Lady Hornet took sixth place in Class 3 District 8 cross country running meet Saturday (Nov. 2, 2019). Senior Nivens suffers near-near-miss for advancement

PLATTE CITY, Mo. — Saturday’s (Nov. 2, 2019) Class 3 District 8 high school cross country running meet brought immediate joy and reaffirmation of the potential bright future of one young Chillicothe (Mo.) runner and intense disappointment for a Lady Hornets teammate who was making her one grasp at the prep “brass ring.”
Needing a top-15 finish among all Class 3 girls’ runners to become a state-meet qualifier, Chillicothe High School first-year coach Michael Creekmore, other CHS runners, and family and fans who were on hand celebrated when the sixth harrier to stride across the finish line at Platte Ridge Park at Platte City was CHS Lady Hornets freshman Aliyah Briner.
Her personal season-best time of 21:33.9 – more than 90 seconds faster than her clocking in the Oct. 22 Midland Empire Conference Championships – meant she’d be going on to next Saturday’s state championships at the Gans Creek Cross Country Course near Columbia.
Then began the relatively-brief wait of about a minute to see whether any of the other members of the most-successful CHS girls’ cross country running team ever would join Briner in advancing to state.
Given that two other Lady Hornets had taken turns being the team’s top finisher in a meet this season and had experienced similar levels of success and run times comparable to late-season-leader Briner’s on many occasions, there was very legitimate hope that either senior Clairissa Nivens, hampered late in the season by a health issue, or Briner’s classmate Juliann Gabrielson – or both – would be not far off Briner’s pace and squeeze into the qualifier ranks.
With a couple of other runners close behind (within five seconds) Briner, it immediately was realized Nivens or Gabrielson would need to come into view near the finish line soon to have a chance, since only seven qualifying spots remained. In about 10 more seconds, another pair of entrants – none of them Chillicotheans – completed the course, rounding out the top 10.
As the 22-minutes mark of elapsed time was reached nearly a half-minute, another trio of runners drew close to the end of the 5-kilometers race – again without Nivens or Gabrielson in their number. When the third one of that grouping finished, only two more qualifying spots were up for grabs and, within seconds, it became obvious neither would be claimed by a Lady Hornet.
Even as Nivens drew within sight of the finish line, she was a significant distance behind the runner ahead of her, who, in turn, had another competitor well ahead of her about to finish 14th.
A transfer to Chillicothe from distant Manhattan, Kan., prior to this – her senior – year, Nivens gamely strode toward the finish line at her best pace, just in case that runner more than five seconds ahead of her experienced a last-moments calamity. However, when that girl reached the finish line, the door for a trip to state in her only year in Missouri figuratively slammed shut in the Lady Hornet’s face.
As Nivens, the CHS girls’ top runner through most of the first half of the season before encountering the health problem, triggered the electronic timer at the finish line, her clocking of 22:30.3 had left her in the top non-qualifying spot, 9.3 seconds away from state competition.
Given that, before the health issue cropped up at the start of October, Nivens routinely had finished anywhere from a half-minute to more than a minute faster than the quick-developing Briner and Gabrielson, it’s a reasonable assumption that, had the senior enjoyed full health all season and, like her teammates, ramped up her speed over the closing weeks of the season as the weather cooled and the schedule thinned – allowing more-intensive practices tailored to cut times, Nivens very likely would have finished close enough to Briner’s time – if not been faster than it – and earned the right to compete at state with time and room to spare.
With an 11-days break between the MEC and district races, the CHS senior recovered well enough to best her  previous-fastest time of the year by over a half-minute, even though it wasn’t quite good enough to earn her another, final race.
As for Gabrielson, after many times running virtually in tandem with ninth grade classmate Briner for most of races as both became acclimated to the rigors of the 3.1-miles-plus high school varsity distance, Saturday’s district race saw her unable to approximate the speedier pace needed to stay with her teammate and the fastest “group” in the field.
Eventually, Gabrielson posted a still-respectable 27th-place finish (out of 52 total runners) in 23:44.2, but that was over two minutes slower than Briner’s this day and more than 1:20 off the time she’d have needed to join her classmate as a state competitor later this week.
As a team, Chillicothe’s girls – with sophomore Kadence Shipers placing 35th (24:21.6) and junior Emma Burk 38th (25:10) – posted the fourth-best score out of the seven teams entered – 114, three back of Cameron, but, as expected, far, far behind state qualifiers Smithville (41) and Kansas City: St. Pius X (45).
On the boys’ side of Saturday’s competition, Chillicothe Hornets junior Hayden Simmer – the team’s top racer in every meet – finished the season with his fastest race – his 19:44.1 being about 16 seconds better than his prior top mark. While that earned him the 24th-place spot in the individual rankings, the time was nearly 90 seconds slower than the last state qualifier’s (18:17.4).
With only six runners completing the race, the senior-less Hornets were last among the 10 competing teams with a score of 271.
Rounding out the CHS boys’ scoring quintet were Clayton Savage (66th, 22:46.8), Brady Bernskoetter (69th, 24:38.9), Logan Gregory (70th, 25:00.5), and Gavin Funk (71st, 25:11.2). All except sophomore Bernskoetter are frosh.
The CHS boys’ other finishing runner was junior Nathan Toole (74th, 31:01), while senior Callaway Chapman (40th, 25:37.7) and freshman Kaylynn Cranmer (43rd, 26:04.1) completed the Lady Hornets’ full contingent.