The first season of cross country racing in Houston since 1985 featured plenty of intriguing stories.
Runners from Houston High School and Houston Middle School competed in several meets during the second half of October, including the South Central Association conference championships Oct. 14 at Willow Springs, the Mountain Grove Invitational on Oct. 17 and the Ava Invitational on Oct. 28.
Three HHS runners competed in the Missouri State High School Activities Association Class 2 District 9 meet last Saturday in Washington: Sophomores Hunter McKinney and Jordyn Lay and junior Zach Brannan. McKinney finished 14th, with a time of 19:27, and qualified to run this Saturday in the state championship meet in Columbia.
At the SCA meet, McKinney took third place in the varsity boys race, with a time of 19:20 on the 3.1-mile course, while Brannan finished 17th place at 23:54.
In the junior high boys race, Houston eighth-grader Jake Allen placed fourth with a time of 10:28 on the 1.5-mile course, while seventh-grader William McNutt came in 16th at 12:10.
A trio of HMS seventh-graders finished in the top-15 in the junior high girls race, as Lacey Cavaness took 9th with a time of 12:50, Summer Bittle finished 11th at 14:09 and Kristen Ely was 12th at 14:16.
At the Mountain Grove Invitational, McKinney had a fine outing, finishing 27th with time of 20:11, 9 seconds better than his previous best on the course.
In the junior varsity boys race, Houston freshman Connor Chamberlain placed 8th with a personal-record time of 10:49 on the 1.5-mile course.
Three Houston runners set personal records in the junior high boys race, as Allen finished 11th at 9:39, McNutt came in 39th at 11:09 and seventh-grader Brody Adkison finished with a time of 15:32.
Several Houston runners set PRs in the junior high girls race, as Cavaness placed 23rd at 12:07, seventh-grader Summer Bittle came in 26th at 12:17, Ely finished 33rd at 12:22 and eighth-grader Addison Cook placed 38th at 12:32.
In the sixth-grade boys race, Houston’s Karson Walker placed first with a time of 10:05, while Kaleb McGiboney finished 18th at 11:58, Jack Sawyer placed 20th at 12:07 and Fletcher Wilson came in 29th at 14:25.
In the sixth-grade girls race, Houston’s Kayla Wagner placed 10th with a time of 12:38, while Hailie Hamilton was right behind in 11th at 12:41.
Also running for Houston were Carli Cummins-Drake (20th place, 13:37), Kynlee Weaver (22nd, 13:50), Katy Evans (29th, 14:43), Loran Drake (31st, 15:18), Allie Campbell (33rd, 15:46), Addison Neugebauer (34th, 15:49), Laura-Lynn McNutt (40th, 18:36), Cassidy Creed (42nd, 18:57) and Jenna Bittle (46th, 19:54).
At the Ava Invitational, McKinney posted another top-10 finish, placing eighth in a field of 33 runners representing nine different schools in the varsity boys race with a time of 19:43. Brannan was again Houston’s only other varsity boy runner, and he came in 18th at 21:39.
Plato had two runners finish in the top-5, as David Held won with a time of 18:17 and Josh Pyatt placed fourth at 19:20.
Lay was Houston’s only runner in the varsity girls race, and she placed 13th in a field of 23, with a time of 28:59.
Chamberlain ran in the JV boys race at Ava, while Houston had four runners in the junior high boys race, including McNutt, Adkison, John Kimrey and Hunter Peterson.
Houston had five runners in the junior high girls race, including Cavaness, Bittle and Ely, along with Addison Cook and Sky Branum.
Houston cross country coach Michelle Henshaw said she’s pleased with the way the season progressed. But it all started with nobody but McKinney.
“I’m struggling to find the words to describe the 2019 cross country season,” Henshaw said. “It has without a doubt exceeded all of my expectations. On the first summer practice in June, I had one athlete show up. I would be lying if I were to say I wasn’t disappointed and somewhat panicked.
“My only athlete that showed up that day in June is the same athlete I get to coach at the state championship meet.”
Over the weeks, Henshaw ended up with three varsity runners, one JV runner, 12 middle school runners and 15 sixth-graders.
“Needless to say the future is bright for Houston cross country,” she said. “We have some exceptional young talent that will shine as the program grows. I am extremely honored to be the Houston cross country coach and I can’t wait to see what’s next.”