Missouri Cross Country team places 3 in top 5 at home meet

Sophomore Kaitie Vannata finished first in the women's meet for the Tigers.
Missouri's Kaitie Vanatta, center, works her way through the middle of the pack at the start of the Missouri Cross Country Challenge on Saturday morning  at A.L. Gustin Golf Course. Vanatta won the race with a time of 17:37.20.

The Missouri Cross Country team held its only home meet of the season Saturday, and did so with a strong performance. The team hosted Kansas, UM-Kansas City and Stephens College at A.L. Gustin Golf Course. The women's team did particularly well with three runners finishing inside the top five, including the top finish in the women's meet.

"I am so happy for our team as a whole," first-place winner Kaitie Vanatta said. "It's an early meet, and I think we really set the tone for the season."

On the men's side of things, five runners finished inside of the top 25. Sophomore Max Storms, who took eigth, recorded the top finish for the men. Storms put up an impressive time of 26:26. A few new faces, including freshman Merid Seleshi and Hayden Legg, who took 14th and 23rd respectively, also aided the team.

The biggest story of the day was redshirt junior Aaron Dixon. An 800-meter runner, Dixon likes to use cross country as a way to train himself in the offseason. This season, Dixon challenged himself to make the cross country team and be a competitor in meets. He made a good start on his goal, claiming a 13th place finish with a time of 27 minutes.

"I'm very happy with my performance," Dixon said. "It's a personal record, and to do it on this course is exciting."

The runners were in consensus about the difficulty of the course. The course at A.L. Gustin Golf Course is known for it's many rolling hills. It begins with a downhill slope, and the hills immediately begin. 3.2 miles into the course there is an 800-meter-long hill to climb.

"We invite other teams here and they are really intimidated by what they see, especially the hill," coach Rebecca Wilmes said.

The runners were all fatigued after the event and had much to say about the difficulty of the course. Dixon said the big hill was what was the hardest, and that he underestimated how big it truly is.

Dixon also joked about the task of running the course.

"That was the hardest course I have ever ran," Dixon said. "I'd rather have a kidney stone than do that again."

It rained for much of the morning before the meet and the course was wet when the runners stepped up to the line. To Wilmes, that was not a problem.

"In cross, they all have to run the same course," Wilmes said. "It's a level playing field."

The runners also weren't worried about the course conditions. Seleshi said there were some soft spots to watch out for, but overall the weather was great.

As a program, they did well for the first meet of the season. Runners and coaches alike were pleased with the performance, but admitted they have a lot to work on.

"We need to work together and push each other," sophomore Megan Kowalik said. "That's what it's all about."

Dixon graded the team's performance as a "solid B." He cited his reasoning for the grade as the fact that his runners simply could have done better.

"We had to sideline some guys because of injury," Dixon said. "That makes it hard to go out and do your best when you can't put your best out there."

Wilmes spoke about the program needing to close gaps between teammates. She wanted the team to run in small groups and avoid having stragglers. Doing that, she said, will lead to a better overall performance for the program.

The Tigers will continue their season Oct. 2 at the Greater Louisville Cross Country Challenge in Louisville, Ky.

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