JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The pieces fell into place, and the final puzzle took the shape of a state championship picture.
Park Hill South’s full lineup ran together for just the fifth time during the Class 4 Missouri State Cross Country Championships on Saturday, Nov. 4. Emma Roth (seventh) and Marti Heit (23rd) — both seniors — earned all-state honors in their final race, while sophomore Olivia Roth finished in between.
The three top-25 showings completed a magical postseason for Park Hill South that also included District 8 and Sectional 4 titles. The Panthers compiled a team total of 92 to easily outdistance second-place Raymore Peculiar by 22.
“It was kind of touch and go at the beginning to see what the season was going to shape out to be,” Park Hill South coach Pam Jurgensmeyer said. “Once we really started running at full speed, it really started to come together.”
The story of Park Hill South improving from a program-best fourth place finish at state last year to state champion gets a little complicated.
Emma Roth, a four-time state qualifier, developed into the Panthers’ leader in her final season. All-state as a freshman (22nd), she maintained a spot in the lineup the past two years but couldn’t replicate her best performances.
From the outset this season, Emma Roth displayed her potential. She went on to smash Park Hill South’s school record in the KC Metro Classic and recorded a pair of victories.
Emma Roth’s fourth state trip ended up being her best, finishing in 18 minutes, 59.27 seconds — cutting about 25 seconds off her previous top time at Oak Hills Golf Center.
“Since her sophomore year she’s done a lot of personal growth, mental growth, just a lot stronger as a runner,” Jurgensmeyer said. “It really has shown the last couple of weeks, and I knew today pretty much in the first mile that it was not going to be a breakout day for her, but she really hung in there and hung on for a strong finish.”
Heit’s comeback was even more dramatic. She collapsed near the end of the state race as a junior, ultimately crawling her way to a 69th-place finish to help Park Hill South hold onto its trophy position.
Tests in the offseason helped diagnose Heit with Catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (CPVT) — a condition causing irregular heart rhythms which can be fatal if undiagnosed. She began treatment to control the arrhythmia, ran during track season in the spring and planned to undergo a procedure during the season to eliminate the problem.
However, the procedure — scheduled on the same day as Park Hill South’s season-opening meet — was aborted. Heit still received clearance to run but didn’t return until the Rim Rock Classic in late September.
Already a three-time state qualifier, Heit started to regain her form near the end of the regular season and remained a key piece for Park Hill South. She earned her first all-state honors (19:40.81), just edging St. Teresa’s Academy’s Addison Coppinger at the line for the 23rd spot.
“It’s really great to see good kids that do everything right actually finally get the reward,” Jurgensmeyer said.
In her second state race, Olivia Roth turned in a career-best time of 19:37.70 to finish 3 seconds ahead of Heit.
Keely Danielsen — the third senior in Park Hill South’s lineup — also set a personal best in her final race (19:55.61) making a big move in the second half of the race to save valuable team points. Paige Snider, a sophomore and state alternate on a deep team as a freshman, completed the team score in 66th (20:30.98).
Danielsen entered the race seeded 83rd but just missed out on individual all-state honors.
“She had the race of her life today,” Jurgensmeyer said of Danielsen, a three-time state qualifier.
Park Hill South freshman Marisa Garcia and Skyelar Nelson rounded out the state team, one that continued to exceed the expectations and fight through adversity.
Emma Roth led Park Hill South’s lineup all year, but Heit and Danielsen (low iron) missed various meets. Olivia Roth slowly improved while the infusion of youth made sure the Panthers kept a solid top five that ended up defending Suburban Conference Red Division, district and sectional titles before becoming the first state championship team in program history.
“It’s very exciting, and we were so close last year to winning so it’s just great to come back and win it,” Emma Roth said. “My sister showed up today and really ran her heart out. Obviously, all of the other girls have a lot of potential so it’s really exciting to see them perform.”
Park Hill senior Grace Fink placed 114th in her state debut. She was the first qualifier for the Trojans since Jillian Roepe in 2015.