Lafayette coach Steve Stallis remembers how his Lancers set the course for their girls cross country season way back in April.
“We had a team quarantine Zoom meeting in April and we stated the goals of what we wanted to do in the fall,” Stallis said. “We said then that we wanted to win state and that set the tone for the next six months.
“I knew that we had a great shot at being top four and that if things went well that we could win. We finished sixth last year but I knew the people we had returning and for the next year I thought we had a chance to win.”
Win they did.
Lafayette captured the first-ever Class 5 girls state championship at Gans Creek Cross Country Course in Columbia. The Lancers scored 80 points to secure first place, ahead of Parkway West, who beat them in the district meet. The Longhorns were second with 89 points.
The Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) expanded into five classifications for cross country this year so the Lancers made history by winning the first-ever Class 5 crown. It’s the third championship for the Lafayette girls program. The Lancers also won titles in 1988 and 2015. Overall, Lafayette has won nine state trophies.
Stallis was more than pleased with how his girls ran in the school’s 26th appearance at state.
“It was a great race! They battled the whole time,” Stallis said. “Parkway West is a great team that poured it on at the end of the season. They were winning most of the meet, and I thought that they were going to pull it off.”
Stallis said he was “ecstatic” that he had four all-state girls. The top 25 finishers in the state race earn that distinction.
Heading into state, Stallis said he had a good feeling about his squad.
“The girls were hyper-focused and ready to race. They were talking all week about how they were ready to win state,” Stallis said. “They were not stressed or worried. They knew they could do it and they believed in each other.”
Sophomore Grace Tyson led the Lancers with a runner-up finish time of 18 minutes, 10.1 seconds. Tyson finished third as a freshman.
“She had a beautiful race. Mere perfection,” Stallis said. “She looked strong and powerful the whole race. She was winning until the last 300 meters. It’s no secret that Grace doesn’t have the best foot speed in the world. I was so proud of her for that race. She’ll be back next year.”
The Lancers’ other all-state finishers turned in solid times, too. Two finished in the top 10. Senior Hope Ware finished sixth with a time of 18:31.6. Sophomore Elissa Barnard came in ninth at 18:43.6.
“These two are a dynamic duo,” Stallis said. “They are training partners that worked together all summer. Hope was determined to be one of the best seniors in the state and she did so. She turned herself into a dominant force in any race. Elissa is a sophomore who used to be in Grace Tyson’s shadow. She is such a talented runner and she put in so much work.
“She was 145th at state as a freshman and ninth as a sophomore. She made people learn her name at state. She and Tyson are going to be a dynamic duo for the next two years.”
Senior Katie Reed (19:29.5) wound up 24th to end her career with the Lancers. Stallis was excited for Reed to earn all-state honors.
“Happy is an understatement. This is a moment in my coaching career that I will never forget,” Stallis said. “I was focused on the team race and I was not counting or looking at individual races. Katie’s goal was to finish 25th to 40th in the race. Throughout the race, I was telling her how her teammates were doing to keep her motivated. How can you be discouraged if you know your teammate is winning and the others are in the top 10?
“After the race when I announced that we won, I finally looked at the individual results. Katie placed 24th earning all-state honors. She placed 17th at districts the week before. Katie had a dream race at the right moment. I will never forget the feeling of telling her she was 24th.”
Senior Madison Slater came in 96th with a time of 20:32.6.
“Madi is clutch. She is one of the fastest 400-meter runners in that race; it just so happens she also has to run 4,600 meters first,” Stallis said. “This was Madi’s first year running cross country and it took her the whole season to get used to it. She ran a PR (personal record) almost every race as she learned how to race a 5K. In the last 1,000 meters, she passed 11 people and we won by nine points. Madi is one tough kid that I wish I had for more than a year.”
The other runners were junior Sophie Yereshchenko, who finished 132nd and senior Kathryn Wenger, who came in 156th.
“Sophie is going to be a key runner next year if we want to get back on the podium,” Stallis said. “I am glad she was able to get some quality state experience as she will be one of the senior leaders next year.
“Kathryn worked so hard to earn a spot on this varsity team. She is a senior that knew she had once last shot and she took that opportunity to put all the work in to be in our top 7.”
Naturally, the team was over the moon to claim the state crown. Stallis declared them: “Excited. Shocked. Pumped. Happy.”
This was Stallis’ first state title as a coach.
“It’s been great. The best part is seeing the kids’ reactions to all of this,” Stallis said. “They are the ones racing and working so hard. The smiles and excitement that they expressed is so memorable. I don’t think it has fully hit me yet that we won. I just miss going to practice already. We were in such a routine, and now I have a big gap in my day.”
The Lancers will lose three of its top five runners; however, Stallis remains optimistic about next season.
“I know that we can reload and be competitive next year,” Stallis said. “We have a lot of young talent that I think will be excited to put in the work after seeing what the team accomplished this year.”