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Warriors cross country teams are all about breaking barriers

By Lenny Sementi
After a rainy Friday night, it was a great Saturday morning and Tuscola’s boys and girls cross country teams took full advantage of it and set more than a few personal records at the 50th Annual St. Joe Classic. Of the twelve runners who entered, eleven set new personal bests by over a minute on average, some by nearly two minutes. Xander Neamtu for the boys and Addy Ring for the girls shaved the most time from their personal best, erasing 1 minute and 40-seconds and 1:50 respectively. 

“Tuscola actually joined the race in the first year they ran it back in 1972,” stated Warrior boys coach Neal Garrison, “So Tuscola has had a rich history at this invitational.”

Garrison’s boy’s team continued its assault on the central Illinois cross country scene and took third overall out of 32-teams upending numerous higher ranked teams including perennial powers Monticello, St. Anthony and the host Spartans. The terrific twosome of Josiah Hortin and Jackson Barrett knocked down a few more barriers both going sub 15 minutes for the first time in their career capturing the top two spots out of over 170-runners out legging their closest competitors by 100-yards at the finish.  

The duo each PR’d by 34-seconds with Hortin crossing the line in 14:57 with Barrett right on his shoulder stopping the clock in 14:58 with actually just .04-seconds separating the two state-ranked runners.  Will Foltz cut 25-seconds off his personal best, going under 16-minutes for the first time and posting a 15:50.  

“Will ran in the 15’s for the first time. This is an extremely fast time. He is one of just a handful of Tuscola runners that have done that in our 60-year history,” Garrison commented. “Josiah and Jackson hit a major milestone of running in the 14s. As far as our records show, they are the first Tuscola runners ever to run in the 14s on a true 3-mile course. Tuscola Cross Country legend, Eric Ponder, ran in the 14s twice on the SJO course when it was a 2.95-mile course. According to our best knowledge, our program has only had 3 runners ever run in the 14s on any length course and 7 runners run in the 15s in 60 years. That gives a perspective of how strong Josiah, Jackson, and Will are. I am the luckiest coach alive to get to coach this team.”

Bryce Graves occupied the fourth scoring spot for coach Garrison, reducing his personal best by 1:21 ending his day in 28th overall with a 16:40. Neamtu rounded out the scoring, ending in the top half and breaking the 18-minute barrier for the first time with a 17:59. Blake McLeese with a Personal Record and Mason Veach were the supporting cast, rounding the speedy road course as alternates. 

“While our 3rd place finish was a team effort, in many ways I have to give a lot of the credit to our #4 runner for the day, Bryce Graves,” Garrison said. “Based off our individual best previous times and SJO best times, we knew that our #4 and #5 runner would have to improve quite a bit in order to beat SJO. Bryce was predicted to get 49th in the meet. Bryce improved by over a minute to place 28th. His improving 21 places better than he was supposed to, pushed our team to the higher finish.”

“The highest previous team finish for our Tuscola team was in 1974 where they finished 4th. Our team set a goal of trying to place 3rd. They knew in order to do this they had to beat SJO who is ranked higher than them at State and also had better times this season. In the end, our team was able to beat SJO by 1 point and were able to place the highest our team had in the 50-year history of our program.”

“I am also very impressed with the grit of several of our runners that fell at the start of the race. Xander Neamtu, Blake McLeese, and Mason Veach all fell at the start due to the crowded start. By the time several of them got up, they were in the final few runners of the large field at about 1/4 mile into the race. Blake was bleeding but still managed to run his lifetime best by almost a minute. Xander had to pass around 80 runners to place in the 70s. While many runners would have given up, Xander showed how tough of a person he is by slowly working his way up. Our team would have placed about 10 teams lower if we didn’t have such a determined runner as Xander. We are so fortunate to have him out. Xander ran over 40 seconds faster than his best.” 

On the girl’s side it was freshman Kate Foltz that gained some attention taking sixth place overall PR’ing for the fourth time this season and this time by nearly a minute knocking on the door of the 17-minute range entered the chute in 18-minutes flat. Rylie Vanausdoll was just a few ticks away from a personal record but did set a season-best, clocking in at 20:46 collecting some hardware and taking 34th overall. Ring followed in the third scoring position delivering a 24:02 besting her personal record by just under two minutes. Molly Macaulay and Annie Brazzell were the final two scorers for coach Beth Pugh both PR’ing leading the Lady Warriors to a 13th place finish overall. 

“It was a great meet today,” stated Pugh. “The girls came out and really competed. Kate was very excited to compete. She received the best freshman award. Riley ran one of her best races this year. both her and Addy medaled. I am really proud of all of the girls for coming out today ready to compete. We knew that the SJO course is a fast course and that it was a good chance that they could run some personal best times. I am proud of them for staying focused and stepping up to the challenge.”

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