What the Kingsville boys cross country team lacked in quantity at the Class 1 Cross Country Championships last Saturday was made up for with quality.
All three Tiger runners – seniors Luke and Grant Engel, and junior Ryan Bailey – competing at the state meet at Gans Creek Cross Country course in Columbia ended the day with state medals draped around their necks.
The Tiger trio entered the race with high expectations from Kingsville cross country head coach Lee Smith.
“I know they’re hyped, and ready to go,” said Smith shortly after the Class 1 girls state championship race concluded. “I think Ryan may run one of his best races ever today. He just looks like he is ready to go. “Luke is at the top of his game. Grant has been battling a little bit of injuries. I know he’s been fighting through it. He had a great district race. He finished fourth, and was hurting. They know this is it, so they’re going to fight right through it.”
Luke entered this year’s state meet as a four-time state qualifier, a four-time top-10 district finisher, and a two-time district champion.
His first of those identical district first-place medals was earned last season at the Class 1, District 7 Meet in Warrensburg. He defended his district crown this year at the Class 1, District 7 Meet in Lamar.
“Second year in a row, district champion,” highlighted coach Smith a couple of hours before the starting gun on Saturday. “Hopefully top-five is what we’re looking for from him. I think he can do it. He’s been running by himself a lot this year.”
After running with the front of the pack the entire race, and jockeying for position with Blue Eye runner Ryan Cardenzana throughout, Luke finished the final state meet of his career in fifth place in the field of 175 finishers. The senior twin clocked a time of 17:05.4.
The four-time state qualifier pointed to his off-season training as a key to picking up his second state medal.
“It’s great because I worked so hard all off-season all four years, and it’s a great way to end it off with a nice race,” said Luke. “I was just trying to do better than I did last year, just trying to improve.
“The race was pretty tough. I was fighting with one guy pretty much the whole way. He beat me out at the end, but other than that, it was a pretty good race.”
For Grant and Ryan the race proved to be more fluid. Ryan sprinted out to a quick start to lead all runners down the opening slope of the Gans Creek Course before settling into a pack past the first kilometer marker in a fight for a state medal.
Grant stayed in the medal pack, and midway through the race overtook Ryan by a couple of runners. By the second pas down the opening slope, Grant had extended his lead over Ryan as Grant kept pace with a runner from West Nodaway.
With the finish line approaching, Ryan found a slight edge in the sprint to the medal stand for the two Tiger teammates.
Ryan clocked a time of 17:50.8 for a 21st-place finish in collecting his first all-state medal. Grant turned in a time of 17:52.3 to take 22nd place in collecting the second all-state medal to close out his high school career.
“It was pretty tough. I’ve been battling off an injury this year,” said Grant after the race. “It was a hip injury, but I really didn’t feel it today. I think adrenaline just completely overtook it, and I was able to get my goal.”
The senior looked back on his career, and ending it with back-to-back all-state performances. “This has been a really good four years of cross country,” said Grant.
In his third attempt, and coming off a 44th-place state meet finish last season, Ryan ascended to the medal stand this season.
“It’s nice. I’ve had two years of disappointment. I finally got it here,” said Ryan who pinpointed his quick start as the key to making it to the medal stand.
“Coach told me I couldn’t take my first mile as slow as I like, so I took off a little bit,” recalled Ryan of his sprint down the opening fairway, and his start leading him to a top-25 finish. “It reminded me of my first year at districts where I literally got 15th place. It’s not nice to be hitting that bottom line, but it’s nice to get the medal for once.”
Coach Smith summed up the successful state competition for the Tiger competitors Luke, Grant, and Ryan.
“We had the goal for everybody coming here today bringing home some hardware, and we had that ability,” said coach Smith. “Everybody had their season-best time today. This race was a great race. It’s great to see them ending their careers on a top note.
“Luke’s a senior with fifth place here, and then Grant followed it up with another all-state honor. It’s great to see them going out on top like that.
“It’s Ryan’s first year being able to medal. It’s exciting after last year being disappointed. He worked hard, and it paid off.”