Anticipation soared as the SLUH cross country team prepared to face off against fierce competition from across four states including the best teams in Missouri at the Forest Park Cross Country Festival (FPXC) last Saturday. The team put up impressive performances across the board, including the first Forest Park JV victory and first individual winner in several years.
This year, the festival was held in a new location centered around Forest Park’s Langenberg, Cricket, and Lindell fields. As the host of the meet, SLUH coaches devoted much of their time and energy to ensure that the first FPXC in two years would run smoothly. In just a week, the coaches were able to turn the knee-high grassy fields into a mowed, marked, and mapped 5K and 3K course to be run on by thousands of athletes.
“You know, we talked about hosting a meet and the logistics of that and having 3000 athletes from around the Midwest, having a good experience in a new location in the park for us,” said head coach Joe Porter. “I thought that it went extremely well. I think it was well received.”
In a very competitive race, the varsity finished in fourth place with 119 points behind some of the top competition in the state, including Class 5 defending champions Rock Bridge (Columbia) (79), the Class 4 seven-time defending champions Festus (90), and a very strong Kickapoo (Springfield, Mo.) team (106) that is currently ranked second in Class 5.
Senior Baker Pashea led the scoring with an impressive 10th place finish and a time of 16:18, with senior Justin Glass taking the role of the second finishing Jr. Bill with a 23rd place finish and a time of 16:47. Seniors Sean Kellogg and Joe LaBarge finished close behind at 29th and 30th respectively. Both ran times of 16:54. Senior Grant Brawley rounded out the scoring five with a 44th place finish and a time of 17:23. Juniors Wyatt Seal (17:30, 50th), Tim Greiner (17:33, 55th), Will Riggan (17:46, 60th), and Nolan Meara (17:59, 71st) rounded out the varsity racers.
The Jr. Bills were able to put nine varsity runners in the top half of the incredibly competitive race and medal their top four racers, which is certainly not an easy task given the presence of other state title contenders. Still, the runners had held for a higher finish.
“It might not have been the exact outcome we were hoping for, but a lot of that was out of our control on Saturday,” noted Pashea. “I still couldn’t be more confident in this group of guys going forward.”
In the JV division, the SLUH runners were able to continue their superb form from the previous week’s Granite City Invitational, claiming the race victory with a low score of 34. The race featured one of the standout individual performances of the day, with sophomore Charlie Murray (17:38) taking home the individual victory, SLUH’s first individual race champion in any division at Forest Park since 2013.
Murray was followed by sophomore Mason Scargall (17:59) in third, with senior Francis Alford (18:13) closely behind in fourth. Sophomore Anthony Zangara (18:19) ran a great race to finish in eighth, and junior Cody Cox (18:46) took the final scoring spot in 18th place.
This excellent performance from the JV squad was made even more impressive as Seal and Riggan, their two top finishers from the team that captured a perfect score at Granite City, were moved up to the varsity division, further highlighting the program’s unparalleled depth.
In the freshman 3K race, the Jr. Bills finished in fourth place with a score of 94, falling behind Rockhurst (50, team champions due to tiebreaker), Festus (50), and Eureka (59). Despite the hot and humid racing conditions, Gus Talleur (10:43) led the way for SLUH throughout the race, contending for a race win and eventually crossing the line in third, just six seconds behind the race champion. Otto Reitenbach (11:39) finished in 19th as SLUH’s second finisher, and a trio of freshmen—George Donahue (11:57, 25th), Gavin Smith (11:59, 26th), and Ethan Bognar (12:00, 27th)—crossed the line in quick succession to make up the remainder of the scoring five.
After FPXC, the members of the cross country team immediately began setting their sights on this Saturday’s Paul Enke Invitational at Sioux Passage Park, which features an extremely hilly course that is considered one of the toughest in Missouri. The varsity top seven will be rested, giving a V2 squad of JV runners the opportunity to compete in the varsity race against some of the top competition in St. Louis.
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