The individual winner was decided long before the finish line.
With a mile left in the race, Amanda Bales was merely a figure in black who could not be caught. Bales, a Missouri sophomore, won the women’s race of the Missouri Cross Country Challenge on Saturday at A.L. Gustin Golf Course in 17 minutes, 41.6 seconds.
The Tigers filled four of the top five spots and won the five-team meet with 18 points. Illinois (47) was second and Southern Illinois (79) was third.
“Cross country is so unique because you get to run right next to your team,” Bales said. “For the first mile and a half, we were all together, using each other and working together.”
Near the 2-mile mark of the 3.1-mile race, Bales pulled into the lead with teammates Jill Peterson, Serena Ramsey and Kristin Hansen close behind. Illinois’ Casie Simpson and Stephanie Simms kept pace with the Tigers. Peterson was second in 18:10:98 and Ramsey third in 18:25.98. Simpson edged Hansen for fourth in 18:33.56.
“I was really proud that we had four girls up there working together,” Peterson said.
Last year, Bales was second at the Challenge in 17:23.
“I’d love to improve on the ending of my race, but I know that will come with time,” Bales said.
MU coach Jared Wilmes said he liked the way the team stayed grouped together.
“They had a really nice pack,” he said. “That pretty much carried them through the race.”
Missouri did not field its best team for the early season race. Sophomore Valerie Lauver and senior Katherine Bonugli, All-Region runners last year, did not compete. Wilmes said he wanted to see both women continue training until they were in top form and give some of his less experienced runners a chance to compete.
The Missouri men’s team also won, upsetting Illinois 22-33. Southeast Missouri was third with 93. The Illini were ranked No. 4 in the Midwest region and Missouri No. 6 in a preseason coaches’ poll.
The race was tight throughout. In the first mile, runners from both schools ran at the head of the pack. After the second and third miles of the 5-mile race, Missouri’s Ryan Hampton and Tim Ross were the only Tigers in front. MU’s Mark Munzlinger, Matt Noonan and Josh Davis followed the pack.
In the last half of the race, Illinois’ Jason Bill broke away to win in 25:01.99, ahead of Munzlinger, who used a strong finishing kick for second in 25:31.76. Hampton was third in 25:32.64 and Ross fourth in 25:38.49.
“Mark Munzlinger was the biggest surprise,” Wilmes said. “He had a breakout performance.”
Hickman won the high school boys’ division with 34 points. Senior Tim Cornell won in 16:19.07 and Matt Richmond (16:54.56) was third. Rock Bridge (79) was fourth behind Lee’s Summit (49) and Lindbergh (78). Jimmy Keown (seventh in 17:08.49) and Brian Cooksey (eighth in 17:09.56) led the Bruins.
In the girls’ high school race, Hickman (61) finished third behind Lee’s Summit (28) and Blue Springs (44). Janelle Cordia was sixth in 20:44.19. The Bruins (90) were fourth, with Anne Case-Halferty finishing seventh in 20:47.94.