Liberty senior Kyle Hinton said the Lions knew they were in the middle of a “four-headed race” entering the Class 2A boys cross country state meet at Hereford High School on Nov. 10.
River Hill, Oakdale, and Calvert each brought an equal combination of talent to the course, but the Lions found a way to stifle that competition — for the fourth consecutive time. Led by senior Daniel Saxon’s fourth-place finish, the Lions captured the team title with 110 points, defeating runner-up River Hill by seven.
The victory marked Liberty’s fourth straight 2A state title.
The Lions found one another and embraced as each runner crossed the finish line. Dan Jones and Pete Lester, the team’s co-coaches, met the boys as the results came in and the group started celebrating.
“It felt good,” Saxon said. “We did the course walk and it looked good after the rain and everything. It was cold and we knew that but we were prepared for it, we embraced it and we did really well today.”
Added Hinton: “Our strategy was basically stay with your adrenaline the first mile, deal with your nerves and all that. The second mile was all strategy and the third mile was just give it whatever you have left.”
River Hill’s Anish Nanjappa won the individual 2A title in 15 minutes, 58.08 seconds, and Century senior Zachary Fenton sprinted just ahead of Calvert’s Justin Diehl to take second in 16:08.48.
Saxon’s fourth-place finish came in 16:20.05 ahead of Oakdale’s Kyle Lund and Collin Dempsey, who helped the Bears edge the Lions in a tiebreaker at the 2A West meet at Liberty High School.
South Carroll senior Jason Cave raced to a ninth-place finish in 16:39.08 and the Cavaliers took sixth with 180 points, edging out Century in a tiebreaker.
Fenton, a senior, said it took a pre-race discussion with his teammates for it to stick within his mind that this was his last cross country race at Century. The mindset helped Fenton kick it into gear during the last mile, and at the very end when he burst ahead of Diehl.
“Whatever performances there are, I want to do this for my teammates because I know they’re going to do their best for me,” Fenton said. “I locked on with someone and went with it. When it came to the last mile or so, it just kind of happened and it was a very interesting race, everyone did awesome and I’m glad I had the opportunity to race and be a part of this — it was fantastic.”
Westminster senior Charlie Ferguson raced to fourth place at the Class 3A race earlier in the day in 16:49.64, good for the Owls’ best finish. Austin Foote, an Owls’ senior, came in 38th and the team took 13th with 312 points.
Liberty capped the championship season by receiving another state championship trophy, and the finale is bittersweet for Hinton and Saxon, two of the team’s seniors.