COLUMBIA — The track was a bit emptier at Hickman High School on Tuesday.
After the Hickman boys cross-country team placed seventh overall at the sectional meet last weekend, team competition concluded for the Kewpies' cross country program. However, three runners were fast enough to qualify as individuals for the state championships this Saturday in Jefferson City. Senior Devin Sander and juniors Ethan Zars and Nicole Mello all advanced.
On Tuesday, there were only three runners at the track. Sander and Zars were there with another teammate practicing to improve their speed for the weekend. Mello wasn't at the track, but she also did a workout to prepare for the race.
Coach Steve Kissane said he is glad the three runners he is sending to the state meet this weekend are receiving another opportunity to run this year.
“The kids who got through are going to be representing us on Saturday, and they know that a lot of people would like to have that same opportunity, so that helps to give them a sense of urgency,” Kissane said.
Kissane said he is excited to see that Mello is healthy this year. After going through much of last season with a boot on her foot and walking on crutches, Mello has managed to stay injury-free this season. Ranked as the No. 3, Class 4 girls runner in the state by Big River Running Co., she has the potential to do well in the state race this weekend.
As a senior, this will be Sander’s last high school meet and his second consecutive appearance at state. He also made the Big River Running rankings as the No. 9, Class 4 boys runner in the state.
Sander said the Rock Bridge runners will be his competition at this weekend's meet. He said that staying mentally tough will be his biggest challenge, but he also has a method to overcome it.
"Recall previous training and races," Sander said. "Remember how you felt during those races and how you pushed through it, and just do it again."
After placing in the top 5 in all of his races this fall, Sander hopes to earn all-state runners honors by placing in the top 25 at the state meet, earning him a spot among the plaques at Hickman.
“The names on our wall have been screaming at him for a while for him to get up there and join 'em,” Kissane said.
Zars will make his first appearance at state this year as a junior. As a spectator at state last year, he saw how competitive the race is. He said he is focused on the runners from Jefferson City, who are close to his running pace.
Zars said he is most excited for the start of the state race when all the runners are lined up next to one another, even though it can be the most challenging and even dangerous part of the race. Runners can get stepped on with the sharp spikes from another runner's shoes.
"I'll protect myself, I guess, by using my arms to create a buffer of space," Zars said, boxing his arms around his abdomen to demonstrate.
Kissane expects Zars to be a leader for the boys team next year when he is a senior.
“He’s been a great example of what focus and consistency can do,” Kissane said. “He’s come a long way in a very short time with his ability and his focus.”
Both the boys and girls will be racing a hilly 5K course at the Oak Hills Golf Center in Jefferson City.
“There’s gonna be the unexpected; there’s gonna be fear of the unknown; and you’re gonna be placed in situations where you’re gonna have to react and compete,” Kissane said. “But that’s the neat thing about it.”