BLUE EYE – The numbers tell the story about how close Blue Eye High School was to a girls’ cross country state championship last season.
The Lady Bulldogs had the top two finishers, three out of the top 11 and four out of the top 22. Their team score of 73 was just a whisker behind team champion Kansas City Lutheran.
There’s no sugarcoating how much that near-miss has spurred and motivated the team going into this fall.
“It just makes you want it so much more this year, getting that close,” said sophomore Avery Arnold.
Behind Avery Arnold – who finished second at the Class 1 state meet – and sister and state medalist Riley Arnold, plus 11th-place finisher Braylynn Siercks and 22nd-place runner Olivia Labrier, Blue Eye dominated throughout the regular season.
They cruised at the Southwest Central League competition and the district meet in Lamar, then put on a show at the state level in Jefferson City.
With the Arnold twins and Siercks being only freshmen, there wasn’t an overwhelming sense that the team would enjoy this level of dominance.
“I didn’t realize all the success we were going to have,” Blue Eye coach Jacob Thompson-Krug said. “And I don’t think the girls realized how strong we were throughout the season.”
The team’s talent showed not only at the state level in cross country, but during the spring track and field season, where Blue Eye won the Class 1 state championship.
“Winning first in track proved that it’s possible, but it makes it even sweeter this year, to push for first in cross country,” Riley Arnold said.
It has led to some marathon training sessions over the summer, with typical weeks including about 33 miles of road work, and days off?
“We took a few, but not many,” Avery Arnold said.
The twins are both standouts on the Blue Eye volleyball team that has won back-to-back district titles, and have a simple mindset when it comes to preparing for the season and competing.
“We just run a lot of miles and train your mind to win and try to prepare as best you can,” Riley Arnold said.
“I try to lead the other girls, try to get more girls to come out. And just encourage them and push each other as we’re running.”
The district meets this season are scheduled for Nov. 2 for Class 1 teams, with the state meet a week later.
It’s hard, though, not to look ahead to what could be the continuation of a rivalry between Blue Eye and Kansas City Lutheran.
Out of the top six finishers from each team at the state meet, all six return for Blue Eye, while Kansas City Lutheran has four of its top six back.
Thompson-Krug said he can easily tell how driven his runners are this season. He gave them all forms to fill out, spelling out individual goals and team goals. Unanimously, the individuals had “win state” as their team objectives.
“I can just tell already in workouts this fall, they are pushing themselves harder, there are no excuses about anything,” he said. “It’s, ‘OK, we need to get on top.’ ”
The Blue Eye boys’ team also has some big expectations for this season, after qualifying for state as a team for the first time in program history last fall, finishing fifth.
Chris Lemp graduated after taking 11th individually at state, but returning is sophomore Ryan Cardenzana (21st as a freshman) and senior Ethan Webb (66th as a junior).
Cardenzana has been the one pushing the pace in preseason workouts, hungry for a return to state and a higher finish.
“It means more coming from a teammate in a leadership position than a coach who is yelling at them,” Thompson-Krug said. “It definitely is bleeding over, and they have the same objection, to make it to state.”
Blue Eye cross country schedule
Aug. 31: Strafford Invitational
Sept. 7: Southwest Cross Country Coaches Association Meet
Sept. 17: Monett Invitational
Sept. 24: Nixa Invitational
Oct. 5: Chile Pepper Run
Oct. 8: Branson Invitational
Oct. 17: Clever Invitational
Oct. 22: Huntsville Invitational
Oct. 26: Southwest Central League Meet