Holden senior cross country runner Zach Willis capped off the final conference appearance of his career by repeating as MRVC-East Champion.
Running as the Holden boys team’s number-one runner last season, Willis captured his first conference championship which also represented his first all-conference medal placing.
In his freshman season, Willis placed 13th at the MRVC-East Meet with a time of 20:40 on the course at Richmond High School.
He sat out of the conference race in his sophomore season due to sickness.
In his most recent showing on the conference course, Willis timed out at 17:13 to take the conference title on Wednesday, Oct. 19.
He placed not only ahead of the 33 MRVC-East competitors, but also paced the field of 45 West runners from the big school side of the Missouri River Valley Conference. “My ultimate goal was to beat everyone in the East, and the West Conference, especially out of the East just to defend my title,” said Willis. “Last year, I got second overall. Drew Hunter beat me from Warrensburg, so this year I really came in hoping to take it all. I’m glad that I was able to do that.” The senior’s finish at the top of the overall field this year drew notice from Holden cross country head coach Dale Wescott. “Zach was pretty impressive with his win there,” said coach Wescott. “He not only beat the East, but he beat the West.” Placing at the front of the pack is symbolic as the East, and the West runners compete at the same time on the conference course with their times being sorted out for each league to determine individual and team final standings.
The East side’s second-place finisher last Wednesday proved to be Lexington runner Alex Worthington with a time of 17:45.
Warrensburg runner Julian McNeil led the West runners in a first-place time of 17:48.
Willis stepped up this season to lead the Holden team composed of mostly sophomores as sophomore second-year runners Rett Hankins, Caleb Koehn, Ethan Rice, and Jackson Treece returned this season with the lone Eagle senior.
Junior Lukas Hunt, and first-year runner Ruben Wiesmann who is a foreign exchange student complete the composition of this year’s squad. “All these guys are two years younger than me, except for Lukas, so I really feel like I step up and be a leader, but also, the team’s a lot younger,” said Willis. “I remember I used to just look up to the guys, and listen to whatever they had to say. Now I’m just the quiet leader.” “He’s definitely a remarkable leader as a senior,” said coach Wescott in describing Willis’s impact on the team.
Willis’s final championship showing in the MRVC-East Cross Country Meet coincides with coach Wescott’s final time coaching Holden at the conference meet.
The long-time coach plans to retire from coaching the cross country team at the end of this season after having retired from teaching at the end of last school year. “He did tell me in private that this is his last year, and that he’s super proud that I was able to go do this,” said Willis. “We’re a dynamic duo, I will say. I feel like he’s the biggest reason I do this. I’ve always done this for him, and so I’m really proud that I could get it done for him this year.”
Now on the near horizon for Willis is the district meet, and an anticipated return to the state meet where he placed 56th in the field of 170 finishers at Gans Creek Cross Country Course in Columbia last season. “The goal is to get top-five at districts,” said Willis with his conference championship medal in hand. “If I can do that, hopefully, I can go top-25 all-state, and be the first all-state runner from Holden in Class 3.”
The Holden high school cross country runners compete at the Class 3, District 4 Meet hosted by West Platte High School this Saturday, Oct. 29. The boys race starts at 10:35 a.m. The girls race starts at 11:05.