Clad in red and black, a trio of HHS athletes focus at the starting line during a big cross country meet Thursday at Clever. From left, seniors Hunter McKinney and Nick Washko and sophomore Jake Allen. Credit: EMILY HONEYCUTT | HOUSTON HERALD

Several cross country athletes from Houston turned in good performances Thursday at the gigantic, 50-team Clever Invitational.

In the high school boys race, Houston senior Hunter McKinney finished 24th in field of 181 runners with a time of 18:28.47 on the fast 3.1 mile course. HHS had two other boys in the race, as senior Nick Washko placed 88th with a personal-record time of 20:38.78 and sophomore Jake Allen come in 100th at 21:07.11

Tanner Talley of New Covenant Academy in Springfield won the race with a lightning-quick time of 15:59.08, while Plato’s David Held finished second at 16:13.98.

Stockton was the top boys team with only 43 points, while East Newton was second with 57.

HHS freshman Summer Bittle (498) runs during a huge cross country meet Thursday at Clever. EMILY HONEYCUTT | HOUSTON HERALD

Houston’s freshman trio of Kristen Ely, Allie Benoist and Summer Bittle continued to improve, as all three posted PRs in the high school girls race. Ely led the way by finishing 40th in a field of 125 with a time of 23:55.23, while Benoist was close behind in 44th at 24:10.24 and Bittle came in 50th at 24:19.39.

Blue Eye’s Riley Arnold took first in the race with a time of 19:30.19. East Newton topped the team standings with 55 points, while Strafford was second with 70.

In the middle school boys race, Houston’s Warren Hinkle placed ninth in a field of 118 runners with a time on the 1.5-mile layout of 11:13.89, while teammate Jack Sawyer was right behind in 10th at 11:19.09. Shane Yonkers also ran and came in 103rd.

HMS 8th-grader Natalie Clinton (493) leaves the starting line during the junior high girls race at a huge cross country meet Thursday at Clever. EMILY HONEYCUTT | HOUSTON HERALD

Houston had one runner in the middle school girls race: Natalie Clinton, who finished 39th in a field of 75 with a time of 14:18.56.

The meet also featured 6th-grade races, and Houston had three runners in each race.

In the boys race, Christopher Meier placed eighth in a field of 43 with a time of 11:47, while Gage Smith came in 12th at 12:05 and Thomas Kincaid ran 30th at 14:36.

On the girls side, Jesslyn Crawford finished 22nd in a field of 59 at 13:10, while Jessyn Allen placed 32nd at 14:56 and Clair Benoist came in 47th at 16:24.

The size of the meet was due to the fact that the venue will host three district championship meets in the near future and teams were getting a look at the course in advance.

HHS head coach Justin Brown opted out of a meet at Mountain Grove and instead had his runners in Clever for the same reason, as the Class 2 District 2 meet will be run there on Saturday, Oct. 30. The top 30 runners in the boys and girls races will qualify for state, along with the top 4 teams in each race.

McKinney said it was good to have a sneak-peek at the venue, but wet, rainy conditions made the going a bit rough. But he feels like it could be the place where he reaches his goal of posting a sub-18-minute time.

“The course would have been better if it wasn’t covered in mud and water from the rain,” McKinney said. “There were a lot of spots where you had to slow down in order to keep your balance. But it was still fun. If it’s dry on the day of districts, then it will definitely be a course I have a shot at getting into the 17s.”

Next up for Houston athletes is a meet Tuesday (Oct. 19) at Ava.

Houston will host a cross country meet for the first time in decades, Monday, Oct. 25, at Houston Municipal Golf Course.

To view a photo gallery from the Clever meet (with the option to purchase photos), click here.

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

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