JEFFERSON CITY — An eerie hush fell over the crowd at the state championship cross country meet as the official raised his red flag. One hundred sixty-four girls stood at the starting line, hunched into position and awaiting the gun to signal the start of the race.
A loud pop from the gun created a stampede as the girls started the 5K race. Hickman junior Nicole Mello was among the pack of girls sprinting from the line. She was at the state meet for her third year in a row.
Senior Devin Sander took 12th place of 172 runners for Hickman boys cross country, finishing in 16:33. Sander earned an All-State medal, which had been a goal of his throughout high school.
However, just moments after the gun sounded, Mello fell down in the crowd.
"It stung throughout the race, but I really just blocked it out. It’s not what I was really focused on," Mello said.
Mello managed to finish in ninth place with a time of 19:41, securing a third consecutive All-State runner medal and a personal best placement at the state meet.
"In the biggest meet of her life, adversity hit and she didn’t sit down there and cry. She got up and fought," Hickman coach Steve Kissane said.
Mello was the only girl on the Hickman team to qualify for the state meet. Her next stop is in Lawrence, Kan., for the USA Track and Field Missouri Valley Cross Country Championship, followed by the Foot Locker Midwest Cross Country Championship in Wisconsin.