Maryville boys cross country prepares to go to the West Platte Invitational the morning of Oct. 31 at Platte Ridge Park. Freshman Connor Blackford (front far left), seniors Jake Walker, Garrett Dumke and junior Jag Galapin (far right), are all planning to attend districts. 

Maryville cross country aims to keep its hot streak from cooling down amid a recent plunge in temperatures. The Spoofhounds have won their last three meets, including a dominant performance in the MEC XC Championships. Maryville coach Rodney Bade is hoping to have similar results in the MSHSAA Class 3 District 8 meet Oct. 31 in Platte City, Missouri.

Maryville runners occupied the top four places with senior Garrett Dumke winning his third consecutive individual MEC title. He was quickly followed by juniors Jag Galapin and Cale Sterling and standout freshman Connor Blackford, securing second through fourth, respectively.

“I’d say finishing four in the top 4 was the most exciting thing,” Bade said. “Just looking at the runners over the years, we knew this year as long as we have five healthy, we can walk away with it. Three championships in a row feels good, but the four in the top 4 feels really good.”

Bade said it was nice to have his freshman step up and exceed the rank he entered with, and he wants to build on the team’s streak in the future.

“I guess you could say we’re trying to string together year after year,” Bade said. “Hopefully, we can be one of those schools that’s won 10 conference titles in a row, or something crazy, you know? I guess that’s kind of where we’re going.”

Bade’s journey to establish his dynasty will have to brush conference titles aside for now, as the ’Hounds aim for a more elusive title.

Predating 2016, Maryville never surpassed fifth place as a team at the district meet. In the last four district championship meets, Maryville finished either second or third. Maryville tied for first place in points scored with Smithville in 2019, but the Warriors’ sixth runner placed higher than the Spoofhounds’, which ultimately gave the Warriors the advantage.

Now, with Smithville out of the district and the ’Hounds gaining momentum, Bade is confident in his team’s ability to chase down a district championship.

“Our district is some of our conference, but add a couple schools like Lawson and Pembroke Hill,” Bade said. “Those will be the two schools that will challenge us. As far as top 5, we still look very similar. If Connor (Blackford) can run as well as he did on (Oct. 20), it’s not unforeseeable to see us take one, two, three, four.”

Bade quickly said that this would not be expected of his team, even though it is a likely outcome. He would much rather have them ready for when the state meet rolls around five days after districts.

Following an icy 5-mile practice, Dumke relayed over the phone that his goals mirror those of his coach: be healthy for the state meet. Dumke also explained his eagerness to win a district title in his final season as a Spoofhound.

“I’m sure I can speak for myself and the rest of the team that we’re pretty confident going up against Lawson and Pembroke,” Dumke said. “We’re looking to put our top four in the top 10 again, and we’re pretty confident in ourselves, and it’s going to look a lot like the conference meet.”

Dumke had a vision of vying for a district title as a freshman, but not in cross country. He was more in tune with the idea of playing for a football championship.

“It’s kind of crazy thinking that going into high school, I never saw myself as a cross country runner,” Dumke said. “Finishing my senior year, going into my final district cross country race, it’s pretty exciting.”

As a rather undersized lineman, Dumke sustained an injury his freshman year, which prompted him to hang up the cleats and pick up a pair of distance spikes.

“I thought, ‘Maybe football wasn’t the best thing for myself,’” Dumke said. “Cross country was an option, and my mom was always good at cross country, so I thought I’d give it a try, and here we are now.”

Contrary to many of his teammates, Dumke has only been mentored by Bade for three years, but he has seen exponential growth. With the 5,000-meter school record a lean at the line away, a phrase traditionally used by runners to push for a close win, Dumke could possibly be the best to ever run in a Spoofhound jersey.

Despite leading the team time-wise and being the second-fastest runner in Maryville history, Dumke said his motivation comes from his teammates.

“We have a really strong team this year with Cale (Sterling), Jag (Galapin), Connor (Blackford) and Jake (Walker),” Dumke said. “Just knowing that we may have one of the best teams — the past two years — to ever come through Maryville. So, just trying to perform like last year and be one of the top teams in the state has been our motivating factor.”

On the morning of Halloween, Maryville cross country will put its confidence and motivation to work, and the team hopes to bring home its first Class 3 District 8 title.

“Last year, our race with Smithville, it felt like we could win,” Bade said. “This year, it's more of a come out of it being healthy. It’s like the light at the end of the tunnel, and we’re close enough.”

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