In just its third year of competition, the Aurora High School cross country team already has a state medalist.
With last Saturday's 25th place finish (20:49) in the Class 3 state meet, freshman Kaci Singer, along with sophomore teammate Aubrey Boatwright, made Aurora history. The two were the first runners to compete for the school in the biggest meet of the year, and it's an honor they haven't taken lightly.
"Being one of the first athletes to compete in the state meet is such a huge honor and it means the world to me," said Boatwright, who finished 44th (21:31) on the day. "It is such an incredible feeling to be able to look at where you started and see how far you have come and be able to inspire others with your success."
For Singer especially, the state meet is a long way to come in a very short time.
"At the beginning of the season, I never thought I would make it all the way to state," she said, describing the event as "unbelievable."
But for the freshman, success has come frequently in her young running career. With first place finishes at Seneca, Monett and Lamar, she was one of the top athletes in the area all season. And when the big meet came around, she had a specific goal in mind.
"Before the race, I had made a goal to get in the top 25," she said. "I hadn't really thought about what place I was in [during the race], but once I saw the finish line, I knew I was close."
Singer said she kicked it into gear for one last surge near the finish line, passing another runner right at the end.
"As soon as I passed her, she yelled, 'NO!'" said the freshman, who moments later found out her last push had ensured her 25th place finish -- the last spot receiving a medal at the state level. "Once I found out that I had medaled [and earned] the title of an All-State runner, I was thrilled."
Despite not finishing as a medalist herself, Boatwright agreed that the experience was "amazing," from the school's sendoff through the end of the race itself.
"It was amazing being able to physically see all of the people who are behind you and supporting you," she said of the sendoff, noting that the excitement did wear off even once the race began. "There was a very intense atmosphere, and also unlike any other race I have ran, there were crowds of people around the whole course, so you never had any quiet -- just constant cheering and yelling."
Despite some muddy and rough terrain at the Oak Hill Golf Course in Jefferson City, the Aurora runners said they were both able to stick to their strategies and keep a good mentality throughout the run.
"Once I stepped into the box for my own race, the butterflies left my stomach," said Singer. "Running the race always seems like one of the easier parts."
Head coach Melanie Crockett voiced her appreciation of what the athletes accomplished after thanking those who have supported the team throughout the season.
"I am tremendously proud of their goal setting and determination to achieve their goals," said Crockett. "As a coach it is always a proud moment to have athletes achieve at the state level."
That achievement at the state level, she hopes, will inspire the next generation of athletes for Aurora, stating that the goal next season is to take a whole team or two to state. The now-veterans of the meet agree.
"I think our success has brought a lot of positive attention to the program, and I am hoping that because of this, more people will give it a shot," said Boatwright. "Our cross country team has become a family, and I hope now that more people have seen that, they will want to be a part of it."
And even now, the athletes can take pride in what that family has accomplished for their school and city.
"Placing at state and coming home with that medal for cross country, I think that makes the town proud," said Singer. "Living in a small town, we don't get very many wins, so when we do, it brings the town together."
The Lady Houns' two state qualifiers are expected to be back next year to make another mark on Missouri cross country.