Fresh off a disappointing and emotional DNF in the final race on his home course, Andrew Early took the only steps he could for recovery.
Platte County’s senior No. 1 turned in a career-best time of 16 minutes, 37.10 seconds to place 14th and medal in the Blue Division of the Gans Creek Classic — one of the state’s largest regular season meets held Saturday in Columbia. There were nearly 300 runners on the course with Early, who had broken 17 minutes just one other time.
Early’s previous best was a 16:53.40 at the Raymore-Peculiar Invitational on the weekend before a combination of allergies and an asthma attack prematurely ended his run in Platte County’s first Judge Christ Stubbs Invitational at Platte Ridge Park. The Pirates slipped to third as a team without him, and a show of solidarity, teammates who medaled gave them to Early in a touching moment of camaraderie.
“After what happened last week, last week was an incident, and there’s nothing we can do about it now,” Early said. “I think the whole team realized that nothing can beat what we can do together. If we go out and stick together, we’re good.”
Platte County placed fourth out of 38 teams behind only Lee’s Summit West, Park Hill South and Ozark, giving the Pirates the best finish from a non-Class 5 lineup. All seven runners, even the two not factoring in the team score, set personal bests on a fast course with plenty of competition.
While Lee’s Summit West ran away with the championship at a 104 total, Platte County (259) was just four points behind Ozark (255) for third.
“It was awesome,” Early said. “The team plan was we’re going to go out slower and then once we hit three kilometers, let’s start taking people. It was great, and I think everyone executed it perfectly.”
Early now leads a roster filled with returners from last year’s Class 4 District 8 champions, and Platte County has started to show its potential as the stretch run hits. The Pirates received top-35 finishes from fast-developing sophomore Andrew Johnson and suddenly peaking senior Jace Trimble, while while junior Kage Audas ran his fastest race since the first week of the season to place 92nd.
In addition, Platte County sophomore Kade Meinke, freshman Ben Letcher and junior Tanner Johnson all broke 19 minutes for the first time in their career.
The time cuts were impressive in most cases. Johnson dropped nearly 20 seconds off his previous career-best in placing 34th at 17:13.90. He ran under 18 minutes for the first time at last year’s Class 4 Missouri State Cross Country Championships, when the Pirates finished eighth as a team, and hasn’t been over 18 again since the final race of his freshman year when he went from well off the radar to top-five in the lineup in one season.
Trimble (35th, 17:16.20) came in directly behind Johnson and best his previous season-best by nearly a full minute and knocked more than 26 seconds off his previous career-best of 17:42.90 from last year’s Suburban Conference Blue Division Championships. He turned in critical conference, district and state performances and again looks to be finding his form after a somewhat slow start.
Audas, who didn’t run in the 2020 postseason due to COVID-19 protocols, ran an 18:08.80 to set a PR and post his best time since medaling at the season-opening Tim Nixon Invitational.
Running cross country for the first time this season, Meinke placed 109th in 18:19.00 and rounded out Platte County’s team score on Saturday. He previously set a season- and career-best in the Raymore-Peculiar Invitational in 19:01.50, running nearly 43 seconds faster at Gans Creek.
Letcher didn’t factor in the team score but finished 138th at 18:36.70 with the biggest time cut of the group for Platte County. He came in at 18:36.70, nearly a full minute faster than his previous season-best of 19:26.90. Similarly, Pirates junior Tanner Johnson placed 165th in 18:52.70 after running 19:28.70 in last year’s JV conference race for his previous best time.