South girls strong in defense of Class 4 Sectional 4 XC title

KEARNEY, Mo. — Park Hill South decided to leave no doubt in its run as defending Class 4 Sectional 4 champion.

 ROSS MARTIN/Citizen photo Park Hill South senior Marti Heit heads toward the finish line of the Class 4 Sectional 4 race Saturday, Oct. 28 at Jesse James Fairgrounds in Kearney, Mo. 

ROSS MARTIN/Citizen photo
Park Hill South senior Marti Heit heads toward the finish line of the Class 4 Sectional 4 race Saturday, Oct. 28 at Jesse James Fairgrounds in Kearney, Mo. 

Always considered one of the top contenders, the Panthers put five runners in the top 30 on Saturday, Oct. 28 at Jesse James Fairgrounds. Emma Roth continued her season-long breakout with a runner-up finish, while senior Marti Heit came in sixth to complete her comeback in what ended up a dominant team showing.

Park Hill South finished with 51 points to defend its team title, besting Blue Springs South by 14.

“Our team is what drives me,” Heit said. “We lost a bunch of seniors and didn’t really know what this season would bring, kind of thought it would have to be a rebuilding year. To be fighting back and going to state with these girls again, it feels really good.”

Emma Roth, Heit, sophomore Olivia Roth (12th) and senior Keely Danielsen (17th) all returned from last year’s Park Hill South state team.

The group boasts nine prior appearances between them, but after losing three team leaders, expectations were high if not a little ambitious. Emma Roth’s ascension into an all-state contender changed the dynamic, and she showed off again in her best ever sectional finish.

Now a four-time state qualifier, Emma Roth came in at 18 minutes, 34.70 seconds — more than 35 seconds behind Sectional 4 champion Tori Findley of Blue Springs South. The team chase remained at the front of Roth’s mind, and she didn’t make a push to catch Findley for the individual victory.

The runner-up showing further cemented Roth’s role as Park Hill South’s top runner, even as she surprised herself at times.

 ROSS MARTIN/Citizen photo Park Hill South senior Emma Roth rounds the 2-mile marker in the Class 4 Sectional 4 race Saturday, Oct. 28.

ROSS MARTIN/Citizen photo
Park Hill South senior Emma Roth rounds the 2-mile marker in the Class 4 Sectional 4 race Saturday, Oct. 28.

“I don’t ever think about going with her because I just can’t keep up with her at this point,” Roth said. “I just want to keep her in my sight and treat her like (the race-leading vehicle). You’ll never be able to catch it, but it’s good to keep it in sight.”

Heit continued her own development.

Also a four-time qualifier, Heit missed the early part of the season for medical reasons and ran just her fourth race of the season Saturday morning. The first five runners were well ahead and spaced out, but Heit turned in her best race since coming back in late September, finishing in 19:23.10.

“It was tough in the beginning. My first few races back were hard, but now, I’m more grateful for every race I have,” Heit said. “Every time I’m on the line, it’s a lot more meaningful, I think. It’s a blessing in disguise.

“It took a lot of faith when I first came back to know, ‘It will come.’ For it to finally come around feels really good. I’m already happy with the season and excited for state.”

 ROSS MARTIN/Citizen photo  Park Hill senior Grace Fink (717) runs outside a large pack of runners near the finish line Saturday, Oct. 28 in Kearney, Mo.

ROSS MARTIN/Citizen photo
 Park Hill senior Grace Fink (717) runs outside a large pack of runners near the finish line Saturday, Oct. 28 in Kearney, Mo.

Park Hill South didn’t have Heit and Danielsen at different points this season, leading to some uneven results early. Their full return for the postseason provided another glimpse of the potential with a third straight District 8 championship.

Paige Snider, a sophomore, finished Park Hill South’s team score with a 29th-place finish, while freshmen Marisa Garcia and MaryAnn Ball rounded out the lineup. The Panthers now head back to state after finishing fourth a year ago, looking to potentially better that showing with the full complement of runners together and healthy.

“To be honest, we’re kind of unpredictable,” Emma Roth said. “I don’t really know what will happen, but it’d be really nice to place at state again.”

 ROSS MARTIN/Citizen photo Platte County seniors Lauren Johnson, left, and Erin Straubel make the turn at the 2-mile mark of the race Saturday, Oct. 28.

ROSS MARTIN/Citizen photo
Platte County seniors Lauren Johnson, left, and Erin Straubel make the turn at the 2-mile mark of the race Saturday, Oct. 28.

Park Hill senior Grace Fink grabbed one of the individual state qualifying spots. The top 30 runners plus any from the top four teams advance to this weekend.

Fink finished in 20:01.30 for 23rd after being 19th in District 8 the previous week. She became the first to make state for the Trojans since Jillian Roepe in 2015.

Platte County’s streak of consecutive years with at least one state qualifier, dating back two decades, came to an end despite three personal-best times.

Lauren Johnson, a senior, continued her push and led the Pirates’ three sectional participants. She came in 36th (20:43.60) after shaving nearly a minute and a half off her previous best time in the final weeks of the season.

Platte County freshman Taylor Giger also made her sectional debut, finishing 40th in 20:51.00, while senior Erin Straubel’s career came to an end with a 41st-place showing — just 0.30 of a second behind her teammate. Straubel ran at sectionals each of the past three seasons but never qualified for state.