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Saxony, ND runners lead charge among area teams
A banner cross country meet for area boys squads highlighted the year of the Crusaders, as Saxony Lutheran High School cemented its place among the top small school athletics programs in the state.
Saxony Lutheran won its second straight Class 1 cross country state title, and the Crusaders won district titles in three of the four sports that were involved in district play. A second-place finish in track and field marked the fourth team state trophy in three years of varsity athletics.
"We've just got some really good kids that are willing to work hard, and it paid off for us," said athletic director Larry Cleair, who coaches both cross country and track.
Saxony Lutheran, which did not lose a runner from its 2004 championship squad, easily cleared the field at the cross country state meet with 61 points. West Platte was next with 120. The Crusaders' first four runners all finished in the top 25 and earned all-state. Brandon Etzold was the state runner-up.
Joining in the celebration for area squads was Notre Dame, which won its first cross country state title with relative ease. Notre Dame, which took second in Class 2 in 2003 and fourth in 2004, finished with 66 points, ahead of Priory with 102.
Seniors Matt Pfau and Greg Kanneberg both finished in the top 10, and Notre Dame had four runners in the top 25.
"It kind of surprised me that we put it together so easily that day," Notre Dame coach Bill Davis said. "I think the kids were really focused after district. They really seemed to believe something good was going to happen.
"I kept telling them this is a special group, and we stayed clear of injury. I think we just worked harder than we ever worked."
Perryville rounded out the big day for area cross country teams with a third-place finish in Class 3. The Pirates were led by Jesse Kueker, who finished 25th.
"It was great because I think people tend to look as far as Potosi -- that's as far as Southeast Missouri goes in cross country," Cleair said. "With the Ste. Genevieve girls [getting first] and Notre Dame's boys and us, I think it really showed we have a lot of good competition and are even getting better."
Added Davis: "That said a lot for the area. I've always plugged Southeast Missouri cross country, and for a lot of people it opened their eyes state-wide."
Building on their success in the fall, the Crusaders came up just short of a second state title at the Class 1 track and field championships. Saxony Lutheran finished with 56 points, just behind Polo's 64. This was the first top-four finish in track and field for Saxony Lutheran.
"We really were hoping to get first place, but I know that was kind of a long shot," Cleair said. "I tried to pump the kids up all week. We were going for No. 1, but the performances were great. Especially that 4-by-4. Alex [Jauch], that was his fourth race of the day, and Grant [Lehmann] had ran a tough 400 already. Brandon had won the mile and half-mile, and for them to come back and run like that ... it was amazing to watch."
The school won four events at the state meet, with Etzold finishing first in two individual events and running on the Crusaders' winning 1,600 and 3,200 relays. The Crusaders also had all-state performances in four other events at the state meet.
Etzold's four first-place medals upped his career total at Saxony Lutheran to seven. Saxony Lutheran also won the 3,200 relay last year, and Etzold has a pair of first-place medals from winning back-to-back team cross country titles. As the top returning cross country runner, Etzold could continue to add to his take in the fall.
"He's hoping with hard work he can step up to that top spot in cross country," Cleair said.
Also in the spring, Saxony Lutheran's baseball team captured its first district title in the program's second year and reached the quarterfinals. The boys basketball team enjoyed a third straight winning record at the varsity level, along with a tournament conference title, and spring softball and girls junior varsity basketball debuted.
Saxony Lutheran will add boys soccer this fall, and girls varsity basketball will debut in the winter.
Bell City added to its trophy case with another top-four finish in boys basketball. The Cubs finished runner-up in Class 1, the third straight year Bell City made the state final four.
Bell City's volleyball team also made a return trip to the state final four, bringing home a third-place finish in its second trip to the final four in three years.
Notre Dame was the only other area squad to claim two top-four finishes. The Bulldogs made their second straight trip to the Class 3 final four in softball and placed second, which was their highest finish.
Two more area squads made the state final four in basketball, with Advance's boys ending a 30-year final four drought to finish third in Class 2, and Delta's girls earning their second third-place finish since 2003.
Oran's baseball team again made the trip to Columbia, its sixth trip to the final four since 1999 and fourth in the past five years. The Eagles wound up third and have yet to win a state title in eight tries.
It was a strong year for area individuals as well, led by Etzold's four state titles at the Class 1 track meet. Etzold was one of three area individuals to bring home state titles.
Central junior Nicole Jackson improved on her second-place finish in the 200-meter dash in the 2005 Class 4 track and field championships with a state title in the event. Jackson became Central's first individual winner since 1999.
Jackson High School celebrated a state champion in wrestling for the second straight year. Indians senior Kamden Rampley won the state title at 215 pounds and finished the year 54-0. Rampley followed in the footsteps of former teammate Cody Rouse, who went undefeated at 154 pounds the previous season.
Central swimmer Hannah Kinder put on a show of her own, bringing home a pair of second-place finishes at the state meet. Kinder finished second in the 50 freestyle and 100 freestyle, events she placed third in at the previous state meet.
Also for the Tigers, Tyler Terry had two runner-up finishes at the Class 4 state track meet in the triple jump and long jump.
Notre Dame swimmer Jameson Kuper finished second in the 200 freestyle and third in the 100 breaststroke in his final state meet. Kuper collected five all-state medals in his three years of high school swimming.
Top-four team finishers
Notre Dame, first place, boys cross country, Class 2
Saxony Lutheran, first place, boys cross country, Class 1
Notre Dame, second place, softball, Class 3
Perryville, third place, boys cross country, Class 3
Bell City, third place, volleyball, Class 1
Bell City, second place, boys basketball, Class 1
Delta, third place, girls basketball, Class 1
Advance, third place, boys basketball, Class 2
Saxony Lutheran, second place, boys track and field, Class 1
Oran, third place, baseball, Class 1