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Liberty's Kruger blazes to Forest Park Festival title at McNair; Timberland wins team crown

Liberty's Kruger blazes to Forest Park Festival title at McNair; Timberland wins team crown

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ST. CHARLES — Ally Kruger didn't have the best time last year at Forest Park. 

The diminutive junior runner took part in a pasta party just before the big race as a sophomore. 

But an injury prevented the Liberty runner from showcasing her best stuff.

"I think last year was a one-time thing," Liberty coach Toby Glavin said. "I doubt there will be any soccer balls kicked around at any future pasta parties."

Fully healthy for this year's Forest Park Cross Country Festival at McNair Park, Kruger left the competition in the dust as she took home the Green Division individual title.

"I wanted to prove myself," Kruger said. "Last season wasn't my best, so this season I want to prove myself and prove to myself that I'm good."

Kruger took home the title with a blistering time of 19 minutes, 26.30 seconds, 22 seconds quicker runner-up Mia Reed from Washington. 

This is the first time the 15-year-old meet had to be moved from its usual location of Forest Park because of coronavirus restrictions in St. Louis. It was also limited to just 22 schools from St. Charles and Franklin counties and cut down to two divisions, down from its usual three. 

After last year's fiasco at the pasta dinner party, Kruger refrained from any extra sport fun and focused on just loading up on carbs and getting her mind ready for the race.

The results spoke for themselves.

After a fast six-minute first mile, she followed it up with a 6:14 second mile before cruising into the finish line for the title.

"I was just trying to stay in the moment and get to the next kilometer and run each kilometer and checkpoints to get there and then to the next place," Kruger said.

For the first part of the race, Kruger stayed grouped with the top three runners before she put down the hammer.

"She's confident and she should be," Glavin said. "She's in great shape and confidence goes a long way."

Forest Park Festival Girls Green Division

Timberland's Madilyn Moore runs during the Forest Park Cross Country Festival on Saturday, September 12, 2020 at McNair Park in St. Charles, Mo. Paul Halfacre, STLhighschoolsports.com

TIMBERLAND CRUISES TO A TITLE

Madilyn Moore was having an off day. 

Things just didn't feel right for Timberland senior as her feet pounded up and down the course.

But there was one thought running through her head as her muscles ached.

"It's still extremely important that I keep the mindset of, 'I'm still on a team, this is still my job to make sure I do the best I can for the team,' " Moore said. "In tough times, I have to keep my team in mind."

That team-first mindset helped Moore score some crucial points for as Timberland won the Green Division team championship, holding off Washington.

"I wasn't expecting to win the meet as a team, but I was expecting them to be tough and push through it," Timberland coach Dan Staples said. "It was a very nice surprise."

Timberland won with 64 points, while Washington finished with 75 points and Fort Zumwalt West wrapped up the top three with 81 points.

Moore finished 10th overall with a 20:59.9. 

Timberland was paced by sophomore sensation Morgan Puszkar, who finished in third place with a 20:09. The third-place finish was another breakthrough for the sophomore, setting another personal best. 

"I'm taking care of my body better and it's a lot better for race day," Puszkar said. "My mindset is really a big difference. Something I've learned a lot from freshman year."

When she stepped onto the courses last year, she entered as a top runner from the middle school class, but she got her eyes opened really quickly.

"'Wow, everyone is really fast,'" Puszkar said. 

Even with a team title under their belt, sophomore Livia Votruba who finished seventh overall with a 20:39.4, said she felt the Wolves have more in the tank.

"I believe we can get faster and get better times than this," Votruba said.

Forest Park Festival Girls Green Division

Fort Zumwalt West's Lydia Lehmbeck (right) and Alessandra Madrid during the Forest Park Cross Country Festival on Saturday, September 12, 2020 at McNair Park in St. Charles, Mo. Paul Halfacre, STLhighschoolsports.com

YOUNG CUBS LEADING THE JAGUARS

Lydia Lehmbeck remembers the feeling of qualifying for state with her team as a freshman.

It's one of the Fort Zumwalt West senior's favorite memories. 

She remembers how the seniors embraced her as a freshman. Now it's her turn to embrace the influx of young talent.

"We're having all these incoming freshmen who are amazing soccer studs wanting to come up and show off," Lehmbeck said. "It's an honor. I'm just trying to coach as much as we can. Coaches have been talking to us about not having a pecking order and just being proud of everyone on the team no matter what the finish is."

That influx of talent has had an immediate impact for the Jaguars as they finished third in the team standings of the Green Division without two of their top runners.

"We had a strong run with them so far," Fort Zumwalt West coach Andrew LeFors said. "I'm very pleased with a third-place finish in a competitive field. I think considering all of that, we're right where we wanted to be."

Freshmen Tori Bockstadter and Alice Cauley were unavailable for the race due to being in a soccer tournament with their club teams out of town.

"I'm rooting for them where they are," LeFors said. "When the big meets that really count (postseason), we'll have them. When we're operating at full strength, I believe we're very tough."

The influx of young talent hasn't caused friction with older runners, LeFors said.

"It's really different (being a leader)," junior Alessandra Madrid said. "Underclassmen look up to you and you're just trying to be strong and show them how this sport is going to go."

Forest Park Festival Girls White Division

Unioin's Ella Coppinger (424) and Anna Brakefield (right) runs during the Forest Park Cross Country Festival on Saturday, September 12, 2020 at McNair Park in St. Charles, Mo. Paul Halfacre, STLhighschoolsports.com

BRAKEFIELD PUTS ON A SHOW

One of Anna Brakefield's biggest fans wasn't in attendance Saturday.

Due to the no spectators rule, the Union High sophomore was without her father, Josh Brakefield, cheering her on.

"He was upset that he couldn't be here, so I really wanted to go and make him proud," Anna Brakefield said.

Brakefield's father would have been proud as Anna Brakefield cruised to the White Division title with a 20:39.2 time.

Her first-place finish also helped secure a Union team title in the division.

"I'm so proud of all of them, we've been working so hard this season and the girls are so talented," Brakefield said. "We've all gotten along so well. This is the best year I've been here and the team works so well together."

Her time was nearly a minute better than runner-up Belle Hill from Fort Zumwalt, North who finished at 21:23.7. Union scored 31 team points, holding off Pacific, which finished second with 45.

Brakefield stayed with the top pack for the first 800 meters before slowly picking off runners one by one. About halfway through the race, she made her move.

"I thought 'I just want to go get it,'" Brakefield said. "I knew going into the race that I really wanted to do well today."

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