KEARNEY, Mo. – Set for a different level of competition, McKenna Fulton didn’t know what to expect.
The North Platte junior qualified for state each of the past two seasons, but when the Panthers moved up to Class 2 this year, the challenge changed, too. Fulton responded with a personal best time of 22 minutes, 12.39 seconds in the Class 2 District 8 meet Saturday, Oct. 29 at Jesse James Park.
Fulton placed eighth out of 62 runners with the top 15 moving on to this week’s Class 2 Missouri State Cross Country Championships – the first ever for the program.
“I’m going to say that’s awesome. I’m really happy,” Fulton said.
Fulton went to state in 2014 as part of North Platte’s first qualifying team in program history and went back a year ago as an individual, placing 40th in a personal best 22:54.80. She shaved nearly 45 seconds off of that mark in her Class 2 postseason debut.
Used to being a softball player first in the fall, Fulton said she’s been dealing with a rib injury in her abbreviated cross country season.
The effects didn’t show in Fulton’s district race. She helped North Platte finish fourth out of eight teams with 117 points, but the Panthers were well back of the two automatic qualifying spots. O’Hara, Hamilton and Lawson – the top three teams – accounted for nine of the top 15 runners.
“I didn’t expect this at all,” Fulton said. “(Hamilton’s) stacked, and I’ve never heard of O’Hara before. I didn’t expect (to go to state), but I was hoping. I just had to try a lot harder.”
Bailee Romaker, a junior and member of the Panthers’ 2014 state team, wound up 21st in 23:49.35. She outraced freshman teammate Savannah Lingle for the spot with Lingle turning in a career-best 23:49.38 to cap a late breakout to her first season.
Shelby Fisher, Katie Parkhurst and Lauren Payne – all three seniors – rounded out the six runners for North Platte. Fisher and Parkhurst were also a part of the 2014 Panthers’ team and were seeking state returns while Payne came out after finishing up volleyball season.
North Platte’s boys were eighth out of nine teams and did not have any qualifiers.
Joseph Demarcus, a sophomore, unexpectedly led the Panthers in 26th at 20:16.70, while sophomores Tyler Meadows and Zach Lee and juniors Ben Heese and Caleb Crumley were bunched back-to-back-to-back-to-back in 39th, 40th, 41st and 42nd.