Girls cross country makes state podium for first time since 2013

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One year ago, the Eureka girls cross country team placed seventh in the state. The placing wasn’t ideal, but expected after the 2018 season. 

Coming into the 2019 season, the team decided to switch things up. They were looking to make it on the podium for the first time in six years.

Rather than focus on each athlete running for the same distance, Darrell Lewis, coach, decided to have each athlete simply run for the same time. When everyone stayed on their feet for the same time, things took a turn.

“We came into the season knowing that we could have a pretty good year,” Lewis said. [We had] a goal of trying to improve on the seventh-place finish at state.” 

The training shift taught the girls to endure rather than focus on speed. The team went on to win the Suburban Conference Championship, Oct. 12. Next came districts, where the girls won the Class 4 District 4 championship title, Oct. 26. 

With the varsity team on a roll, they headed to sectionals, Nov. 2. For the first time since 2013, the Eureka varsity girls cross country team were Class 4 Sectional 2 champions.

“The culture on the team is awesome,” Lewis said. “Cross country is a tough sport, but they stick it out because of the friendships they have on the team.”

Through hours of practice, camps and conditioning, the team has been preparing for state for awhile.

“Camp is always really fun,” Kayla Voelker (11) said. “It brings everybody together in a different way. It’s a way that we bond.” 

Heading into the state meet, the team was ranked number two only behind Lee’s Summit West. 

“The girls have worked really hard,” Lewis said. “That number two ranking just shows you all the hard work they’ve put in.” 

With seven girls running in the state meet, the Wildcats were looking to make a name for themselves, and they did just that. Eureka’s Leah Kleekamp (10) earned fifth place with a time of 18:40 in the race.

“It was completely unexpected,” Kleekamp said. “I crossed the finish line thinking that I got around 11th, but when they called out that I got fifth, I was shocked.”

Anna Lombardo (11) placed 26th with a time of 19:06. 

“I knew I had to get out in the front,” Lombardo said. “It got a little tough near the finish, but when I saw Leah start to kick it in, I did my best to just leave all of it on the course.” 

The Wildcats placed third overall, scoring them a place on the podium. All of their hard work had paid off.

“It was amazing being able to finally prove that we were capable of making the podium,” Lombardo said. “We all work so hard and being on that podium with all the girls was just an eye-opening experience. It means greater things for us next year.”

With notable power in underclassmen, Eureka’s cross country presence is looking to keep up the velocity and come in strong next season.

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