For MICDS coach Jim Lohr and his cross-country girls team, the 2019 season will forever be etched in their collective hearts and minds. The Rams not only won their first-ever state championship in the sport but also had their first-ever medalist.
“I can tell you this was a very special moment in our program,” Lohr said. “It’s history.”
MICDS won the Class 3 state championship on Nov. 9 at Gans Creek Recreation Area in Columbia, Missouri. The Rams finished with 104 points. De Soto was a distant second with 129 points.
Freshman Julia Ray medaled for first place with a sparkling time of 18 minutes, 13.8 seconds.
“I’ll be honest, the young lady who won for us, I’ve known her since kindergarten and I’ve seen her talent and saw her run and I knew she was going to be really good,” Lohr said.
According to Lohr, the Rams’ previous victory at District 4 meet at Linn, Missouri gave the girls momentum and confidence before the state championship.
“That was a big day for us,” Lohr said. “After all the districts, we looked at our times with other districts and we thought ‘Hey man, if things go our way, we got a shot’ … We felt pretty good.”
When Ray also came out on top at district, Lohr knew she would do well at state.
“We knew she was ready,” Lohr said.
But when it came time to talk to the team, Lohr said he was unable to deliver a pep talk.
“I was so choked up and I couldn’t talk,” Lohr said. “The captain [senior Palmer Mihalevich] took over. I just said good luck. You want good things to happen to the kids you love and I wanted to give them a pep talk. I wanted them to do so well, I choked up.”
Lohr said Ray ran fairly conservatively for her in the start of the race. Then, at the kilometer mark, she made her move.
“She took off and no one really challenged her,” Lohr said. “She’s so humble and so nice. With this young lady, there’s no ego and bragging in her. She’s a wonderful girl. I’m so happy she won.”
Lohr got choked up again when he heard the announcement after the race.
“I dropped down to my knees,” Lohr said.
Mihalevich came in sixth with a time of 19:10.3. Two years, ago she came 22nd. Last year, she just missed all-state honors by finishing 26th.
“She was outstanding,” Lohr said. “She was in 10th place then and she caught four girls in the last 1,000 yards. That’s the kind of drive and want-to that Palmer has.”
Sophomore Riley Noonan came in 36th with a time of 20:09.7.
“Riley was clutch for us. We had to have that kind of race out of Riley to win,” Lohr said. “Everything hinged on Riley having a really good race. She’s talented.”
Junior Simrin Phatak finished in 58th place in 20:38.3 and junior Morgan Weber followed at 104th with a time of 21:27.8.
“Simrin caught 10 girls and Morgan caught 16 girls in the last 1,000 meters,” Lohr said. “That’s 26 points those girls made up. It was all five girls that got it done for us … They went hard all the way to the finish.”
First-time state performers were senior Sarah Reed [109th] and freshman Ashley Benoist was [142nd].
Getting to see the girls celebrate the championship is something Lohr said he won’t ever forget.
“Everyone was so emotional,” Lohr said. “Everyone was hugging each other. I’m so thankful it all worked out. Just outstanding and a great group …We all have a lot to remember about this year.”
Lohr noted that assistant coach Justin Zahller put together the championship race plan for the Rams. The plan was for the girls to run the first mile relaxed and then try to climb the ladder up.
“A lot of the credit goes to our assistant coach. Justin is one of the smartest distance running coaches I’ve ever seen. He does a great job. He had a plan for this year and it worked perfectly.”
The Rams lose two seniors from the state team but everyone else will be back.
“I hope they call come back,” Lohr said. “We might move up, I don’t know. Whatever class we’re in, we’ll give it everything we got.”