Sophomore places third as Hannibal boys claim team crown

Ayden Nichols had every reason to take it easy at the North Central Missouri Conference Cross Country Meet.

Yet, the sophomore focused on the one reason not to.

Running with a sore right hamstring, Nichols returned to competition Thursday at the American Legion Golf Course in Hannibal. Nichols placed third in the boys run to lead six total Pirates that finished in the top 14 en route to a first-place team finish in the seven-team race.

Hannibal tallied 34 points to claim the crowd, racing past runner-up Mexico (56) and Fulton (58).

Mexico's Malik Holman finished first with a time of 16 minutes, 59 seconds, just ahead of Kirksville's Duncan Clark (17:20). But Nichols' finish, which came in 17:45, led to much bigger things for the Pirates.

Junior Brendan Watson (18:09) and seniors Sean Jones (18:14) and Nigel McIntosh (18:31) followed Nichols to the finish line to place sixth, seventh and eighth, respectively. Seniors Brad Curl (18:38) and Daniel DeLaPorte (18:44) weren't far behind, taking 10th and 11th place.

“I feel like we competed really well as a team” said Nichols, who missed Hannibal's Frank Lemons Invitational on Oct. 8 due to a hamstring injury

It's an injury Nichols said he was able to put aside because of his teammates' support and his faith.

“Adrenaline and the power of god. You can't go wrong with that,” he said. “And with my teammates pushing me, helping me, it really gave me strength to finish.

“God's given me quite a bit of talent, and a really good coach and a really good team to run with … I really think that's all of it.”

Hannibal head coach Charlie Newland praised Nichols on his resilience, and attributed his success to an ability to learn, take instruction and apply it to his craft.

“He just had a super race for a sophomore. Finished third place in his first year out for cross country,” Newland said before adding about Nichols' injury: “He is mentally tough. He is just very motivated right now; he is just 'Yes sir,' all the way. I could tell him that banging his head against a tree will make him a better athlete, and he'll start banging his head against a tree. He is that coachable and it's fun to see a kid be that excitable about a sport, and successful on top of it.”

Speaking of success, Jones said the Pirates' team victory in the conference meet bodes well for their chances at the district tournament on Oct. 31 in Warrenton.

“It's a huge confidence booster, especially going into districts where we got second last year,” Jones said. “So I'm really proud of my teammates for stepping it up the way they did today.

“Maybe no one else thought so, but I thought I dropped (in performance) a little bit today. But with that said, I'm so thankful for the teammates I have who can pick it up big time when someone else drops.”

In the girls race, the Hannibal Lady Pirates finished fourth overall with 95 points, but got a top-15 finish when junior Liliana Erskine crossed the line in 24:25.

Sophomore Elle Hudelson (26:30), freshman Ruby Roisum (26:31) and junior Maria Clark (26:32) finished 23rd, 24th and 25th, respectively, or Hannibal. Junior Olivia Evans rounded out the Lady Pirates' top-30 finishes with a time of 27:16 to claim 28th place.

“I thought the girls had a good race, too,” Newland said. “They're working really hard, dropping times and I think you can see that in their performances. Everyone is running hard.”

The Moberly girls scored 17 points while placing four runners in the top five to run away with the invitational championship.