Boys Varsity Cross Country · Hillsboro senior goes the distance

Kevin Koester

Gordon Bess photo

The Hillsboro senior outpaced a field of 115 runners during cross country season last fall at the Stan Nelson Invitational with a first-place time of 15:53.26, which set the meet record. Koester finished second at the Cross Country Classic at Arnold City Park and won the Webster Groves Invitational. Koester won the Jefferson County Activities Association championship in October and came in 19th in the Class 4 state meet in November. Koester will compete on the cross country team on scholarship at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin next fall.

By Kevin Koester

Cross country can arguably be considered the toughest high school sport. Weekly competition requires athletes to push their bodies to the limit nonstop for more than 15 minutes.

There are no halftimes, no timeouts, no sending in a sub when you are at the point of exhaustion.

For some weird reason, this is what I love about the sport. Pushing your body to this extreme requires you to be mentally tough, self-disciplined and a little quirky. Luckily, I’ve been blessed with a good balance of all three. I’m the type of athlete who not only enjoys racing, but also all the training that comes along with it. I don’t mind training in the rain, snow, freezing temperatures or even steamy 100-degree days. I’m also one of those crazy runners you’ll see running circles around my vehicle at the end of a run, because I can’t stand to end a 10-mile workout at 9.99 miles.

The combination of hard work and quirkiness has made me the runner I am.

I will never forget my senior cross country season. I was proud of everything I have achieved so far in my career, but after a disappointing junior track season riddled with injury and illness, I was excited to begin my senior cross country season.

I worked extremely hard in the off-season, and based on our schedule, I thought I had the chance to win a handful of meets. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the season would turn out the way it did. With lots of hard work and probably a little bit of luck, I went on a streak of nine consecutive wins, including Jefferson County Activities Association and district championships, before the streak ended with a runner-up finish at sectionals.

And at the Class 4 state championships at the Oak Hills Golf Center in Jefferson City, I earned all-state honors for the second time after finishing 19th. I couldn’t have asked for much more than that.

There are two races that will always be the most memorable to me.

The first one was my win early in the season at the Stan Nelson Invitational, hosted by Northwest. This race stands out to me because it was my first time running below the 16- minute barrier and I also broke the meet record. That was a big deal to me because that meet has been run for more than 50 years. This gave me a lot of confidence for the rest of the season. No doubt my most exciting race of the year was at the JCAA conference meet at West City Park in Festus. If you were there, you know what I mean. The race started off with (Festus junior) Max McDaniel, the defending champion, and myself running out ahead of the pack.

Max and I jostled for position for the next 3.1 miles. We ran the entire race side by side before I edged him out with a last-second surge to win the race by 0.3 seconds. That is the only race in my whole career that I’ve run side by side an opponent for an entire race. I wish all my races could be like that. The fierce competition and excitement from the crowd was so fun. It’s a race I will never forget.

I cannot take all the credit for my success. There are many people who have contributed to my success, but there are a few I’d like to recognize and thank personally.

Aaron Dugan is my former teammate, and he taught me the type of dedication needed to be a successful runner. My 2015 cross country teammates helped make this a special season where we became the first team in school history to win a district championship and qualify as a team for state. Coach Tom Gordon always believed in me, even before I was on his high school team. Coach Todd Medley continuously encouraged me to have high expectations. Coach Joe McCraith stood out in the cold after the rest of the team had already gone inside, just so I could do a few more laps around the track. My brother Alan has had to endure six years of pre-race pasta dinners, even though he hates pasta. My sister, Kelly, is my biggest cheerleader and the best poster maker ever. My parents and grandparents have always been my biggest supporters and taught me the values of hard work and always being humble.

While my high school cross country career has come to an end, I’m excited for the next four years. I’ll be running cross country and track at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, where I will major in accounting. Missouri Southern has a long history of being a successful distance program, so I’m excited to see what the future holds.