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Chillicothe HS Cross Country Running Lady Hornets Make State Meet as Team, Hayden Simmer as Solo Boy

One of only two distaff teams in district competition, but, led by three top-25 finishers, Lady Hornets cop first state team berth since ’87 Saturday (Oct. 31, 2020). Hornet Hayden Simmer also to go

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
Chillicothe (Mo.) HS' contingent which has qualified for this coming Thursday's (Nov. 5) 2020 Class 3 State Championships at Columbia poses for a photo after earning their collective way to state with their District 8 meet performances at Platte City Saturday (Oct. 31) includes, from right, lone Hornets qualifier Hayden Simmer and the full Lady Hornets squad of Aliyah Briner, Emily Shipers, Kadence Shipers, Juliann Gabrielson, and Kaylynn Cranmer. First-year head coach Jennifer Dickson is at left. The girls' team advancement is the first for CHS since 1987.

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

PLATTE CITY — With a freshman late-season addition doing the trick, Chillicothe High School’s cross country running Lady Hornets came up with a tasty Halloween treat Saturday.

Led by three runners – sophomores Aliyah Briner and Juliann Gabrielson and junior Kadence Shipers – who would have advanced on their own anyway, the Lady Hornets harriers will compete as a team in next Thursday’s Class 3 state meet at Columbia, the first such CHS occurrence since 1987.

Repeat qualifier Briner (ninth) and first-timers K. Shipers (11th) and Gabrielson (12th) each placed in the top 15 in the Class 3 girls’ race at Platte Ridge Park in Platte City, as did Hornets senior Hayden Simmer (11th), to assure themselves of at least individual participation in next week’s state championships at the Gans Creek Cross Country Course at the southeast edge of Columbia.

However when sophomore Kaylynn Cranmer, a season-long member of the Lady Hornets, and freshman Emily Shipers both completed the 5-kilometers course, it officially advanced the CHS girls’ team to state for the first time in 33 years.

“What a great day for Chillicothe Hornet (cross country)!” first-year CHS coach Jennifer Dickson enthused.

“Very gusty conditions made (Saturday’s) races tough, but they all competed and fought with all their heart,” she praised her five girls’ and five boys’ participants. “Our motto is ‘hard work and heart set us apart,’ and this group continues to show that each week.

“I could not be more proud of both the girls’ and guys’ teams today and this season!”

The 1987 season when the Lady Hornets last went to state as a team is historically significant for multiple reasons.

That year’s CHS girls’ squad was both Midland Empire Conference and district-meet champion. However, CHS and school district officials eliminated cross country running as a school-sponsored sport before the next school year and it was kept dormant for six years before being initially revived as a “club” sport in 1994 and then returned to full status the next year.

Since then, less than 10 times in a quarter-century have there been enough female students out for the endurance-testing sport that begins preseason training in the heat and humidity of August and doesn’t conclude its schedule until the often-cold early days of November.

While, according to research done and documented on a personal website created and maintained by local media member Randy Dean, the Lady Hornets have sent one or two girls to the state meet 15 times in the 26 years since the sport was revived, not until Saturday had Chillicothe qualified a girls’ team.

It would not have been able to do so this year except for the midseason decision by E. Shipers to be a fifth participant, thus allowing CHS – when at full strength – to have the minimum number of runners (five) to generate a team score.

Even though that late arrival has often left her trailing all or nearly all other distaff runners in meets, the younger Shipers’ mere presence has allowed Chillicothe to be in team competition.

In both the recent MEC meet and Saturday’s 10-schools district meet, CHS and Kansas City: St. Pius X – presumably partially due to COVID-19 concerns and impact – were the only schools with enough runners for a team score. While in the league meet, that effectively meant for Chillicothe only the “honor” of being the second-place team, at district it meant qualification for the state championships, ending a generational gap in that achievement.

After a steady, strong season, Chillicothe (Mo.) HS senior cross country runner Hayden Simmer, seen during the Oct. 20, 2020, Midland Empire Conference Championships at St. Joseph, achieved his goal of qualifying for the state championship race at least once in his career by taking 11th place in the Class 3 District 8 meet at Platte City Saturday (Oct. 31). The top 15 finishers in each gender’s race in the meet qualified for state. He ran a season-best 19:04.

While the CHS girls were moving on, senior Hayden Simmer started strong and stayed among the upper ranks of the boys’ race throughout to post a season-best time of 19:04 and, by finishing 11th, earn his first trip to the state meet in his last chance. A top-15 finish, including anyone from the two state-qualifying teams, was needed to move on and H. Simmer had a very comfortable 45-seconds margin over the 16th-place finisher.

While the CHS boys’ 153 points left them last among the seven schools with a boys’ squad in the meet, two non-advancers – freshman Austin Lyford and senior Kade Simmer – ran the fastest races of their careers. Lyford, a move-in from Nebraska at school year’s start – ran a 20:52.9 – 18 seconds faster than ever before, Dickson noted – to place 22nd. K. Simmer’s 24:13.7 was his best by 40 seconds, the coach said.

"Very proud of these guys and their effort this season,” she lauded.

Sophomore Clayton Savage finished in 23:38.6 and sophomore Gavin Funk in 24:14.8 straddled K. Simmer in the individual standings.

Likely having been unfairly denied a Midland Empire Conference meet medal the previous week due to a race-administration snafu that allowed 10 runners other than her to run a much-shorter course, sophomore Juliann Gabrielson of the 2020 Chillicothe (Mo.) HS cross country running Lady Hornets – seen rounding a bend during the MEC race, partially avenged that misfortune Saturday, Oct. 31, by placing 12th in the state-meet-qualifying Class 3 District 8 meet at Platte City and thus advancing to this coming Thursday’s state meet at Columbia. Gabrielson ran a 23:49.6 in the 5-kilometers district race.

On the girls’ side, Gabrielson got a bit of abstract personal satisfaction by her 12th-place showing and state qualification Saturday, while Briner (ninth in 23:19) and K. Shipers (11th in 23:44.7) achieved what was largely anticipated for them.

Gabrielson provided a solid case supporting the assessment that she’d been gypped out of a conference-meet medal Oct. 20 by taking 12th in 23:49.5 Saturday at district. That was three places and 26 seconds ahead of a St. Pius X runner who received credit – at the recent controversy-marred MEC meet – for a top-10 finish and league medal after inadvertently running a significantly-shorter distance than 15th-place finisher Gabrielson (only the top 14 get conference medals and all-conference team status).

While finishing among the last five in the meager 25-runners girls’ division field at Platte Ridge Park at Platte City, Cranmer’s 26:56.7 and E. Shipers’ 31:33.3 might have reflected a strategic decision to make sure they ran at a conservative pace which would better ensure the ability of both to complete the race and thus supply the five finishers needed to post a team score and nab District 8’s second team berth for state.

Next Thursday’s Class 3 state meet – in order to lessen the crush of runners, officials, and fans at the state championships in this pandemic-plagued year, the Missouri State High School Activities Association has spread its various classifications’ championship races across three days (Thursday-Saturday), rather than all on one long, crowded day.

The Class 3 girls’ state race in which Chillicothe’s team will compete is slated for a 12:30 p.m. start. The boys’ race which will involve H. Simmer is slated for a 3 p.m. beginning. The long gap between is to allow for individual medal and team trophy presentations for the girls’ race to be held and then everyone involved in that event to clear the meet site prior to the arrival of the boys’ race participants and fans.