ST. LOUIS • With clear blue skies and a flat course, expectations were high for a superior field of boys runners during Saturday’s seventh annual Forest Park Cross Country Festival.
And boy, did they deliver.
Marquette’s Noah Kauppila did his part, winning the Boys Green Division (large school) race in 15 minutes, 18.4 seconds. In the process, the junior shaved 20 seconds off his personal best time.
“I knew there were so many good people at this meet,” said Kauppila, who finished seventh in last year’s event. “It is one of the biggest meets of the year. … I wanted to go out a little slower. But I’ve never been this exhausted before. I knew the guys from Illinois were going to give me a huge race.”
That’s exactly what Kauppila got from a deep O’Fallon squad, which placed four runners in the top 25, including junior Patrick Perrier (second, 15:24.4) and senior Alex Riba (third, 15:26.4). The Panthers blew away the field in winning the team title with 44 points.
Rock Bridge finished second with 141 points and St. Louis University High, paced by a 17th place finish from Matt Nicholson, was third with 160. Blue Springs (214) finished fourth and Festus (247) wound up fifth.
While O’Fallon coach Jon Burnett was pleased with their performance, he also tipped his cap to Kauppila, whom he said is one of the best runners he’s seen.
“He’s so good,” Burnett said of Kauppila. “We only get to see him once a year, but I see the great times he puts up.”
Kauppila and the top two Panthers remained in a pack just off the lead for most of the race. Kauppila moved to the front with less than a mile to go, and pulled away in the final 200 yards.
The Panthers who finished second at last year’s Illinois Class 3A state meet, knew they would have a good shot at the team title. Perrier said the fact Kauppila was there made he and his teammates push even harder.
“Staying with him was definitely the goal,” Perrier said. “He’s a better runner. I just wanted to try and get up to his level.”
Chris Mooneyham of Glendale was fourth, followed by Stephen Muegeche of Blue Springs, Marquette’s Adam Roderique, Nathan Keown of Rock Bridge, Ian Frazier of Kickapoo, Nic Stewart of McCluer North and Andrew Moore of Ste. Genevieve.
In the team race, the Panthers got big performances from sophomore Dorrian Gordon (12 th, 16:03), junior Steve Chorma (25th, 16:28.4), junior Brennan Koester (27th,16.28.9) and junior Evan Wesslund (40th, 16:40.9).
“We’ve been working on developing our four, five, six,” Riba said. “It doesn’t matter how fast Patrick and I run. We’re on a team, so that is what’s going to make our team stronger.”
In the White Division (small schools) race, Farmington senior Jake Burch was the front-runner with under a half-mile to go. But as the runners turned for home, Parkview junior Cameron Byrley sprinted by him to win the race in 16:28.9 seconds. Burch was four seconds back.
“I was ahead with about 200 yards to go,” said Burch, who last qualified for state as a freshman and was coming off an injury from last season. “But I had nothing left.”
Malik Holman of Mexico (16:46.2) was third, followed by Henry Huff of Lutheran St. Charles, Nathan Cook of St. Dominic, Nathan Straubel of Platte County and Christian Alten of Parkway North.
The team title went to Jackson, which finished with 89 points, and were paced by Gabe Underwood (9th, 17:07). The top five included Kearney, Platte County, Fort Zumwalt South and Parkview.