Trying to keep the Westminster Christian Academy Wildcats out of the state cross country meet would be like trying to sneak sunrise past a rooster.
Westminster has been to the Class 3 state meet every year as a team since 2014.
“Westminster boys cross country has had some very competitive teams the past few years,” coach Nile Heefner said. “We’re determined to keep that competitive tradition going. It would be a great accomplishment to make the podium (top 3) this season at state. But our greater goal, our long term goal, is a state championship someday.”
The Wildcats advance to the state meet set for Saturday in Columbia by winning the District 3 meet held in Linn.
Heefner said his squad was ready for the district race.
“We’ve been tapering the workouts with less miles and lower intensity the week before districts,” Heefner said. “Their legs were fresh and they were ready to run a championship race.”
Past Westminster teams have run at Linn, but this was the first time for this group of boys, Heefner said. The course had some problems.
“On this particular day, the course was dry in most places, but there were also many low spots that were wet and muddy,” Heefner said. “This is where there were a lot of rolling hills and about five tight turns. They had to run that section twice.
“With conditions like that, we weren’t expecting our fast times. More important in a race like this is where we finish compared to our competition.”
Junior Hunter Freiner came in second overall at 17 minutes, 17.17 seconds.
“Hunter ran a great race, coming in second place, just four seconds behind the first-place finisher,” Heefner said. “He ran a smart race, too. He placed himself with the lead pack or runners at the beginning and middle of the race and then had an outstanding finish.
“This was not his fastest time of the season, but it was certainly his best race for our team so far.”
The other Wildcats contributed as well to helping the team finish first. Junior Colin Ring finished 11th, junior Hayden Turley 12th, sophomore Luke Beachy 14th and junior Thomas Gorline 16th.
“Once again, our top five boys ran together toward the front, which really helps to get the lowest score to win the meet,” Heefner said. “It’s a good day when our five scoring runners finish in the top 16.
“We were all very pleased with the first-place finish at districts this year. Last year, we finished second and made it to the state meet. Finishing first this year was one of our goals this season and it feels great to have accomplished that.”
Heefner said there will be good competition among the teams qualified to state.
“The field at state will be a competitive one,” Heefner said. “There are three to four teams that will be top finishers who we have not run against this season. It will be exciting to see how we place against them.”
Gate admission for ages 6 and over is $8. State will be held this year for the first time at Gans Creek Cross Country Course in Columbia.
“We’re very excited to run the state meet this year at Gans Creek in Columbia,” Heefner said. “We had the privilege of running there earlier this season and enjoyed it very much. It’s an amazing course, certainly one of the best, if not the best, in the Midwest.”
The Class 3 boys state race begins at 12:35 p.m. Saturday. Westminster will start in Box 18 on race day.
“We’ll take whatever box we’re assigned,” Heefner said. “Our boys run a smart, yet aggressive, race out of the box. They will put themselves in a good position and keep moving up toward the front as the race goes on.”
Heefner had no predictions for his Wildcats.
“It’s hard to say where we’ll finish as a team. We’ll be running against several teams for the first time,” Heefner said. “Anything can happen in a big race like this, things might go in your favor or not. We’re hoping for the best for our runners and team.”
Third place is previous best finish ever for Westminster. That came in 2014 and 2015. Last year, the Wildcats were ninth.
“It would be a great accomplishment to finish in the top three at state,” Heefner said. “Last year we finished ninth. Our first goal is to improve on that finish from 2018. I believe we can do that. How much we can improve will be determined on Saturday.
“Our team is having another fun season together. These boys are friends, some old and some new,” Heefner said. “They work hard and yet still find a way to laugh and enjoy the moment. This season we’ve experienced some success — a conference and district championship.
“We thank God that we’ve run this well so far and that for the most part, we’ve been healthy and strong. This Saturday, our team is going to have fun, laugh a lot, encourage one another, give it our very best, and enjoy the moment.”