Osage girls win small school division

The Laker Invitational was in action Saturday morning at Ha Ha Tonka State Park where a total of 155 boys and 110 girls representing 22 total teams hit the 3.1 mile course in large school and small school divisions with one goal in mind- earning a team plaque and some ice cream cake.

Camdenton coach David Weber is not quite sure how long ago the tradition was started, but one day an athlete approached him with the idea of replacing a Friday night meal with ice cream cake and the idea stuck.

“Good competition, a good race course and good weather makes for fast times and obviously the other motivation is the ice cream cake,” Weber said of the annual race. “The winner gets the ice cream cake, which is pretty unique and I don’t know if anybody does that.

“Of course, the one year when it rained, we forgot to give out the cakes and we took four of them home so that was real nice,” the longtime Laker coach added with a smile.

The Osage girls were one of the teams hungry for an ice cream cake as the team finished first out of four teams in the four-team small school division with 26 points and 19 points ahead of second place Fulton. The team did so well that all seven Indians medaled in the varsity race by finishing in the top 20 and the two junior varsity runners medaled as well.

“It was awesome. We don’t think of ourselves as a team, but a family and we had a girl with a birthday this week (Sarah Porter) so it was even better,” Osage’s Micah Hill said of her team’s success. “We’ve worked really hard this summer so to put in all those miles, see it pay off today, see all the improvement and how much closer together we are getting is great… It was not just improvements and a good job, it was improvements and we earned what we came here for so that was good.”

Hill led the Indians with a second place finish in the field of 37 runners at 20 minutes and 17 seconds, trailing the frontrunner from Mexico by just five seconds respectively. Karlie Minnehan finished fifth at 21:13, Sara Wolf was right behind her in sixth at 21:24, Nevaeh Henley took ninth at 21:38, Porter was 11th at 21:51, Alana Douglas earned 14th at 22:29 and Megan Douglas rounded things up in 19th at 23:06.

Osage coach Miriam Hill noted that two of her girls were out with the flu, but she was pleased to see the strong times and see her junior varsity runners run some personal records. To simply put it, it was a “good day.”

“It is always nice to be on this course. We joke that this is kind of our home course in a way because it is the closest that we have to a home meet,” she stated. “It is a fast and flat course and it really challenges our kids. They are very strong hill runners, but this is the kind of course that makes them run hard. They have to maintain on the flats, constantly be thinking about that and not get in a comfortable zone and be complacent… They ran exceptionally well.”

Micah did not have the flu fortunately and said she was satisfied with her own performance. The strong times simply mean that this team can push each other even more.

“I felt pretty good,” she said. “ I mean, there is always room for improvement so I am going to keep working. I’m just really excited because we are all so close together so it is going to be awesome that we are going to be pulling each other along.”

It was not a bad day for the Osage boys either as the team finished third out of nine teams in the small school division with 80 points while Fulton won the event with 41 points.

“We talked after the race about some things we need to focus on because the two schools that did beat us were district schools,” Coach Hill pointed out. “But the guys’ team has come a long way in the last two years so we’ve kind of realized what we need to work on so we can be successful at our conference meet and districts.”

Derrick Puckett led the Indian pack with a ninth place time of 17:35. Chase Grosvenor earned 12th at 17:45, Payton Bartlett took 14th at 17:59, Dale Lampe finished 25th at 18:44, Micah Lehenbauer came in 30th at 18:59, Cooper Vickers finished 35th at 19:20 and Steven Crosby earned 46th at 20:25.

“I’m just so proud to see how far the team has come,” Puckett stated. “We’ve been working hard and to see it on the course is a nice feeling because it shows that we work hard and shows how much of a family we are.”

It is also never a bad day if you can keep pushing forward and set a new personal record.

“I was happy with it because I got an overall personal record, but I’m happy that it also pushes them (teammates) to do better,” he noted. “I see improvements throughout the year and I hope that together we can move on to state as a team.”

Camdenton was among the teams in the large school division where the boys finished 10th out of 13 schools with 258 points and the girls also took 10th in a 10-team race with 203 points. The Lakers may not have exactly finished where they would have liked to, but they still came away with at least one medal winner in both races. Weber said the team has made significant strides since last year.

“This year we are definitely better and today was a pretty good day for us,” he said. “We ran a tough course last weekend where I thought we did well, but it was hot. Now, we had a better course, a faster course and I thought most of our kids did a real good job. Most of them set personal records.”

Camdenton’s Garrett Mason, a sectional qualifier from last season, led the Laker boys with a 16th place finish out of 88 runners at 16:57. Andrew DiBello earned 32nd at 17:48, Jake Thoenen finished 62nd at 19:13, Sam Gray came in 70th at 19:42 and Riley Head rounded things up in 78th at 20:12.

“It was pretty exciting. Great temperature for it, really cool out, a flat course which is good for a personal record and a lot of competition here from different schools so it was an all-around good day to race,” Mason said. “I definitely need to start pacing a little better. I started out a little too fast and I think a lot of people did.”

Weber liked some of the things he saw from the early morning race as well.

“We had Garrett kind of bounce back after a couple of poor races in a row because of some side stitch issues. He bounced back today so he should have a little bit of confidence back to know that he can run with those kids,” the coach observed. “Andrew ran almost a minute faster today than he did last year and is getting stronger. Jake also plays soccer and last week he had a soccer game six days in a row and has been battling a cold so I’m sure he was disappointed, but I tell you what, the kid does not lack for effort.”

Skyler Sweezor paced the Lakers in the girls’ race and medaled with an 18th place finish out of 73 runners with a time of 20:53. Cambrie Kowal took 49th at 22:59, Erika Nevins finished 68th at 25:13, Abigail Bellew earned 71st at 25:40 and Alicia Smythe came in 73rd at 27:41.

Earning a medal, Sweezor said she definitely could not complain.

“It was good. I have a lot of fun and knowing the course was fun because I knew how to pace myself. It was just a great day with everybody,” she said. “You just have to get into it.”

Weber was also pleased with the effort knowing that many of his girls are fairly new to this challenging sport.

“Skyler has been a nice surprise for us and all the girls are just getting better,” Weber pointed out. “On the girls’ side I’ve got one girl that ran high school cross country before this year so a lot of these girls are new to the sport. They are still figuring out how to race, how to train and what it takes, but I was pleasantly surprised with their effort today. We just have to turn around next weekend and do well at conference, which is tough.”

Indeed, the season does not get any easier with the Ozark Conference race and district race just around the corner. Weber said the game plan was to get the legs fresh with a little bit of rest, but they will certainly be getting a few miles in with the hopes of getting some All-Conference performances which is easier said than done.

“I am not going to take away anything from any other high school sport, but to get All-Conference in cross country is one of the toughest things,” he said. “The top seven are First Team and the next seven are Second Team and that is it. If you are 15th like one of my kids was last year, you are not All-Conference so hopefully that is a little motivation for them too.”

The focus now is on the task ahead, but the coach did not leave the grounds of Ha Ha Tonka without also taking some time to acknowledge everyone who helps to make the race possible every year.

“I just want to thank all the volunteers and parents. We had more help this year with parent involvement than we ever had before and I am just pleased with that,” Weber said. ‘We did a good job and I am glad they came.”

The team would also certainly not mind increasing its numbers.

“The team is really great and it is really fun so if anyone wants to join we are really friendly,” Sweezor said.

As for Osage, Coach Hill hopes to see her runners keep pushing forward.

“Over the summer and this fall we’ve worked on our base so we are there with our base. Now, it is just working on improving foot speed,” she noted. “This week was Homecoming and I’m not making any excuses, but these kids train hard and they’ve had a lot of functions going on at night. They’ve raced tired and to run this time today was good so now we just need to work on a few things, focus and even work on focus in itself and I think that we are going to be right where we need to be.”

Camdenton will race at conference in Springfield on Saturday and Osage will do the same on October 12 in Eldon.