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Blair Oaks cross country starts season at Gans Creek

by Greg Jackson | August 27, 2022 at 3:11 a.m.

WARDSVILLE -- The Blair Oaks Falcons have state experience returning on the cross country team.

The Lady Falcons want to extend their season to that final weekend at Gans Creek Cross Country Course in Columbia.

“The kids have prepared better over the summer,” Blair Oaks coach Marc Keys said. “We’re able to do more things in practice.”

Blair Oaks will begin its season at Gans Creek in the CoMo Kickoff, which starts at 9 a.m. today.

“It’s an excellent course,” said Keys, as his team will also run there Sept. 10 at the Father Tolton Invitational and Sept. 24 in the Gans Creek Classic. “It’s the course that’s going to be used in three years for the NCAA championship.”

The girls roster will have a familiar look, as the Lady Falcons bring back six of their seven runners from last season’s district meet.

“The girls return a lot of people that have experience,” Keys said. “They did well in track, they ran over the summer and we’re very deep.”

The boys, who have qualified for the state meet as a team in back-to-back seasons, have three runners returning from last year’s team that took 10th place in Class 3.

“The boys will be more developmental,” Keys said. “I think by the middle of the season, we’ll be pretty good. We’ll have a few kids that are still learning, it’s their first year.”

Blair Oaks’ roster will consist of seven boys and 11 girls this fall.

“The boys team will get a lot better by the end of the season and be fairly competitive,” Keys said. “The girls team is going to be competitive and deep right from the get-go.”

Junior Easton DeMilia and sophomores Cody Pickett and Nolan DeMilia both competed in the state meet last season for the Falcons, who finished runner-up at districts. Easton DeMilia is a two-time state qualifier.

“Easton, Cody and Nolan have seen how the fruits of your labor, if you work hard, you can do well,” Keys said.

Also running for the Falcons this fall are senior Jackson Christian and sophomores Nate Casey, Carter Kempker and Isaac Stafford.

Keys said Kempker will be a key contributor for the boys team.

“He didn’t do cross country as a freshman, but he ran varsity track and did really well with the distance races,” Keys said.

Keys said there are some conflicts that will prevent a couple runners on the boys team from attending weekend races, but he’s hoping to have enough runners at each meet to post a team score.

“We’ll see how the kids develop in the first two races,” Keys said. “Sometimes how they do in practice is not a true indicator of their racing.”

Among the returners for the Lady Falcons are seniors Hannah Brenneke and Ansley Casey and juniors Jazmin Birky, Chelsi Forck, Brooklyn Heislen and Clara Lackman.

“We’re going to be strong from top to bottom,” Keys said. “Everyone’s training hard and pushing each other, it’s a good, supportive atmosphere.”

Forck, Brenneke and Lackman posted the top three times for Blair Oaks at districts last season.

“Clara’s in really good shape, I think she would be the No. 1 runner based on what I’ve seen in practice,” Keys said.

Blair Oaks finished sixth as a team at districts last season.

“It really helps to have that strong fourth and fifth runner,” Keys said. “That’s going to be our strength.”

One of the Lady Falcons’ remaining five runners — junior Alaina Leffert, sophomores Reilly Griffin, Karen McCauley and Macey Smith and freshman Roslyn Crane — will be vying for that seventh varsity spot.

“There are quite a few that could be there, and from one race to the next, it could change,” Keys said.

Joining Blair Oaks at the CoMo Kickoff are Helias, Hickman, Hannibal, Blue Springs and Christian Fellowship School.

“I like having a shorter distance of a 3K, as opposed to jumping into a 5K,” Keys said.

Blair Oaks also added the Capital City Invitational on Oct. 8 to its schedule.

“I like how our schedule is,” Keys said. “We have a mix of big meets with people we don’t normally see.”

The Tri-County Conference meet is Oct. 13 at Eldon Country Club.

Cross country district assignments will be announced Sept. 9.

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