COLUMBIA — The Fatima Comets are making a strong argument for building a bigger trophy case.
In what has become a decade of dominance, Fatima claimed its ninth straight state trophy Saturday in the Class 2 state cross country championships at Gans Creek Cross Country Course.
Fatima successfully defended its state title, as five runners finished in the top 50 to give the Comets a total of 77 points in the team standings.
"Nine in a row, that's kind of overwhelming," Fatima coach Marc Bridges said after the Comets won their third state title during that stretch.
"The kids, they definitely feel some pressure with that sometimes. You just have to remind them that we have to do the work, come in and do the best we can do, and see what happens. Whatever happens, happens, and that's the way it's meant to be."
Steelville took second as a team with 115 points, followed by East Newton in third with 118 points. Hermann, the district runner-up to Fatima, placed fourth with 122 points.
"This was probably the tightest Class 2 boys race in a long time," Bridges said. "There weren't many points that separated second, third and fourth. Our boys ran well today."
Juniors Dawson Woehr and Lucas Laux both repeated as all-state medalists. Woehr placed seventh out of 173 runners with a time of 16:25.3, while Laux earned his third straight state medal with a ninth-place finish in 16:29.2.
"Dawson and Lucas, they were back and forth all season," Bridges said. "Lucas has been a little bit banged up the last month or so, but they ran really well today."
Last year at state, Woehr finished eighth, followed by Laux in ninth place. As freshmen, Laux placed 14th and Woehr was 35th.
"For them to finish in the top 10 for the second year in a row, that's pretty exciting," Bridges said. "It leads our team, and the kids behind them push that much more just to try to help them out."
It wasn't long until Woehr and Laux were joined by some familiar faces at the finish line.
"We saw all that yellow coming in before the other guys," Woehr said, referencing Fatima's jersey color.
Junior Caden Haslag crossed the line in 29th place with a time of 17:07.7. Right behind him was senior Elijah Selin in 30th place in 17:08.9.
"That's huge. When your No. 3 and 4 runners are finishing that low in the points, it makes a big difference," Bridges said.
Jake Boyce, a junior who was unable to finish last weekend's district race, rounded out the Comets' team score in the state race, placing 50th in 17:28.9.
"The fact that our fifth runner was the best fifth runner in the race, you win races with your fifth runner," Bridges said. The next highest No. 5 runner was Steelville's Vance Smelser, who took 69th place.
Fatima junior Dean Hagenhoff was 66th overall in a time of 17:39.7. Senior Josh Even finished 92nd with a time of 18:08.8.
"There were so many teams that were in that running, if our boys slipped a little bit, it was going to be a real close race," Bridges said. "But they didn't. They ran really well, top to bottom."
All seven Comets ran season-best times at state.
"Pretty exciting for them to finish the way they did," Bridges said.
Six of the seven runners competed in a meet earlier this season at Gans Creek. Each trimmed at least 30 seconds off that time at state, and Boyce and Haslag both cut down their times by more than a minute.
"This course, we had to get out a little faster than we maybe wanted to," Bridges said. "We changed up a little bit of our racing this season to prepare us for it. We raced on some flatter courses, a few faster courses."
Daelen Ackley of El Dorado Springs won the Class 2 boys individual title with a time of 15:39.0.
Fatima only graduates two seniors from its roster of 12 runners, as the Comets start to look ahead at obtaining a 10th straight state trophy.
And perhaps a third straight state championship.
"We're so deep, and we have such young talent," Laux said. " We're only losing two seniors this year and we've got a lot of young talent coming in."
New Bloomfield sophomore Nathan Hinrichs made the most of his first state cross country appearance, receiving all-state honors with a 24th-place finish in a time of 16:56.3.
Russellville junior Campbell Nichols finished 64th in 17:38.7, while New Bloomfield junior Caleb Distler — making his third state appearance — came in 124th place with a time of 18:40.7.