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Chillicothe (Mo.) HS Set for Deepest Involvement in State Cross Country Running Meet in Years

CHS Lady Hornets quintet, senior Hornet Simmer to race at Columbia Thursday. First state appearance for a CHS girls' cross country running team in 33 years. Briner went solo in 2019

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
Chillicothe High School's group which will be involved in Thursday's (Nov. 5) 2020 Missouri Class 3 State Cross Country Running Championships at Columbia received a planned sendoff from the school prior to their midday journey to Columbia Wednesday. Seen walking toward the camera in the center and at center right above, representing CHS will be Lady Hornets Aliyah Briner, Kadence Shipers and Juliann Gabrielson, Hornet Hayden Simmer, and Lady Hornets Kaylynn Cranmer, head coach Jennifer Dickson (slightly visible behind Cranmer, and Emily Shipers. This is the first time since 1987 that Chillicothe has had its girls' team qualify for state-meet competition.
A duly-decorated Chillicothe (Mo.) HS-owned SUV, with a law-enforcement vehicle having preceded it for an escort through downtown to the U.S. Highways 36-65 intersection and with several parent-driven vehicles trailing as a "sendoff caravan" swings out of the CHS north driveway at about 1 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020. The SUV's destination was Columbia and Thursday's 2020 Missouri Cross Country Running State Championships. Chillicothe High qualified senior Hayden Simmer for the 3 p.m. state race and its 5-members girls' team for the 12:30 p.m. distaff distance race.

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

Seven representatives of Chillicothe High School’s 2020 cross country running teams are in Columbia for Thursday’s Class 3 State Championships, six of them experiencing the event for the first time with the hope that many will be back next year and perhaps beyond.

For CHS Hornets senior Hayden Simmer, Thursday’s mid-afternoon race will be a “one-and-done” situation, his first and last appearance in state competition providing a deserved reward to his hard-working career hoofing it over hills and hollows around northwest Missouri.

As for the remainder of the Chillicothe first-timers contingent – first-year coach Jennifer Dickson and Lady Hornets Kadence and Emily Shipers, Juliann Gabrielson, and Kaylynn Cranmer, it will be an opportunity to initially measure themselves on a statewide level, something teammate Aliyah Briner was able to do a year ago when she was CHS’ lone state-meet qualifier.

Getting that sense of what it takes to not only make it to state, but also compete well there, could be highly valuable to all of them, since none of the five Chillicothe girls who’ll race the 5-kilometers course at the Gans Creek Cross Country Course at the southeast edge of Columbia early Thursday afternoon is a senior.

In fact, 80 percent of the quintet are sophomores (Briner, Gabrielson, Cranmer) or freshmen (E. Shipers). Along with junior K. Shipers, the entire squad will be eligible to be involved in the reinvigorated girls’ program next year and most of it for two more years.

That means there will be plenty of opportunity to put whatever experience they gain in Thursday’s state-title event to extensive further use.

Family members holding cutout images of them join the sendoff ceremony for Chillicothe (Mo.) HS' state-meet-qualifying group of athletes as the CHS students and coach Jennfier Dickson prepare to depart for Columbia at midday Wednesday (Nov. 4, 2020). The state races, in which Chillicothe will have a team involved in the girls' division and one boy in the boys', will take place Thursday (Nov. 5) afternoon. It is the first time in 33 years CHS will have a girls' team in state cross country running competition.

The six CHS state meet participants are the school's most since Lady Hornet Ayat Youssef and a full 7-members team of Hornets advanced in 2015.

The last time Chillicothe participated in girls' team-scoring competition at state was way back in 1987 when the Midland Empire Conference and district champion Lady Hornets placed ninth at the state meet.

As for this year’s races, the rest of the CHS group as been able to pick Briner’s brain for what to expect, in terms of the overall caliber of competition they’ll be up against – compared to what they routinely face in their meets around this region of the state, as well as the type of course on which they’ll compete. Last year’s state meet also occurred at the Columbia facility.

A year ago, running solo, Briner covered the approximately-3.1-miles route in 20:51.9, earning her an impressive 75th place out of 175 total runners, although the Class 3 champion was a St. Louis private school freshman who was clocked in 18:13.8, winning by nearly a half-minute.

This year, her state-qualifying time of 23:19 which netted her sixth place in last Saturday’s district meet is over 1-1/2 minutes slower than her 2019 district time on the same Platte City course. Her only sub-23-minutes race was the season opener at home when she was timed in 21:56.

While that initially seems to suggest against Briner running as well at state as a year ago, it deserves noting that virtually all of her 2020 regular-season meet times were faster than in the corresponding races a year earlier. The outlier is the slower district showing, which could reflect nothing more than a year’s experience and a different district-level landscape.

A year ago, in a seemingly-stronger field of 52, Briner might have felt compelled to “bring her ‘A’ game” to make sure she got through to state, which she did by taking sixth place.

Last week, with less than half (25) that number of contestants and one-fifth of them being herself and her teammates, her time might be nothing more than running at a comfortable pace, knowing that – as one of the only two schools with enough runners (five) to produce a team score and with two team berths to state available – all she and her teammates needed to do was complete the race and they’d go to Columbia.

Given that and knowing that – due to COVID-19 concerns – the state meet would be only five days later, rather than seven, Briner’s markedly-slower district time than in 2019 also could have been an exercise in energy conservation, so as to be fresher for an all-out, full-tank performance at state.

If, as Briner’s starkly-faster 2019 state time (compared to her previous finishing times) might suggest, the Gans Creek course is “easier” to run fast on, the fact that Briner, K. Shipers, and Gabrielson all finished with times in the 23-plus-minutes range at district and have consistently run times generally similar to each other’s through the season, an “easier” layout at Columbia could lead to the latter two also dramatically surpassing their previous 2020 bests.

That could translate to all three top Lady Hornets being candidates for finishes in the top half of this year’s expected field of about 140-150 runners.

Whether any of them could challenge for a state-meet medal (top 25 finish) would seem like a major stretch. Last year, the 25th-place time was just over 19:51.

Even without any trinkets to bring home, the all-underclasswomen Lady Hornets will bring home important knowledge that they could reap benefits from both next year and in 2022.

As for Simmer, he showed at district that he’s at peak performing level at season’s end, just as desired. His 19:04 last Saturday was his fastest race of the season.

If he were to follow Briner’s 2019 example and carve as much as 90 seconds to two minutes off his regular-season best time at state – a tall order, to be sure, a time in the range of 17:20-17:40  could make him a candidate for a respectable middle-of-the pack finish. Last year’s slowest medaling time at state was 16:30.

The girls’ race will be first Thursday, beginning at 12:30 p.m. In order to lessen COVID-19 transmission possibilities, the race site will be completely cleared of girls’ race participants and fans before the boys’ race group is brought on-site. The boys’ race then is slated for a 3 p.m. start.

The course should have solid footing after several days of unseasonably-mild and dry weather. Race-time temperatures should be balmy for non-participants – in the low to mid 70s, but likely will be warmer than optimal for the runners, likely slowing times to some degree.