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Cross Country wins Tuscola Classic for the first time in 45 years

By Lenny Sementi
Tuscola’s boy’s cross-country team broke a 45-year drought and did it in an impressive fashion. Neal Garrison’s squad went all out last week in a race at Peoria’s Detweiller Park in a precursor to the state meet and turned some heads. This week they won the Tuscola Classic for the first time in its 45-year history and garnered some more attention downing some of the best teams Central Illinois has to offer. 

The Warriors let it all go last week in Peoria and this week Garrison managing work load stress had his runners pair up and feed off each other and the energy from the hometown crowd. Tuscola runners executed the plan to perfection resulting in a three point victory over a state-ranked Effingham St. Anthony squad 102-105 and 21 other teams. 

Josiah Hortin and Jackson Barrett were the first pair to cross the line for Tuscola entering the chute shoulder to shoulder taking second and third overall out of 180 runners. Hortin was the first across with a 16:45.06 followed by Barrett who clocked in at 16:45.91. Next up was Will Foltz who missed the top ten by 2-ticks of the clock and one spot taking 11th overall. Bryce Graves was the fourth across in 33rd with an 18:43 and Xander Neamtu ended the scoring taking 64th with a 19:25. Mason Veach was paired up with Neamtu and ended just four seconds back in 69th place. 

Blake McLeese, Carson Smith and Aaron Hegarty toured the rugged three-mile Wimple Park course as the alternates. “Our runners made it a goal to try to win the Tuscola Invitational. We knew it would be challenging as there were many strong cross-country programs,” stated Garrison. “The runners used a lot of discipline and focus to try to end up in an overall place as an individual in order to give our team a chance to win. Josiah and Jackson did an excellent job of running side by side throughout the race. They ran with such composure to give our team the low points in the meet by placing second and third. Will ran a smooth race and placed 11th overall. Going into the meet we knew that the next four runners were the key to our team having the strongest chance of winning. Bryce Graves pulled his teammates to a good early start. Xander and Mason knew that they had the most important spot on the team since the 5th runner is when the team’s points end. Xander and Mason knew that it didn’t matter which one of them placed 5th for the team as long as they helped each other make sure they were both higher up in the placing. Both did a fabulous job and they finished within seconds of each other and they secured the team win.”

Hortin and Barrett closed out the race, sprinting the final 50-yards to beat a St. Anthony runner at the line saving, three points and Graves did the same edging, another pair of Bulldogs for another three point swing. Neamtu put the bow on top with a strong kick passing three runners in the final quarter mile.  

“We had two season-best times,” Garrison said. “This was very hard to do as this course is not that fast due to the many turns. Mason Veach and Blake McLeese both ran their bests. It really showed how focused and intense they ran. Blake is really strengthening our team as he is almost finishing with our number five runner.”

“What I think was the most impressive thing was seeing how great the community of Tuscola is. Our team could really feel the support of this community as their neighbors, their teachers, their priest, their administration, their athletic director, their parents, their classmates, their alumni, our programs’ former coaches, and so many others came out to encourage them,” commented Garrison. “As a coach, I have never experienced having so many community members give up their weekend to work a cross country invitational. It really lets me know how special Tuscola is. I am incredibly grateful to have had so many people give up their weekend to help work the invitational and support our runners.”

 “As a coach, I know this was not something built in one season. Our previous cross-country coaches really worked hard to recruit and establish a strong program. Our cross country alumni really invested a lot of effort to help set our current runners up to have a chance,” Garrison said. “Many of our cross country alumni and former coaches were at the meet to support our current team. This meant a lot to me and I know it meant a lot to our runners. I think we all felt a sense of obligation to try to win as a way of honoring those that helped set up our current team. After the meet the cross country alumni and the current cross country team went out as a group to somewhat celebrate what both groups worked to accomplish.”

Rylie Vanausdoll was the first to the finish line for girls coach Beth Pugh. The sophomore finished in the top ten percent taking 22nd overall with a 21:43. Freshman Kate Foltz was right on her heels ending up two spots back in 24th with a 21:45. The duo were near each other the entire race helping the Lady Warriors to an 8th place finish as a team in a race that boasted four state-ranked programs. 

Addy Ring was in the top half of the 173 runners taking 83rd while Molly Macaulay and Annie Brazzell rounded out the scoring. Reggan Smith in just her second outing of the year served as the alternate. “The girls didn’t get the personal records that they would have liked but they all ran around their best times, so we are staying competitive,” stated coach Pugh. “We want to stay positive and have a good week this next week.” 

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