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Eureka races to third-place finish in Class 4 girls state cross country meet

The Eureka girls cross country team earned the 10th state trophy in the school cross country history.

Eureka finished third with 95 points. That put the Wildcats behind Lee’s Summit West’s state winning total of 109 points and Rock Bridge’s 112 points. The last state trophy for Eureka came in 2013 when the Wildcats finished fourth.

The Eureka girls cross country team finished third in the Class 4 state meet in Columbia.

“Both Lee’s Summit West and Rock Bridge are very good teams,” Lewis said. “Lee’s Summit West was the defending state champion and the heavy favorite to win again. Rock Bridge beat us once during the season and we beat them once. I knew we could compete with them, but in the end they had a little bit better day than we did.”

Eureka won its last four meets, including the district and sectional races heading into the state meet. Winning the sectional meant the Wildcats would compete for the 26th time in the 41-year history of the state meet for girls with the full team qualifying.

This year the state meet was held at the Gans Creek Cross Country Course in Columbia. Lewis said he liked the new venue.

“The new course in Columbia is an awesome venue for the state championship meet,” Lewis said. “Mizzou and the city of Columbia did a great job designing and building the course. The course itself is flatter than the previous course used for the state championship meet, but it still has some rolling hills.

“The variety in terrain makes it a fair course for everyone regardless of whether you run better on hills or flatter ground.”

Lewis was confident his Wildcats would bring home something for the Eureka trophy case.

“I thought we had a great chance to get a podium position (top four teams),” Lewis said. “Winning the state championship was possible, but we had to have a spectacular day. In the end we ran very well, but it wasn’t enough to catch Lee’s Summit West or Rock Bridge.”

“The girls were a little nervous, but confident going into the race. The night before the race we discussed all the reasons why the season has been a success regardless of the outcome of state so I think that calmed their nerves a little bit.”

Finishing third is a good accomplishment for the girls, Lewis said.

“There are 100 schools in Class 4 so being in the top three is definitely an accomplishment to be proud of and to celebrate,” Lewis said.

Sophomore Leah Kleekamp was fifth in 18 minutes, 40.7 seconds for Eureka. Lewis was pleased with her performance.

“Leah had the best race of her life. Her time of 18:40.7 was a 29-second personal record,” Lewis said. “In our discussions about her strategy coming into the race we talked about being able to finish in the top 15, but being top 5 was better than we expected. She always has had a big finishing kick, but we knew she would need to push the pace from further out from the finish for this race.

“She was in 13th place with 1,000 meters to go and she started that push to the finish. According to the splits provided. Leah was able to run the last 1K faster than anyone else in the race and moved up eight positions to finish fifth. We knew Leah had the potential to medal. She just had to have a good race.”

Junior Anna Lombardo came in 26th in 19:06.

“Anna had a very good race,” Lewis said. “I know she is disappointed with a 26th-place finish because top 25 earn all-state honors, but to finish 26th is huge accomplishment considering her previous two state meet finishes were 92nd as a freshman and 88th as a sophomore.”

The other Wildcats competed well, Lewis said.

“Overall, everyone had a pretty good day. Kayla Voelker was 37th, which is 20 places higher than she has ever run at state before,” Lewis said. “Savannah Lesher started the year running JV so finishing 74th was a very good outcome for her. Kylie Ghormley, Erika Wrob and Haley Wrob all had the solid races that we have come to expect out of them each week.”

The girls were happy with their accomplishment, Lewis said.

“There were a lot of photos taken with the trophy and they had a celebration meal at Shakespeare’s pizza before leaving Columbia,” Lewis said.

Looking back, Lewis said this was a solid season for the Wildcats.

“The thing that I will take away from this season actually has nothing to do with any of the race results,” Lewis said. “The girls set really high goals for this season and everyone from the fastest on the team to the slowest bought into those goals. We had 40 or more girls showing up for summer practices before the season every truly started because they all knew the amount of work that was required to achieve those goals.

“If every one of my teams are dedicated to one goal like this team was then we will always challenge for a spot at the state meet.”

Of the 53 girls Lewis had on his program this year, only six were seniors.

“I should have a big team coming back again next year,” Lewis said. “My varsity team consisted of four juniors and three sophomores so I will bring back my entire team next year.”

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