By MICHELLE BROOKS
RUSSELLVILLE - With humbleness as the team motto this past season, the dual state cross country champion teams at Cole County R-1 Schools didn't know what to expect Tuesday when the community organized a pep rally in their honor.
When they walked in the gym together to the War Tribe's musical background, they were greeted with cheers and applause from more than 150 community members similarly dressed.
Miranda Hill and Grace Young were at the head of the line. Both said they were overwhelmed and emotional.
"We didn't request or expect this; they did it for us," said Nick Haslag said.
Along the courses of their season, former Russellville cross country athletes turned out to cheer these teams on.
"Cross country is not really a spectator sport," Young said. "It's special when people come out to support you."
Rep. Mike Bernskoetter, a former Helias Catholic High School cross country athlete, brought resolutions for the teams and for Hill from both the Missouri House of Representatives and the Missouri Senate.
He also presented each team member with a certificate.
And, the team presented their own handmade plaque to Coach Craig Miller reading "Coach of the year, every year."
"It's been a crazy season," Haslag said. "We committed to each other and to winning."
Haslag was proud of the fact the boys team never lost to a Class 1 school, but with respect lamented they took second at six meets behind Fatima.
Throughout the season, the runners encouraged each other to "run your race."
At the state meet, "every guy did that and a couple did beyond that," Haslag said referring to Jamie Porter's 23rd place.
He called Alex Thompson, who placed 4th at state, the "rock" of the team.
The boys felt the pressure knowing the girls team already had won and that Fatima's boys and girls teams had swept their class, Haslag said.
"When I saw the coaches running toward us with the number one, it was an amazing feeling," Haslag said. "I've been waiting four years for that feeling.
"It felt good to represent our school, our coach and our team."
Although the girls team had tasted the victory twice in the last three years, "I never thought we could do it together," Hill told the audience.
Only seven schools have done so in the history of the Missouri State High School Activities Association.
Most of the girls ran their best times at state, particularly Erica Miller who placed 38th and Young, who was the district champion, took 3rd.
"They've overcome a lot of odds," Miller said. "If it's hard, they've done it."
Walking across the state championship stage a few weeks ago, "you knew the hard things were worth doing," said Jayce Tschirgi.