By Kory CarpenterRecord Sports EditorAmidst a sea of school-colored tents at the bottom of one of the many valleys at Jefferson City’s Oak Hill Golf Center Saturday, Wright City cross country coach Sue Wright was happy.The veteran coach had just watched freshman Tristin Riley finish 118th in the state in Class 2 with a time of 18 minutes, 39.37 seconds, and she had been around long enough to know the significance of Riley’s race.“The race was for experience,” she said. “He’s going to know much more every year that he runs, and he ran a great race today, especially for not knowing anything about the course.”For most of the hundreds of athletes who arrived in the capital over the weekend from all over the state, Oak Hill was different.Not only did runners have to adjust their strategy to compete with a larger field that consisted of the best athletes in the state, they had to figure out a course that was difficult to walk across at times, let alone run.“The race was harder than it looked,” Riley said.The 3.1-mile trek started with a long straightaway before twisting and turning around hundreds of screaming fans, ending with a grueling incline that seemed to mask its treachery as the finish line approached.If learning to run in a race of this magnitude wasn’t difficult enough, Riley had to figure out the course with little to no background information.“The pace was a lot faster than I expected,” Riley said. “I thought it was going to be a little slower than it was, but on that first straightaway it was just crazy.”Riley said he typically likes to get out in front of the pack early on and stay there, which was often the case in his myriad of top-10 finishes this season.“But this one was different,” he said. “There was lots of talent, but I think I’ll continue to do better with better times and positions.”Stephen Kielhofner of Springfield Catholic won the individual event with a time of 15:37.97, while also leading his school to a team championship.With three years left in his high school cross country career, Riley and Wright expect three more trips to Jefferson City.“It’s nice that he is a freshman,” Wright said. “It’s funny because freshmen really don’t know any different, that is kind of exciting. Sometimes knowing more hinders them.”Experience, however, can also help.“Erin [Tomschin] just told him she learns more every time she comes here,” Wright said.Riley admitted to feeling the nerves of running on the biggest stage in the state.He expects to learn more about the course the next three years, however, while hoping to reach his goal of being an all-state runner.“I need to work on the hills and the straightaways,” he said. “I want to keep a better pace on the straightaways and get faster on the finishes.”According to Wright, there is only one thing she would change about her freshman standout runner.“I wish we could have him for track as well, but he plays baseball,” she said. “But that is OK because he is an athlete.”
Tristin Riley heads for home near the end of Saturday's Class 2 state cross country meet. The freshman runner finished with a time of 18:39.37.