Houston's trio of freshmen cross a ditch during the Tiger Trail Invitational Monday at Houston Municipal Golf Course. All three posted personal-record times in the race. From left, Kristen Ely, Summer Bittle and Allie Benoist. Credit: DOUG DAVISON | HOUSTON HERALD

For the first time since the early 1980s, Houston hosted a cross country meet this week.

The inaugural Tiger Trail Invitational Monday at Houston Municipal Golf Course featured runners from 11 schools, including seven high schools and four middle schools.

Houston High School athletes had a good day, with several posting personal-record (PR) times.

In the high school boys race, senior Hunter McKinney placed fifth in a strong field of 34 runners, turning in a PR time of 18:06.71 on the relatively flat 3.1-mile course. HHS sophomore Jake Allen came in 15th with a time of 20:11.89 and senior Nick Washko placed 22nd at 22:03.68.

Plato’s David Held continued his assault on various courses this season by winning the race with a PR time of 16:05.34. Held finished more than a minute faster than runner-up Andrew Norris of Mountain Grove, who came in at 17:10.64.

Houston senior Hunter McKinney runs past the green at the fourth hole at Houston Municipal Golf Course during the high school boys race in Monday’s inaugural the Tiger Trail Invitational. DOUG DAVISON | HOUSTON HERALD

Cabool topped the boys team standings with 31 points, while Mountain Grove was second with 42.

In the high school girls race, Houston’s freshman trio of Kristen Ely, Summer Bittle and Allie Benoist continued to improve, as all three posted PRs. The three finished in a bunch, with Ely placing 8th in a touch field of 16 with a time of 23:36.88, while Benoist came in 9th at 23:38.12 and Bittle finished 10th at 23:39.95.

Mountain Grove’s Macey Penner won with a time of 20:52.56, while Kasey Richards of Licking came in second at 21:51.48. Mountain Grove topped the girls team standings by default, as the Lady Panthers were the only squad with five finishers.

Houston 8th-grader Warren Hinkle won the middle school boys race with a time of 9:57.15 while teammate Jack Sawyer came in second at 10:31.80.

Houston 8th-grader Natalie Clinton was the only runner in the middle school girls race and finished with a time of 13:11.82.

Houston 8th-grader Natalie Clinton, right, and Jeremiah Cabarcus of Cabool run side-by-side to the finish line. Clinton won in the middle school girls division and Cabarcus placed fifth in the boys. DOUG DAVISON | HOUSTON HERALD

The meet also featured 5th and 6th-grade races. Houston had three girls in the running (Jesslyn Crawford, Jessyn Allen and Claire Benoist) and three boys (Christopher Meier, Gage Smith and Thomas Kincaid).

Timing at the meet was provided by Ozark Racing Systems, whose presence was paid for by Burch Insurance. A finish line tent was provided by Texas County Memorial Hospital.

“This was a great meet,” said Houston cross country head coach Justin Brown,” especially for our first try. I really want to thank the businesses that helped us financially; it made a huge difference.”

Houston runners competed in the Ava Invitational on Tuesday of last week.

McKinney took third in a field of 36 in the event with a time of 19:29, while Allen placed 10th and Washko came in 17th.

Ely ran fifth in a field of 20 with a time of 25:24, while Bittle was right behind in sixth and Benoist finished 11th.

Houston 8th-grader Warren Hinkle runs toward the finish line on his way to winning the middle school boys race during the Tiger Trail Invitational.

Hinkle topped a field of 19 middle school boys runners with a time of 10:10, while Sawyer came in third and Shane Yonkers placed 17th.

Clinton was the runner-up among in a field of 11 middle school girls, posting a time of 12:17.

The HHS boys and girls will run again Saturday in the Missouri State High School Activities Association Class 2 District 2 championship meet at Clever.

Brown is in his first season at the helm of Houston cross country.

“I really hope we can get the younger kids involved,” he said, “and start to build a program that will become something big over the next few years.” 

To view a photo gallery from the Tiger Trail Invitational (with the option to purchase photos), click here.

Runners in the 5th and 6th-grade boys and girls divisions leave the starting line at Monday’s Tiger Trail Invitational. DOUG DAVISON | HOUSTON HERALD
Justin Brown is in his first year as head coach of Houston cross country. DOUG DAVISON | HOUSTON HERALD

Doug Davison

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Contact him by phone at 417-967-2000 or by email at ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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