With the Hannibal High School boys cross country team swarming the finish line like it always does, Devin Neff felt fortunate to be among the Pirates.
Which seemed weird considering he bested them all.
Neff, a Mark Twain High School sophomore, completed the Frank Lemons Invitational course at the American Legion Golf Course on Thursday in Hannibal in 18 minutes, 19 seconds, giving the young runner a third-place finish.
Four Pirates finished in the top 11, including senior Sean Jones, who was on Neff's tail near the end of the race before settling for a fourth-place finish in 18:22.
Neff, who has resided near the top of finishers at all of the races he's competed in this year, said it was an honor to finish with Hannibal, a team considered to be among the best in the state.
“It's amazing … it's an amazing feeling. Beating seniors, just being with the older guys, it's amazing,” Neff said. “It was definitely challenging. It was the hardest course I've run all season. And me and Sean at the very end, he pushed me a little bit … he got in front of me at one point … and it just motivated me to do better.”
Mark Twain head coach Erin Mack-Moss said Neff's ability to maintain his success is the byproduct of a consistent work ethic more often seen from a senior athlete, not an underclassman.
“He deserves it. He's the kind of kid that gives 100 percent at practice every day,” the coach said. “To me, he's in the top five and top 10 because he deserves to be. He trains for it, he prepares for it. And if he continues to push, he's going to continue to stay there.”
Speaking of staying put, Hannibal continued it's season-long dominance at the top of the team standings. The Pirates placed first out of 12 squads with 40 points as senior Brad Curl followed Jones to the finish line for a fifth-place showing in 18:33. Junior Brendan Watson ended the race in 19:04 for 10th, just crossing the line before senior teammate Nigel McIntosh, who also posted a time of 19:04 for 11th.
Jones was happy with the overall team performance, especially considering one of the Pirates' top runners – sophomore Ayden Nichols – was sidelined with a sore hamstring. Jones also said the close finish with Neff made his sixth race at the golf course a fun one.
“I'm no stranger to friendly competition. (Neff) beating me is just good job to him,” Jones said. “I've run this course every year since seventh grade, and as a team, we work hard in practice and we train for these things, but nothing can prepare you for how hard this course can be, especially with the hills and the dips.
“But as a team we've continued to learn how to pace ourselves and how to make it work, and I think we did well, all things considered.”
Warrenton finished second behind Hannibal, but was a distant runner-up after tallying 80 points.
On the girls side, Mark Twain junior Maddy Ford was the HCP area's top female finisher, as she took 12th with a time of 24:52. Behind her, junior Katie Neff, Devin Neff's older sister, enjoyed a top-25 finish with a time of 26:18 that placed her 22nd. Hannibal junior Liliana Erskine placed 20th in 25:54.
The Lady Pirates placed fifth out of seven girls teams, while Mark Twain did not compete with an official girls squad.