Saturday.
Led by the afore-mentioned Luke Thompson, Chillicothe has one of the strongest 1-2-3 contingents of anyone in the field with Laik Graham and Cain Evans at 16:37.06 and 16:47.00 this season. If they could score as few as 30 points through their first three runners which will bode well if their fourth and fifth men are able to peak at the right time. Chillicothe has never been on the cross country podium, but may find themselves all the way at the top if everything breaks right.
Dexter has been enjoying a stellar couple of years on the cross country course and enters the 2023 Class 3 State Championships with a legitimate shot at their school's first team trophy all-time.
A disappointing fifth place last season, even though they did not pull in the Class 3 District 1 title over Herculaneum this time around, they are still right where they need to be to pull in the top 4 finish. Cameron Bell leads the way with a 16:30.80 best from the Gans Creek White race. That personal best was en route to his only victory of the season. Ben Dowdy is his next closest teammate in 16:59.56. As it stands, there are three teams fighting for two trophy spots within six points of each other. Expect Dexter to be in the mix at each checkpoint on Saturday morning.
While Chance and Klaiber were busy winning their District meets, East Newton's Chase Sorrell was probably busy reminiscing on all the wins he had had on the red oval over this past spring season as he crossed the line in Lamar as a runner-up in 16:02.02.
He has yet to improve upon the 15:38.23 personal best mark he posted last season, but Sorrell should still be considered firmly among the individual title contenders with the body of work he has managed to put together this season. A winner at three meets, including the Missouri Southern Stampede Gold Division, Big 8 Championship, and Lamar Tiger's Invitational, and three sub-16:00 marks to his name, Sorrell knows what it takes to win it all on the biggest stage and has arguably the best foot-speed of anyone in the field.
Southern Boone County's Brian Burns may be seeded 17th heading into the Class 3 finale, but we will not be fooled again. The last time a sophomore named Burns from Ashland marched into Columbia for a State Championship meet, he came away with a runner-up finish in a 15:42.20 personal best and started a trajectory toward a career unlike anything we have ever seen.
Are we saying that Connor's younger brother is about to run a full minute personal best and challenge for the individual victory? No, not entirely. But what you should not do is be surprised to find him hanging out in the top 10 as they head back down the starting straightaway. Burns is no slouch in his own right as he owns a 16:43.71 and is starting to show some intriguing signs of a breakout down the homestretch this October.