By Chuck Reherman
SAND SPRINGS – In cross country, most think that the most important runner is the team’s No. 1 performer.
In most cases where a team finishes a lot of times in determined by the No. 5 runner. That was the case for Yukon in the class 6A east regionals Saturday at Case Park in Sand Springs.
Max Marler passed Jenks’ Emmanuel Annor in the final 100 yards, then beat Ponca City’s Andrew Mitchell to the finish line to give the Millers a one-point advantage over the Trojans for the final state qualifying berth.
The Millers knew going in that Bartlesville and Jenks would be the teams to finish ahead of to earn one of the seven qualifying spots. YHS finished behind Bartlesville but beat Jenks 197-198 to grab the seventh place spot. It is the 15th time in the 17 years that the Millers have qualified as a team to the state meet and one that head coach Matt Parent said is the most memorable. The state meet will be held Saturday at Edmond Santa Fe High School. The 6A boys are set for a 9:15 a.m. start.
“Everything seemed to be aligned against us, but just like all year, this group of guys came together as a team, and went to work getting the job done,” Parent said. “One freshman ran 30 seconds faster than he had all season. Two seniors thinking their season could be done, passed five or six runners in the last 50 meters, and the one who just didn’t have it that day, gutted it out and passed one more guy just before the finish line and we made it to state by one point! I am truly blessed to be able to coach this group of guys. I may be their coach, but sometimes, they are the ones doing the teaching.
“Because of the teams from the west that were selected to the east regionals (No. 1 ranked Edmond Memorial and No. 2 ranked Mustang along with the No. 13 Millers) there was no easy path,” Parent said. “And, all week it was one thing after another. On Monday, we lost one of our best runners to a Covid issue (he is negative). On Tuesday, one of our best goes down with bad ankle sprain. On Saturday, one of our best just didn’t have a good race day.”
As is tradition, Parent knew what was coming after the group took a team photo. He was doused with flour buy the runners as other runners and fans looked on. Since YHS is the Millers, there were no Gatorade baths, just getting covered in flour in honor of the flour mills.
All three teams from the west qualified for the state meet (that means 10 of the 14 teams at state on Saturday will be from the west side). Mustang won the east regional title with 35 points and Memorial was second with 46. The Millers finished with 197 and that all important one point in front of Jenks for the final spot.
“A lot of times it boils down to that fifth spot and that No. 5 runner is you important runner on the team,” Parent said. “Max was having one of those days where he was not running well, but he knew what he had to do in the final 100 yards of the race and he came through and passed those guys to give us the one-point win.
“Some of our guys looked like they were about to stroke out because they were going as hard as they could go, but they understood what they had to do because all we have done it talk about it all week long,” Parent said. “We talked about the different competitions that were going on out here and Jenks was our competition. That is who we had to beat to go to state. There was a small chance that Bartlesville could have fallen back, but they have been consistently better than we have been and in every meet we have gone to that Jenks has been there it has been tight. Our times are all extremely close and we knew what we had to do. And, as you can see it was a one-point difference.
“If we can get (Jonah) Hanscom back in and Marler back where he should be and we can get (Austin) Miller back in the mix, it gives us a chance to go get them (Bartlesville) at state,” he added. “This group of guys have worked probably as hard or harder than any group I have coached because they knew at the start of the year that we were not very good. Even through adversity we did what we had to do and did just enough to get there.”
Freshman Brandon McCoy had the best finish for the Millers, running 24th in 17 minutes and 18.36 seconds. He beat a pair of Owasso runners by just over one second to earn that spot. Kayden Chaparro had the second place time for the Millers, running 34th in 17:37.11. Cade Pope was 42nd in 17:46.36, Caleb Ankrom was 44th in 17:51.49 and Marler finished 53rd in 18:10.99.
Zachary Woods, 63rd in 18:33.62 and Miller, 77th in 19:06.01, rounded out the field for the Millers.
“Brandon runs 30 seconds faster than he has in his life on a tougher course,” Parent said. “I found a pair of spikes for him because he has been running without spikes all year and we give him new shoes and here we go. He really needed spikes for this course. I told him the night before that we would be running in spikes and not in tennis shoes.
“The scary thing about that was we were leaving at 7:15 in the morning and it was getting close to the time to leave and were calling and texting him and not getting an answer,” he added. “About 7:05 they came rolling in and we got on the bus and went out and did what we needed to do to qualify for state.”
The course was not as wet as anticipated but did have a couple of water crossings and some steep hills that needed additional traction. And, spikes helped the freshman runner easily break the 18 minute barrier.
“Several of our guys ran faster than they have run,” Parent said. “Even those who ran about the same were linked in. They saw those Jenks runners, linked into their back and did what they knew they had to do. Even Max, who had a difficult time today, he passed one of the two Jenks runners in front of him and it put us up a point and knocked them back one.
“I knew it was going to be within five or 10 points at most, but I was not prepared for it to be one,” he said. “I had already prepared myself to not make it and hope that we got four or five guys into the state meet individually. There is some things we could do there, but I am much happier to be in the position we are in.
“This was a really tough course. You have two water jumps and the course itself is not overly hilly, there are gradual hills, but the jumps and not knowing what we were doing was the tougher part. No one knew this was going to be the course until about three weeks ago, everyone expected it to be Owasso’s course at Mohawk Park. And, we have run that course numerous times. But, everyone had to run it.
“Nothing has been easy for us this year. We knew the regional would be tough, we’re glad to get into state and we will go to Edmond this week and just run the best we can and see where we finish. This was a total team effort and we expect the state meet will be another total team effort.”