The first Smith-Cotton cross-country runners to qualify for the state meet in eight years are also ideal student-athletes, according to coaches Tara and Matt Clark.
“If you could pick two people that could be the poster children of our school, our community and our program, they’re as good as you get,” Matt Clark said. “They’re not just great runners. They’re great people, they care about their teammates. In fact, this week, they were saying they’re lonely without their teammates.”
Practices have been quiet for sophomores Alex Beard and Grace Edgar since qualifying for the Missouri State Boys and Girls Cross-Country Championships in Jefferson City.
Beard placed 23rd in 16 minutes 43.86 seconds at the boys sectional meet last week in Camdenton, and Edgar was 25th in 20:39.42 at the girls race. Thursday, they recruited sophomore Tristan Perkins and freshman Joseph Rae for company on a run starting at the Clarks’ house in Sedalia.
Matt said the sophomore duo could grow into cornerstones for a team without a junior high feeder program. Paradoxically, the most admirable traits Beard and Edgar showcase — dedication, determination, discipline — are what keep them involved.
Beard, who played junior varsity soccer in 2016, practiced with Matt at 5 a.m. to appease his afternoon schedule.
“If it was a harder day, coach (Matt Clark) would meet me at the track … I’d be yawning,” Beard said. “It’s kind of just, who I am. If I start doing something, I’m going to make sure I get it done and try my hardest at it.”
Edgar runs with the team during regular practice hours, but is also in winter drumline, band, FCCLA, math club and on the student council’s executive board. Before joining the cross-country team her freshman year, she played volleyball.
“If I get five minutes of free time, I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I doing with my life?’” Edgar said.
She remembers the practice that convinced her to keep running.
“One of the first things coach was talking about was a pancake run,” Edgar said, describing a practice that ended in homemade flapjacks. “Pancakes? What the heck? That made me think running is pretty cool. We usually do it once or twice.”
The pair’s combination of curiosity and drive guides them through races. In a Class 4 state race where results are expected to be condensed, Matt said placing 50-80th is a strong finish for either runner.
Beard and Edgar echoed the sentiment, and said their success is based on personal satisfaction. They’ll just know.
“I’m just trying to go where I feel like I do well,” Beard said. “Usually I can tell if I felt good when I ran. There are also some guys I’m watching, that I know are my level, that I want to try and beat.”
Edgar said she’ll be satisfied if she can pass girls near the end of a rugged, Oak Hills Golf Center 5K trail, and see her mother at the finish line.
“I could not run without my family,” Edgar said. “They come to every single race, they cheer me on. It’s really nice to have that support.
“My mom, after every single race, she’s crying … She’s like, ‘you did so good,’ it’s really nice to finish a race and have my whole family there.”
The Class 4 girls race in Jefferson City begins at 9:30 a.m., while the boys start at 10:40 a.m.
Alex Agueros can be reached at 660-826-1000, ext. 1483 or on Twitter @abagueros2