ST. LOUIS – The loaded field at the Sixth Annual Forest Park Cross Country Festival quickly developed into a four-man race with the expected clash between some of the sport’s biggest names.
Rock Bridge’s Caleb Wilfong pushed the group early, but about halfway through the Green division race Rockhurst’s Zach Herriott charged to the front of the pack. Herriott built some separation, leaving Wilfong to battle with Drew White of Festus and Alex Riba of O’Fallon, Ill., for runner-up.
Herriott’s move to create a gap served him well by eliminating the kick of the rest of the field, and he finished first in a new course record time of 15:10. The old record of 15:28 was set in the inaugural season of 2006 by Potosi’s Josh Thebeau.
“It was important to me to try to win this because last year Caleb knew if it came down to the kick he would win, and I know that, too,” Herriott said. “His kick is 10 times better than mine.
“Today before the race I was nervous because Caleb beat me last year, but then I remembered at state when I had my best race I beat everybody. It’s huge for me mentally, to be able to come out here and think most people had their best day and I beat them.”
Rockhurst coach Mike Dierks said the confidence boost is important, even if Herriott is the defending Class 4 state champion.
“Zach definitely likes to run things fast,” Dierks said. “When he has a good race, he’s really confident, and he gets more confident. We saw that in cross country last year – he built, he built, he built, he built. For him, it’s a benefit to come out hard and fast.”
Wilfong put his trademark kick on display to edge into second place (15:18) ahead of White (15:19), and Riba was a close fourth (15:20).
“Any time you win it the year before and are defending champ, you have high expectations for yourself,” said Wilfong, who won the 2010 Forest Park race by six seconds over Herriott. “No one likes to give up that title, but when you have guys like Zach, Drew White, Alex Riba out here, there’s not much you can do. You’re with the top competition in Missouri and Illinois.
“Props to those guys. They had a fabulous race, and they pushed me, and I feel like we used each other really well. Drew and I even got some talk going during the race about how we were going to try to get Zach, but obviously Zach is a monster.”
Rock Bridge had two more runners in the top 10 – Jordan Cook in sixth (15:28) and Nathan Keown in 10th (15:45) – to boost the Bruins to a team title with 67 points. Rockhurst was second (124), SLUH third (168) and O’Fallon fourth (177).
In the White division, St. Charles West’s Sheldon Keence blew open the race over the final mile to win by 10 seconds over John Burroughs’ Kirk Smith.
“My goal was to go out and take an easy first mile and then take them down one-by-one,” said Keence, who won in 16:15. “I blew past him and tried to break down his will to win. I felt great all day.”
Notre Dame (Cape Girardeau) maintained a fairly tight pack throughout to win the division with 115 points. Clayton used a couple of top 10 finishes to take second (128), and Kearney was third (144).
Notre Dame also captured first place in the JV White division behind the first-place effort of senior Nate Lincoln (17:58). Lincoln was pushed through the last half of the race by Chaminade’s Sam Miller.
“I could definitely tell he was behind me, and it spurred me a lot,” Lincoln said. “I wasn’t sure if he had a lot of sprint in him.”
Notre Dame scored 31 points as a scoring pack of four runners crossed the finish line sixth through ninth.
Rockhurst rolled to the JV Green division title with 22 points as juniors Curran Steck and Carl Nelson were the first two to the finish line, and the Hawklets put six runners in the top nine.
“It’s my first actual race of the season, and I did better than I thought,” said Steck, who finished in 17:17. “I was just planning on packing with the team in the front and then finishing.”
Rock Bridge was led by freshman Lucas Harrington’s third-place finish (17:25) to take second with 44 points.