Camdenton's Mason to take on the best runners in the state at Jefferson City

Camdenton is going back to state.

The Lakers hosted a Class 4 sectional meet at Ha Ha Tonka State Park on Saturday where the top 30 runners in the boys and girls’ races qualified for state. Camdenton junior Garrett Mason was among the top 30, finishing 26th with a personal record time of 16:37 to earn his first trip to the biggest race of the year.

Mason had a slight advantage knowing the ins and outs of his home course that allowed him to avoid potholes, cut corners and minimize distance. However, it was his drive to not miss the cutoff and finish 31st out of the 75 runners in the field, that allowed him to succeed.

It is just great,” said Mason who qualified for his first state meet after reaching sectionals as a sophomore. “I really felt it at the end and just kept pushing. I knew I was going to be in the 30s, but I did not want to get 31st or 32nd. The fear kind of drove me.”

Camdenton coach David Weber was proud of the junior’s efforts, knowing just how hard it can be to make it to state. Mason is the first Laker state qualifier since Tessa Weber and J.J. Ryan qualified in 2012.

“I know there are programs that are there year in and year out, but there are a lot of programs like ours where you just hope you can get somebody there because it is that fast,” the coach noted. “There are 24 different schools that are represented at this meet and only 30 spots so it is tough to get there and it means a lot. It means a lot to us, but it also means a lot to Garrett because it shows you how if a kid has a little bit of talent and is willing to work hard, they can get there.”

Weber also commended Mason’s progress, noting that he has taken a step forward each year, and it is a trend he would certainly be pleased to see continue.

“If he ran 10 seconds slower he would not have made it so you still have to perform well and he has done that,” the coach remarked. “The only races he’s had this year that have been really subpar are the ones he did not feel well in. I cannot say it was expected, but it was not unexpected so he’s got the talent and he deserves to be there... Every year you want to try to move up a little bit to the next level and he did that.”

Mason was not the only runner in competition on the chilly Saturday morning though. Fellow junior Skyler Sweezor was also in action for the Lakers, looking to punch her ticket to state in the girls’ race. Sweezor came up short finishing 57th out of 74 runners with a time of 21:35. However, being her first ever year of running cross country, qualifying for sectionals is not such a bad accolade.

“In the first year everything is new to her and you don’t know what to expect. She told me the other day she surprised herself with how well she has done,” Weber recalled.

The injury bug was also a factor for Sweezor.

“She did not have her best race today, but it was not horrible. Skyler has not really been healthy for about three weeks running mileage-wise what she normally runs in a week,” Weber pointed out. “We’ve had to rest her because of her leg injury and just try to rest her as much as possible. She said it did not bother her today, but it did.

“She is not going to let on and she is a competitor. She does not want to use not feeling great as an excuse,” the coach added.

While she did not qualify for state, Sweezor said she certainly learned from her experience and is eager to take another shot at it during her senior year in 2018.

“It was very surprising to get here and of course I could not have done it without my family, coaches and teammates. What I learned today was not to start too fast because I kind of freaked out not really knowing how it went.

“I’m already ready,” Sweezor added with a smile. “I’m already ready for next year so I’ll be practicing a lot harder and a lot faster to go higher.”

Weber has no doubt about her drive.

“She got here, she deserved to be here and next year she can use this as an experience. I fully expect she’ll be here and be better next year because she is a tough kid and a fighter so she’ll be back,” he said.

While there is one more race left to focus on this year, looking ahead there is nothing Weber would like more than to be able to grow the program and add more runners to the Laker ranks who can go on to do big things in the postseason. The coach said there are plenty of kids who are certainly capable.

“I love my kids that I work with and they are hard-working kids. As far as the program goes though, there are just not enough of them and we need to get more kids out,” he stated. “If you saw Skyler, Garrett, Jake (Thoenen), Andrew (DiBello), Abby (Bellew), or Erika (Nevins) walking down the hall, they don’t look any different from 90 percent of the kids in the building. They are just these average looking kids that have a desire to do something.

“Cross country is a great sport and running is something a lot of kids will do the rest of their lives. It is just finding those kids and getting them out. Once they are out, they love it,” the coach added.

Weber went on to say that there are only two kinds of people in the world- those that can run and those that should run.

“It is kind of getting over that, ‘I can’t do it.’ There are a lot of people who can help our program,” he said. “I love my kids. They are great and that is why I coach. I just love working with them and I’d take 15 more of them.”

The program also extends beyond the kids though as the coach also took some time to offer praise for his assistants and the parents of the runners as well.

“We could not do this without the help of our parents. We have great parents this year and Coach (Gary) Thompson and (Lauren) Jones help out a lot,” he said. “A lot of applause and praise for them because they work just as hard as the rest of us.”

For now, Weber will focus on the task at hand of getting one of his runners ready for state where the top 25 runners medal and earn All-State honors in a field of 160 to 170.

“It will be a lot like this past week with some moderate miles, nothing too fast or too hard, rest up the legs and just try to perform your best,” Weber said of the preparation. “If nothing else, Garrett can use this as a springboard going forward for next year. He’ll get to see the state course, race on it and get a feel for it so hopefully this is the first of two races that he’ll be there for.”

Mason is looking forward to making his presence known.

“I’m just going to keep pushing,’” the junior said. “We’ve had people there before, but it's been awhile and I’d like to reintroduce our name at state.”

The Class 4 Boys’ race will take place at 12:30 p.m., on Saturday at Oak Hills Golf Course in Jefferson City.