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Southeast Missourian cross country runner of the year: Scott City's Brandon Shemonia
Brandon Shemonia's ride to the top surprised many, including his mother.
"I think back when he was little and his sisters were the ones who were always the starters on the team and the good hand-eye coordination," said Toni Hammes, Brandon's mother. "He always had all that heart. ... Now I look at him and it just amazes me. I still see him as that little kid and I think how great a runner he is, and I still can't hardly believe it's my kid."
Shemonia burst onto the cross country scene as a sophomore at Scott City, which was the Rams' inaugural season. He finished second at the Class 2 state meet that year.
"When he got second at state, I was like, 'Wow, second in state, he might be good at this,'" Hammes said. "That really was kind of when it sealed it for me that he might have some potential at it.
"He enjoyed it and he was good at it, but we didn't realize he was at that next level until his sophomore year."
Shemonia again finished second in the state his junior year, which only intensified the satisfaction when he captured the Class 2 state title in November. It was the perfect ending to Shemonia's high school cross country career.
"I was really glad I was finally able to get it, especially getting second at the track and cross country level," he said. "And to be able to finally pull it off and be able to say I'm a state champion was pretty cool. It's a goal I've been pursuing since I started track in the seventh grade."
Shemonia's dominance in local meets and success at the state level are why he is the Southeast Missourian cross country runner of the year for the second consecutive year.
"I know it's going to be hard to outrun him, but I also know it's going to be hard to out-sprint him," said Central junior Billy Leighton, one of the few runners in the region who could stay close to Shemonia. "It's kind of one of those things that you try to make moves during the middle of the race and maybe get a break and try to go from there. But when you have the endurance and the speed, it's kind of hard to beat him."
Shemonia's running career started as a way to get in shape for football, his first love at the time. He played safety and receiver as a freshman at Scott City.
"I loved it," he said about football. "I was a starter for JV, but cross country was definitely something I had to pursue. I knew I had more talent for that, and I knew I wouldn't have the growth and height for football."
He dedicated himself to running during the summer after his freshman year. He logged scores of miles to prepare for his first season of cross country.
"Anything he does, if that's what he likes, he's 110 percent," Hammes said. "So once he kind of fell in love with running, that's when it was, 'OK, this is what I want to do.' Then it was like, 'I'm going to train all summer. I'm going to train all winter.' Any time he does something he likes, he's pretty much gung-ho about it."
Shemonia shares a house with an excellent running resource. His stepfather, Kevin Hammes, is a well-known runner in the area, and the two often talk race strategy but rarely run together.
"He likes to say there's no way he could ever train with me because the pace I run my runs at compared to him," Shemonia said. "It's just kind of a thing. He runs at 4:30 in the morning with all his friends. I kind of pass on that.
"He does a lot more different training. He's also trying not to push me and doesn't want me to feel forced to have to go out and do it. It kind of makes it my decision to go out and run."
Shemonia won eight of the 11 races he competed in during the high school season. His worst finish was fifth in the prestigious Forest Park Cross Country Festival in St. Louis. He took second in his other two non-wins.
"He's just got that raw speed," Leighton said. "He's got that extra gear where I can keep up with him and then he'll just switch gears the last half mile, mile, last 800 and gets that few seconds on me, and I can't close."
Despite his success, Shemonia admits he rarely tried his hardest in races.
"Most of the local meets, I felt I should have run harder," he said. "But I had a couple meets -- I think about three meets this year -- I got to go race Drew White from Festus. He's the one or two top guy in the state. That was good to go out and get competition there."
Shemonia's arms remain close to his body and he always looks in control while competing. He wastes little movement when running.
"It's always really come easy to me," he said about his form. "That's one thing my coach has always told me, I've never really pushed myself to what I'm capable of. The form, I think, has come with I've always been pretty strong in the core and everything for my size. I don't break down form very easily. But I believe once I get to college and I'll be able to train with the guys and I get to the race where I'm actually pushing myself to my limits and what I'm capable of, we'll see how I look at the end of the race."
Shemonia said he's visited about 10 schools and is close to making a decision on where he'll continue his running career. He is eager for the test that running in college will provide.
"I'm going to have guys every day in practice to compete with that I'm going to be able to run my workouts with," he said. "It will make it really fun for me. I love my teammates I have at Scott City, but I'm excited to move on.
"I think the college meets, it's going to be a rough experience at first. Everyone's going to be so fast. But I think it's going to develop me as an athlete to the point I want to get to out of college."
His mother speaks with pride and wonderment about her son getting the opportunity to compete in college.
"It's still amazing to me the ride he's been on, and he's going to go to that next level," she said. "If you ever said I was going to have a kid who was going to play sports in college, I wouldn't have dreamed that watching him in junior high."