2019 season preview: Girls' turnout, talent might presage best-ever team season

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — The only in-town appearance of Chillicothe High School’s 2019 cross country running season – a season which appears to have the potential of being a historic one for the Lady Hornets – takes place late this afternoon.
The annual Chillicothe Invitational, begun 15 years ago by then-coach and now-CHS assistant principal Jill Watkins, will take place in shady Simpson Park, beginning at 4 p.m. A 2-teams meet 15 years ago, the 16th-annual event figures to have double-digits schools sending teams or individuals, as has been the case for the past half-dozen years or so.
It will be the first time being overseen by first-year Chillicothe coach Michael Creekmore, who doubtless will be aided by many veteran community volunteers and, quite likely, by long-time program overseer Tim Riekena, who retired last year after 13 seasons leading the CHS teams.
As usual, for safety and logistical reasons, Simpson Park will be closed to vehicular traffic from approximately 3 p.m. today until after the meet participants and organizers have cleared out at approximately 7 p.m.
As the 16th-annual Chillicothe Invitational meet unfolds today, it will do so with a dual chance to make history.
Never before has the host school’s girls’ team captured their own meet’s title. Many times low numbers of participants have keep CHS from even producing a team score (minimum of five runners needed).
However, a larger-than-normal turnout of distaff distance runners, supplemented by an advantageous addition, could make that fact outdated by this evening, if the results from Chillicothe’s opening meet last week are an indicator.
Last Tuesday at Maryville, the Lady Hornets had four of the top six individual finishers among the participating teams in the meet there, leading to a team title by a 3-points margin over the hosts.
If the CHS girls, facing a mostly-different group of opponents today – including several from larger schools like Kirksville and Moberly which traditionally have had strong teams, were to replicate that first-place finish, it would both be the first time the Lady Hornets have claimed the championship plaque of their own home meet, but – as their second triumph of 2019 – match a couple of mid-1980s seasons as 2-titles seasons. No Chillicothe girls’ cross country running team ever has won more than two meets in a single year.
The CHS boys, with an abnormally-small turnout of only six runners this fall, entered all six in the 5-kilometers varsity race of last Tuesday’s meet at Maryville and presumably will repeat that in today’s home event. However, with only one of the six having varsity-level experience and performance capability in prior years, the Hornets don’t seem likely to be a title contender today.
On down the line, it’s possible Creekmore might opt to slot some of the boys into junior-varsity or freshman-only races – two of this year’s CHS boys’ runners are ninth graders, in order to give them a more-appropriate atmosphere in which to compete and mature.
While the Lady Hornets also have their share of youngsters, including at least three frosh, two of the ninth graders – Aliyah Briner and Juliann Gabrielson – not only debuted at the varsity level at Maryville, but were among the high-finishing quartet. They, combined with a move-in from Manhattan, Kan., and added to a strong holdover, helped transform the CHS girls from a respectable squad to title contenders.
Last week’s race at Maryville saw sophomore Kadence Shipers, the top performer for the 2018 Lady Hornets, again earn that distinction, finishing seventh overall (23:53.94) and second among team-scoring runners.
However, next across the finish line behind her – 11 seconds back – was newcomer Clarissa Nivens. According to Dan Nagel, CHS principal and director of athletics, the senior transfer was a member of gigantic Manhattan West’s (approximately 2,400 students) junior-varsity team as a junior and would have projected as a varsity-squad mainstay there this year.
However, competing now for Chillicothe, she figures to push Shipers for the top rung in the CHS lineup, likely enhancing each other’s performance as Nivens settles in to her new surroundings. Nagel notes Nivens also ran track-and-field at the western Kansas high school and, should see choose to do so here next spring, could be a valuable addition then, as well.
With those two likely running with the leaders pack and frosh Briner and Gabrielson, who largely ran together most of the Maryville race and finished within three seconds of each other, potentially providing an additional tandem of high supplemental scorers, the makings are there for a strong team showing in nearly every meet this year.
Not only that, but a pair of veterans who have been solid contributors in the past – senior Callaway Chapman and junior Emma Burk – look to be reliable, consistent runners who can be counted on to supply respectable fifth-place or better times and finishes that could prove crucial in the team standings.
Also providing some depth and, as only a sophomore, potential for valuable improvement and advancement should be Kathryn George.
Completing the CHS girls’ roster are freshman Kaylynn Cranmer, senior Kiera Bosley, and junior Mayanna Weed.
Should the Lady Hornets harriers develop as seems possible, they might generate CHS’ best crack at a Midland Empire Conference team title since back-to-back crowns in 1986-87. No CHS girls’ team ever has claimed a district title and the last time the Lady Hornets sent a team to the early November state meet also was in 1987.
On the boys’ side, the only significant varsity experience resides in the form of junior Hayden Simmer. He should contend for meet medals numerous times, but doesn’t figure to rank among the highest finishers often, based on last year’s showings and his 14th-place finish (21:32.14) in this year’s opener.
The Hornets’ second-fastest runner in last week’s debut was sophomore Stephen Parkes, followed closely by classmate Brady Bernskoetter, but they finished 30th and 32nd, respectively, in a 44-runners field.
On behind them were the other Hornets – frosh Logan Gregory and Gavin Funk and junior Nathan Toole.