Tucker Melles persevered through injury to place 24th for the Panthers, and fellow senior Darrien Case made a late pass to lead the way in seventh at Nov. 1’s Class 4 Sectional 4 race. When the scores were totaled, Park Hill South wound up with 107 — just one back of third-place Blue Springs, but six in front of Staley for the final automatic team berth into this weekend’s Class 4 Missouri State Cross Country Championships.
This marks the first time in program history the Panthers boys have garnered a full team appearance at state.
“I’ll be honest: we didn’t think we actually qualified. After our run, we were sitting in the tent, all kind of bummed out,” Case said. “Yeah, it was a pretty emotional time.”
Park Hill South nearly missed the cut with Melles coming in more than 30 seconds off his time posted the previous week when he led the Panthers to the District 8 title at Platte Ridge Park. Although on a different course, Case improved by more than 11 seconds to finish in 16 minutes, 47.10 seconds — about 6 seconds in front of 10th-place Kyle Pudenz of Park Hill, one of two individual qualifiers for the Trojans (Christian Fisher, 26th).
The top four teams qualify for state along with any individuals in the top 30 not from those teams.
Park Hill South would have had three make the cut, including Melles (17:10.00) and freshman Eli Guzman (29th, 17:18.10). Instead, the Panthers will take down the whole group with a chance to come out healthy in Jefferson City and chase a top finish.
“It was us doing our best to pass that one last person in the shoot, us running without fear,” said Case, normally the Panthers’ No. 2 behind Melles — the lone team member to previously run at state (43rd in 2011). “We had some problems. Our best runner, Tucker, he wasn’t feeling too well today, and we didn’t let that stop us from doing our best. I think just every person that we passed in the last .1 mile helped us get that score we needed.
“(Tucker)’s our strongest runner. Mentally, he’s always there, and he’s always pushing himself to the limit. Today, he pushed himself to the limit; we all did, actually.”
The Park Hill South girls were not as fortunate and ended up eighth out of eight teams, unable to clinch their first team Class 4 state berth in program history.
Sophomore Lexi Maddox struggled to a 27th-place finish after leading the Panthers in time for most of the season, and they were also still without the services of sophomore Jasmine Crawford, a 2013 all-state performer lost for the season to a stress fracture in her ankle. However, the Panthers will send three to state, including Maddox (20:06.90).
Emma Roth came in 12th at 19:37.70, and fellow freshman Marti Heit followed in 18th (19:56.90), part of her continued ascension this year.
The District 8 runner-up, Park Hill South ended up 26 points back of fourth-place Liberty and the final automatic qualifying spot. The total span from second-place Kearney to the Panthers was just 40 points.
“We’re young; it’s a really young team,” Park Hill South coach Pam Jurgensmeyer said. “I know that they really wanted this for our senior Erin Stump (62nd). They really wanted to get through for state for her.
“We came through as a team last week, and Liberty came through this week. That’s just the nature of the season. You have to be up every week. There wasn’t a big span there, and we just didn’t have it today.”
Platte County wound up with just two total qualifiers.
Nathan Straubel finished in a comfortable third place, well back of Kearney’s Clayton Adams (15:42.3) and Blue Springs’ Stephen Mugeche (15:49.6) after they separated from the pack prior to the finish. Already the Pirates’ school-record holder, Straubel came in by himself at 16:12.3 — 16 seconds ahead of the next runner.
Straubel qualified for state each of the past three seasons with Platte County running in Class 3, and he now focuses attention on earning all-state honors again in a tougher field thanks to the move up to Class 4 this season.
“I just tried to run with them as long as I could,” Straubel said. “I’m happy with today because it was just a qualifying race. I want to give it my all next week when the real money comes. I would love to be in the 15s. It’s going to be real hard down there, but I think I can swing it, hopefully.”
While Straubel makes a return trip, freshman Rebekah Geddes takes aim at her first state race after placing ninth. The first-year standout finished in 19:28.60 and set herself up with a chance to chase all-state honors after running all season in difficult fields.
“My goal was to run my race and just focus on getting faster and staying with my pace,” she said. “It’ll still be different (next week) because it will be much bigger, but I think if I focus on my race I’ll be good.”
The state races will be held Nov. 8 at Oak Hills Golf Center.
Platte County raced on the course during Oct. 4’s Capital City Challenge where Straubel placed second and set the school record at 16:08.81, breaking Eli Klimek’s previous mark. Geddes also finished second in the Class 3/4 division.