Friendly competition is a good thing and the competition on the Hannibal girls’ cross country team is about as friendly as it comes.


Friendly competition is a good thing and the competition on the Hannibal girls’ cross country team is about as friendly as it comes.
As the Lady Pirates prepare for this weekend’s District meet in Mexico, they ride a big high, with two top finishes and an average finish of second place throughout the season.
Even with that fact in their corner, Hannibal head cross country coach Charlie Newland said that he believes that his team still has their best races ahead of them.
“I don’t think we’ve reached our stride yet,” Newland said. “We’ve had three or four girls out of the top five have good races, but we are still looking for a five-out-of-five or even seven-out-of-seven. But we want that meet and we only have two more chances if we are fortunate enough to qualify in the District meet.”
One reason the Lady Pirates have been so dominant throughout the regular season is Emma Burditt. Burditt has three first-place finishes and has never finished any lower than fourth place for her team this season.
But success is no stranger with Burditt. Since she was a freshman, the Lady Pirate has been a force to be reckoned with, taking the District Championship on her first try. Now that she is a junior, she has the honor of calling herself the two-time defending District Champion and a leader of a team that has what Newland described as a real shot at qualifying as a team for the State meet on Nov. 7 in Jefferson City.
Burditt said during practice on Wednesday that she has full confidence that she, along with her teammates, will be able to post a day for Hannibal if they all run like they are capable of doing.
“There is some pressure on us, but we are still going to all go out there and run our hardest,” Burditt said. “We are still going to be gung-ho and try to run the best races we can. And, if it comes out on top, that would be great. But as long as we run the best races we can, we should be happy with that.”
One of Burditt’s teammates who definitely has been running her very best this season is Abbey Jeffries. The freshman came to Newland’s team as a highly-touted prospect, and it didn’t take very long for her to live up to the hype. For the first several meets of the season, Jeffries served as a sparring partner for Burditt, nipping at her heals and constantly pushing her to be better. Then, in the downpour of rain at the Frank Lemons Invitational, the unthinkable happened when Jeffries beat Burditt and took first place in the event. Then, proving that the one race wasn’t a fluke, Jeffries beat Burditt again at the North Central Missouri Conference meet, this time by a full 30 seconds.
Jeffries will be first to tell you that the changing of the guard was a little unnerving and took a little time to for adjustments. But, in the end, Jeffries said that the friendship she and Burditt had cultivated during preseason workouts and time spent at St. John’s Lutheran Church helped to diffuse any odd feelings between the two.
“Emma would help me and, once I realized that I could keep up with her on some things, I realized ‘Man, I’m kind of good at this,’” Jeffries said.
That didn’t last too long, however, when Burditt reclaimed the top spot last Friday at Clayton.
With all of the talk about Burditt and Jeffries, it would be easy to think the team’s success was strictly a result of just the duo’s efforts. But just as important for the Lady Pirates this season has been the season-long development of the No. 5 position for the Lady Pirates. Newland has stressed the importance of the final qualifying spot all season and the need for an ever-shrinking gap between it and the No. 1 spot. And, with a string of strong finishes which has accompanied the rise in the level of competition, the Lady Pirates have proven that they are up to that task.
Burditt said she, too, has seen the increase in the performance of her teammates and said the dichotomy that exists between her and Jeffries has also help to tighten up team finishes as well.
“It’s not just Abbey and I pushing each other,” Burditt said. “Jacqueline [Gosney] and Taryn [Dungan] push each other. Our other runners from behind are pushing each other. It’s just the thought that somebody is going to come up there to challenge you for your spot, so you’ve just got to keep running hard. It makes our team better and better.”
One factor that hasn’t affected the girls’ team this year as much as one might think is the weather. Including the Lemons Invitational, which Newland described as a monsoon, the team has dealt with poor weather conditions several times this season. It has gotten to the point that Jeffries almost likes running in the rain.
“It really helps,” Jeffries said. “Coach says that bad weather really messes with the mind. He tells us that we’ve just got to keep positive and we do.”
And as for what might happen to this team if they get some solid ground under their feet, the idea of the Lady Pirates exceeding expectations is not out of grasp.
“It’s a possibility,” Burditt said. “I can’t tell the future, but no matter what conditions we have, we are going to run our best race.”