EL PASO — While opponents had lineups missing key components for various reasons, Olympia High School’s girls and host El Paso-Gridley’s boys stepped forward as the surprise winners in the EPG Cross Country Invitational at Furrow Farm on Tuesday.
“I’m kind of surprised,” said Coach Mike Neisler of No. 13-state ranked Olympia, which scored 75 points to knock off No. 12 Decatur St. Teresa (100) and No. 6 Eureka (117).
Injuries limited Eureka, which nevertheless put three runners in the top eight led by winner Emma Argo, who toured the hilly 3-mile course in 19 minutes, 35 seconds despite 90-degree heat.
For the boys, No. 21-ranked EPG (62) turned back No. 8 Deer Creek-Mackinaw (106), No. 17 Eureka (112) and No. 13 Clifton Central (115).
“They had fun,” said EPG coach Michael Melick. “They moved up. They ran tough on a hot day.
“We don’t put a lot of weight on this. We come to this meet to have fun. This is the halfway point. From here, it’s championship season.”
The Titans were led by runner-up Noah Smith, who clocked 16:53 to trail only Decatur St. Teresa’s Jackson Stewart (16:26).
Smith credited his high finish to familiarity with the course’s lung-burning nuances.
“You’ve got to come out here,” he said. “That’s really what gets you past the hills out here. It really helps a lot.”
Smith hopes to break Hunter Cobbley’s school record of 16:19 on this course.
“Maybe next year,” said the junior.
EPG’s other scorers were Bo Halvorsen (5th, 17:11), Mason Ringger (19th, 18:34), Matt Ingalsbe (22rd, 18:52) and Nathan Demarb (23rd, 18:53). Smith and Halvorsen push each other in training.
“It’s great to get to come out every day and train with someone who is focused and mentally prepared to do whatever it takes,” Smith said.
Other area boys in the top 10 were Prairie Central’s Jake Maquet (8th, 17:30), Eureka’s Kyle Johnson (9th, 17:51) and Dee-Mack’s Gary Cates (10th, 17:51).
Eureka’s Argo trailed LaSalle-Peru’s Rachel Hickey with a mile to go. Second in last spring’s Class 2A state 800-meter run, Hickey faded as Argo went on to win by 24 seconds.
“I had a surge of energy at the end, which helped,” Argo said. “I don’t really know where it came from.”
Argo said the four crossings of Panther Creek were a challenge.
“It seems like every creek I come to, I just stop,” quipped Argo. “(The course) is different. It’s fun.”
Argo said the transition to new head coach Olivia Morris has gone smoothly.
“She was with us a lot (in the past), but doing more running with us,” Argo said. “I love running with Coach because she can push me. It’s been great having her as head coach, leading us and kind of telling me where I should be.”
Olympia’s scorers, none of whom are seniors, were Payton Wille (5th, 20:44), Sydnee Usherwood (13th, 22:09), Renee Hallstein (17th, 22:40), Savanah Beavers (19th, 22:44) and Ellen Springer (30th, 23:35).
“(Wille) has picked it up since last year,” Neisler said. “She had a nice summer. She didn’t overdo it.”
Hallstein is usually the No. 6 runner for the Spartans, who ran without their usual No. 2 runner.
Other area girls in the top 10 were Eureka’s Alexi Fogo (6th, 20:45) and Lexi Grober (8th, 21:34), Delavan’s Katie Springer (7th, 21:02) and EPG’s Sophi Allen (10th, 21:43).
This 12th annual meet came with superlatives such as a meet record 21 schools and 491 runners. The creek was at a meet-record low, measuring four inches deep at the first crossing, two inches at the second and fourth crossings and eight inches at the third.