North Platte’s only returning qualifier for the Class 2 Missouri State Cross Country Championships plays softball first, so the Panthers will be looking to build depth and increase the amount of runners who experience postseason success in a very difficult District 8 field.
McKenna Fulton and Bailee Romaker — both seniors — bring experience to the top of the lineup, but Fulton will fulfill her softball duties first. That means sophomore Savannah Lingle, who ended up as the Panthers’ No. 2 finisher at District 8 last year with a personal best time, will be counted on to continue her progression.
As a junior, Fulton qualified for state for the third year in a row in addition to a 10th-place finish at the KCI Conference Championships. She set a school record at the district meet at 22 minutes, 12 seconds before going on to place 55th at state in Class 2.
Previously, Fulton placed 40th at state as a sophomore while also running on North Platte’s first state qualifying team as a freshman in 2014. Both of those trips were with the Panthers still in Class 1.
Romaker also ran at state with the team as a freshman and will be seeking a return.
North Platte’s boys return their top five finishers from a disappointing Class 2 District 8 debut last year. Joseph DeMarcus, a junior, just missed the state cut a year with a 26th-place finish in the postseason race and recently returned to the team.
In addition, North Platte has juniors Tyler Meadows and Zach Lee and seniors Ben Heese and Caleb Crumley to build around. Meadows, Lee and Crumley all ran on North Platte’s first Class 1 state qualifying team two years ago but have a more difficult path with the Panthers now in Class 2.
“We are excited for the season ahead,” Cary said. “Last year was a solid season but we weren’t able to capitalize on some opportunities at the end of the season. As always, we live by the idea that, ‘First, we’ll be the best we can be, then we’ll be first’ and seek to continually improve and become more competitive as the season moves forward.
“I’m excited for the enthusiasm and focus that the team has shown during the summer workouts and the preseason, and I believe that will pay off as we go along.”