JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Francis Howell had set a course for a state title all season.
The team was blessed with experience in track champions Whitney Adams and Valeska Halamicek. There was speed and tenacity on the team, depth and talent.
All the ingredients were there for the Vikings Saturday, and all they had to do was follow through on the Oak Hills Golf Center course as they had all season long. The Vikings realized their goal of a state title with 81 points, placing three girls in the top 20.
“They all fought for the whole race,” Howell coach Nate Tower said. “They worked hard all season and this is what they believed they could do. Yesterday we talked about how, ‘Hey, we have to get in these positions and do these things,’ but today when we got out there we said, ‘Hey, let’s just run our race.’ If we run our best there will be nothing to be disappointed about.”
Kristen Adams led the squad as she has all season, finishing fifth in 19:05. Whitney Adams, the 400-meter state champ last spring, was close on her heels in seventh (19:10). Halamicek, the defending 800-meter state champ, finished 19th in a PR time of 19:29.
That performance forced Tower’s grin to grow just little bit wider.
“They sacrificed themselves today,” Tower said. “You saw Arnica (Zitting) collapse at the finish line; you saw Valeska actually believe that she’s a cross country runner for once in her life – an unbelievable race. She saw the need for her to move up; she saw that Arnica was feeling weak toward the end and she moved up like the champion she is.”
Danielle Berry and Zitting crossed the finish line nearly arm-in-arm in 44th and 45th, respectively to cement the team’s spot atop the podium.
Eureka, led by sophomore Hannah Long, earned its first state trophy since 2007 with 103 points for a runner-up finish.
“Each one of the girls had their plan and had to execute their plan, and when they do that, good things are going to happen,” Eureka coach Kally Fischer said. “We thought we could have three all-staters, but we just didn’t know we’d have three in the top 11, so that was pretty great.”
Fischer credited senior Megan Cunningham for turning in the performance of her career with an 11th-place finish in 19:16. Angie Sumner, running in her first state meet, took 9th in 19:12. Eureka also had the individual state champion in sophomore Hannah Long, who won in 18:06.91 – the fifth fastest time turned in at the state meet.
While Long is only a sophomore, she entered the running scene last year with high expectations and turned in some amazing performances. However, she could not capture a state title in cross country or track, and that made Saturday’s victory a breakthrough performance of a different sort.
“That was a stepping stone. That’s why we took her to Great American to get some experience under her belt,” Fischer said. “This is kind of a stepping stone for what we’re looking for in three weeks (at Foot Locker Midwest Regional).”
Long shot to the front of the field right from the start and pushed the pace throughout. No one came up to challenge her, so she continued on running her own race.
“I’ve been waiting for this for awhile because last year I got second in everything in track and cross country,” Long said. “I just wanted to win, so that is a really good feeling.
“I figured since I had the best times this year that it would be OK for me to lead a little bit and go at my own pace. I was very nervous, so I had to be aware of people behind me and where they were.”
Hickman senior Nicole Mello finished runner-up in 18:40.
“I knew Hannah Long was going to be a good competitor, and I was so excited to race her,” Mello said. “It would’ve been nice my fourth year here to get a state title, but really I was so happy with this. I am beyond ecstatic for this finish to my high school cross country career.”
St. Theresa’s Academy was third with 116 points, and five-time defending champion Lee’s Summit West took fourth with 129 points.