Devin Neff ran the final cross country race of his stellar prep career Saturday at the Class 2 state championships.
The smile on Devin Neff’s face couldn’t be removed. The Mark Twain senior ran the final cross country race of his stellar prep career Saturday at the Missouri State High School Activities Association State Championships.
Neff covered the 3.1 mile course on the arduous Oak Hill Golf Course in 17 minutes, 15 seconds -- good for seventh place in the boys Class 2 race.
With the finish, Neff earned all-state honors for the second straight season.
He ultimately fell two places shy of his goal entering the race, but none of that matter as he walked across the awards podium, receiving his all-state medal.
“I wasn’t top 5, but I gave it my all and I think top seven is still quite an accomplishment,” Neff said. “In my book, I think that is my best accomplishment of my life right there.”
A restart of the race may have played a factor for Neff not being able to reach his goal of a top-five finish.
Nearly 200 meters into the start of the race, officials fired the starting gun numerous times to call for a restart. A spectator was believed to be the cause of the restart by sounding off an air horn, which caused some of the runners to stop.
Neff didn’t use the restart as an excuse.
“I feel like it may have slowed me down some, but stuff happens,” he said. “My time really wasn’t what I was thinking, but I went out there and gave it my all and did the best I could so I am still happy I went out with a bang.”
Neff started out running fourth after the first 1,000 meters of the race. As Saxony Lutheran’s Caleb Cornelius and M.R.H.’s Malik Stewart started to pull away from the pack, Neff had a different strategy in mind.
“I knew the Tipton runner was a pretty good runner so I just wanted to try and stay with him and attack the hills where I could,” the Tigers senior said.
Neff was able to remain with the second tier of runners throughout the rest of the race. With 800 meters left, Neff was in ninth place before his final push at the end for his seventh-place finish.
“I feel like I should have stayed up there with the top guys, but I am happy with seventh. I could have been in the back pack of the race so I am just thankful and blessed.”
Cornelius won the race in a time of 16:22, which was 25 seconds ahead of Stewart.
It was the fourth straight year of Neff running in the state meet. He improved on both his time and placing all four years. Neff finished 112th as a freshman, 47th as a sophomore and 15th last season.
“I am just so proud of Devin and all he has accomplished over these last four years,” Mark Twain coach Erin Mack said. “He has earned every accolade he has received from all-conference honors, all-district honors and all-state honors. This young man works hard at practice, stays mentally focused at the meets and gives 100 percent effort in each race.”
The race was not only bittersweet for Neff, but the Tigers coach as well.
“Losing him after this year is going to be a hit to our program,” Mack said. “He has contributed greatly to our success. I hope to see our program build with the new addition of our Jr. High program in which Devin has been a model athlete for. I think he has set a strong precedent for our younger cross country athletes and he is going to be missed dearly.”