MARYVILLE, Mo. — Tyler Blay knows that West Nodaway has had its struggles on the field and court the last few years, but the Rockets are building one of the top winning cultures in northwest Missouri on the cross-country course.
The Rocket boys won their third-straight 275 Conference championship on Monday at Donaldson-Westside Park. It is their fourth conference title in the last five seasons.
“It feels great to support the school,” Blay said. “We don’t have the best winning culture out there right now, and cross-country is out here trying to bring that up and support it."
West Nodaway was first with a team score of 28, while Mound City was eight behind, and East Atchison and Stewartsville/Osborn were a distant third and fourth.
The dominance by the Rockets was triggered a lineup who have all had different paths to the times they are currently putting up.
Blay is now a 2-time conference champion after running a 16:51.2.
“Tyler, we talked about going out hard and if someone chased him down, to fight it off,” West Nodaway coach Colton Blay said. “I think he went out quick enough to burn everybody out.”
Tyler Blay’s climb to the top of the conference was unlikely a couple years ago when as sophomores, classmates Duke Ingraham and Preston Bateman were consistently faster than him at meets. Blay was a self-described basketball player, who seemed to just be running cross country due to his family ties to the team.
Going into his junior season, that all changed behind some intense work. Blay transformed his body and became a cross-country star.
“The kid never stops, the kid never stops,” Colton Blay said.
Going from the third banana in his own grade at West Nodaway, Tyler Blay jumped all the way to state runner-up status.
“My sophomore year, I was a middle-of-the-pack runner,” Tyler Blay said. “I worked my butt off to become a conference champ, back to back. It feels great.”
That hard work hasn’t slacked off as Blay was recently quarantined due to contact-tracing. Blay was crushed that he couldn’t compete with his teammates.
“The first week I was quarantined, I put in a huge week, worked my butt off, 9-mile workouts and stuff,” Blay said. “Every time that the team would go to a meet, I’d just feel a big depression come on me. ‘Gosh, I should be there right now, it is my senior year.’ I’m telling my dad how much I want to race and stuff. It just killed me to leave the team out there alone.”
He channelled that disappointment through workouts, and there is no better social distancing than running long distances when nobody in the state can keep up with you. One of these workouts was a remarkable morning run from Burlington Junction all the way to Graham.
“I ran 20 miles at 6:50 per mile pace all the way to Graham, Missouri,” Blay said.
Just because Blay has climbed the ranks doesn’t mean that the rest of the Rockets fell off. Ingraham took second in the 275 meet, his best career finish, on Monday.
Ingraham ran a 17.36.2 to top third-place finisher Lane Zembles of Mound City. Zembles beat him in the same meet last year.
“I was pretty happy with it,” Ingraham said. “Lane did really well and I felt him pushing me the whole way. I felt like we were kind of there for each — just making each other better.”
Ingraham has talked about building into shape during the season, and feels like he is where he wants to be as the postseason races approach.
“I feel like with these couple weeks, I’ll be able to work even harder and get even better, but I feel really good about where I am right now,” Ingraham said.
West Nodaway freshman Riley Blay took fourth overall in the meet, and unlike his older brother, the freshman has always been focused on cross country and has become one of the better freshman runners in Class 1. Riley Blay finished with a 18:14.7 to edge South Holt junior Dawson Fansher by 10 seconds.
“To be the top freshman, it is impressive,” Colton Blay said.
West Nodaway’s fourth top-10 runner is one of the more impressive stories with Bateman splitting time between football and cross-country. Bateman is one of the top defensive backs in the 275 as far as production.
Even focusing on football, Bateman managed to finish ninth on Monday with a 19:55.4.
“I had no doubt in my mind that he could come out here and compete,” Colton Blay said. “That is just who he is, he is a competitor.”
Freshman Keevin Maupin secured the conference title by finishing 16th with a 21:37.9, and Braden Mires was 24th with a 23:44.
Riley, Weiderholt finish in top-10
It has been an up-and-down season for Platte Valley cross-country.
For sophomore Andrea Riley, it has largely been a confidence battle, but Monday was a strong result with Riley finishing fifth in the girls’ 275 meet with a 24:46.9.
“I’ve been trying to get out of my mind, and get back into racing mode,” Riley said. “I feel like a did that today.”
Riley finished behind just three South Holt runners, including conference champion Reese Morris, and Rock Port’s Aubrey Watkins.
“It is definitely nice because we are starting to see everyone who we are going to see at districts so we know kind of where we are going to pan out,” Riley said. “I think I’m in a pretty good spot, hopefully.”
For junior Sierra Wiederholt, the season has been all about staying healthy. Monday was also a strong performance for her by finishing ninth with a 28:34.3.
“I’m happy to have my teammate back so we can push each other,” Riley said.
Despite the top-10 finish, she is looking to shave time off her pace in future weeks.
“I was super excited to come back and run,” Weiderholt said. “I am not super happy with my time, but considering I haven’t run in a long time, I’ve been on the bike, I’m pretty proud of myself.”
She will also be focused on staying on the course in the next few weeks. She says she is taking it meet-by-meet, but the goal is to be performing at her best for districts.
With just two teams with the five runners required for a team score, Stewartsville/Osborn edged out East Atchison for the team championship.