Mikayla Reed won the war a season ago.
The Washington High senior and reigning Post-Dispatch All-Metro girls cross country runner of the year had to concede the battle Saturday, though.
Blue Springs South senior Tori Findley defended her Green Division individual title in the 12th annual Forest Park Cross Country Festival at Aviation Field, besting runner-up Reed in the meet’s highlight field of 207 runners.
“She’s so good,” Reed said. “She’s such a good runner, a phenomenal athlete.”
Findley won in a time of 18 minutes and 39.15 seconds on the 5-kilometer course while Reed crossed second in 18:54.25.
The last time they faced off in a high school cross country meet, Reed rolled to a 25-second victory against Findley to claim the Class 4 state championship Nov. 5, 2016.
“We really respect each other and I think that’s super important,” said Findley, who noted she and Reed both would be taking an official recruiting trip later Saturday. “Even though it’s just like through racing, we’ll reach out to each other.”
Neither Findley or Reed were part of a team championship, however. Findley’s individual title helped Blue Springs South score 177 team points, but that was only good enough for a second-place team trophy.
The winner was Class 2 power Fatima, which didn’t put a runner in the top 10 individually but grouped together superbly for 175 points and a two-point victory.
Fatima, located in Westphalia, has won four consecutive Class 2 state championships and was the Green Division runner-up a season ago in its first Forest Park appearance.
“We got second here last year, and we were like let’s do that again — or as a matter of fact, let’s do better than that,” Fatima senior Brianna Haller said. “We wanted to show everybody we’re a Class 2 school and we’re not messing around here.”
Haller, who was Fatima’s top individual finisher in 11th, is the three-time defending Class 2 individual state champion.
She and her teammates were up to the challenge, with sophomore Kendall Haller finishing 21st and junior Alyssa Struemph crossing 27th to earn individual medals. Katelyn Vanderfeltz, a junior, and sophomore Kailey Woody rounded out Fatima’s team scoring by finishing 56th and 64th.
Vanderfeltz was the top No. 5 runner by nine places, which proved key in the tightly packed team race.
“It’s not often you get to run against several Class 4 schools and several Class 3 schools,” Fatima coach Marc Bridges said. “We knew we’d get the opportunity to run against some of the best teams in the state, some of the best runners in the state. It’s a good opportunity to see where we’re at right now and kind of test ourselves.”
Individually, the Forest Park Festival also provides such a chance. There are more important races down the road, of course, but the quality regardless of classification makes for eye-opening performances that set the stage for the season.
Holt senior Emily Griesenauer was such a beneficiary with a third-place individual finish in the Green Division with a personal-best time of 18:57.63. It was her first time to break 19 minutes, and she was just a few seconds behind the defending state champ.
“I’m very excited — I couldn’t believe I was in the top three actually,” Griesenauer said. “I tried staying with Mikayla. She’s so good. She was really pushing me, pulling me forward. My goal this year was to get under 19 at some point. I can’t believe I did it now. It’s a good course to do it on. It was really nice out and the whole team was really positive before, so that helped out.”
In the team standings, O’Fallon was the top area finisher, scoring 225 points for sixth behind a 26th-place individual showing for senior Brooke Witzel.
Lindbergh was seventh in the team race with 234 points behind a 10th-place finish for junior Abigail Juedemann, and Washington settled for eighth out of 30 scoring teams with 260 points.
Reed said she and her teammates were keeping the finishes in perspective.
“My race was good,” Reed said. “I felt strong in the beginning, I didn’t feel so strong once we got halfway through, but we haven’t done too much speed work yet and we’re trusting the process and going through and getting ready for November.”
Findley’s process also has changed.
She ran track last spring for the first time after previously playing soccer as a freshman and sophomore.
“My dad’s actually the soccer coach at the high school, and I grew up with him playing soccer and all my friends play soccer and it was a hard decision to stop,” Findley said. “But it’s made me better, and this makes it worth it.”