The fourth season of cross country’s second go-round in Houston is under way, and for the first time since the re-boot there are enough high school boys runners to produce a team score in a meet.

In their first outing of the season, the Tigers took second in Class 2 boys competition at the huge annual Steve Waggoner Invitational last Thursday at Willow Springs Municipal Golf Course. The big meet featured 33 teams from varying classes, and Houston’s boys trailed only Alton in the Class 2 standings, while Hartville placed third.

Leading the way for the Tigers was freshman Warren Hinkle, who finished sixth in a field of 47 runners with a time of 19:19.84 on the 3.1-mile course. Next to finish for Houston was junior Jake Allen, who came in 9th at 20:00.53, while freshman Jack Sawyer was the third Tiger to cross the line, placing 13th at 20:50.13.

Rounding out Houston’s 5-man team score were sophomore Riley Talbot in 15th place and junior Aiden Kelly in 19th. Also running for the Tigers were sophomore Conner McKinney and freshman Shane Yonkers.

Alton junior Rydan Deckard topped the Class 2 individual standings with a time of 17:15.86, almost a minute-and-a-half faster than the runner up.

HHS freshman Jack Sawyer (196) runs during a meet last week at Willow Springs.

“It’s such a great feeling to have a full boys and girls team this season,” said Houston head coach Justin Brown. “It really puts a bigger influence on the team aspect of the sport. I was extremely proud of the boys taking second in their first meet; and for most of the boys, it was their first race ever. I can only see them getting better and better as the season progresses.”

HHS had three runners in Class 2 girls competition, with sophomore Kristen Ely placing sixth in the field of 22 with a time of 24:26.60. Freshman Natalie Clinton finished 10th at 24:55.52, while sophomore Allie Benoist came in 17th at 27:38.15. HHS sophomore Summer Bittle was unable to run due to an injury.

Finishing first was Mansfield senior Logan Jones with a time of 22:59.74.

In middle school competition at the huge event, Houston’s boys were led by 8th-grader Dillon Shelton, who came in seventh in a field of 104 runners with a time of 9:56.53 on the 2,500-meter course. HMS 7th-grader Christopher Meier finished 24th at 10:39.63, while 7th-grader Thomas Kincaid came in 82nd.

On the girls side, Houston 6th-grader Lyla Huffman took sixth in a field of 84 with a time of 11:18.90, while 7th-grader Jessyn Allen placed 18th at 11:50.76. Also running for the Lady Tigers was 7th-grader Jesslyn Crawford, who placed 65th.

HMS 6th-grader Lyla Huffman, center, runs last week at Willow Springs.

Nine out of Houston’s 18 runners earned medals for top-15 finishes at the meet.

“That’s a pretty good day if you ask me,” Brown said. “I couldn’t have been more happy to see all my kids’ hard work really pay off in this first meet this season. I really look forward to seeing how they adapt and get better as the season continues.”

The Missouri State High School Activities Association has since moved Houston up to Class 3, even though the school’s football and volleyball teams are in Class 2.

“With our varsity program moving up to Class 3, we really have to start working harder than ever before if we’re going to compete with some of these bigger schools,” Brown said.

HHS and HMS runners compete on Tuesday of this week at West Plains and go again Sept. 22 at Plato.

Houston junior Jake Allen, right, crosses a path on the course at Willow Springs Municipal Golf Course.

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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