There had been no Ozark 7 Conference cross country championship since 2003 due to a lack of conference schools fielding teams, but last Thursday, Southwest's boys defeated Wheaton to win the 2011 title, and Chris Saladin, of Thomas Jefferson, was the individual conference champion.
According to Larry Cunningham, Diamond's longtime coach and athletic director, boys cross country was the first championship contested back when the Ozark 6 Conference first came into being. Cross country quickly became recognized as some of the strongest DNA in the conference's sports pedigree.
First Diamond and then Southwest won state championships. Then the Trojans rolled up nine top-four team finishes at state along with 13 consecutive district titles and 15 consecutive conference titles.
All that came to an abrupt halt following the 2003 season when Diamond -- the only Ozark 8 school with a football program -- left the conference to be more competitive in that sport. That left only Southwest, Purdy and Wheaton in the Ozark 7 with cross country programs. By conference rule, four schools must compete in a sport or activity for the conference to recognize a champion.
Years rolled by with no conference titles awarded. But this fall, Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School in Joplin added boys cross country to their fall sports list. With TJ in the mix, the conference schools decided to hold the Ozark 7 championship in conjunction with the Southwest Invitational to avoid last-second scheduling problems.
Southwest added another line to the record boards in the gym with the conference victory, and Jess Ross joined a prestigious group of championship coaches for the Trojans.
With the peak of interest surrounding the Ozark 7 event, some attention was diverted from the invitational meet. That didn't stop Parkview from steamrolling to another Southwest meet victory. The Vikings first attended the meet at Washburn in 2009, thanks to ties between then-Trojans coach Steve Rissler and the Parkview staff.
The Parkview boys won with a score of 36 points, led by individual winner, Keghan Economon, who posted a 16:10 performance. Sparta, who is state ranked in Class 1, was second with 63. Host Southwest finished fifth with 156, Cassville finished eighth with 18, and Wheaton was 10th with 223.
Cristian Sellars, of Southwest, led area boys with his 17:45 for eighth place. Kyle Miller ran a strong 18:19 to help boost the Trojans to their fifth place team finish. James Pettit finished 31st, Zach Miles was 43rd and Jake Shrum placed 94th to complete the Southwest scoring.
Wheaton's Tyler Pendergraft led the Bulldogs with his 28th place run, and A.J. McCormick, of Purdy, took 33rd.
Conner Redmon was Cassville's top finisher, placing 35th. Taylor Dodson was 38th, Jordan Shore finished 47th, Walker Perez took 49th and Ben Makela was 58th for the Wildcats.
Cross country is not a conference championship sport for Ozark 7 girls, so there were no stories of intrigue beyond the near-perfect performance of the Lady Vikings.
The Parkview girls swept the top four spots enroute to a dominating 17-point win.
Lamar's Lady Tigers took second with 60 points, followed by Pea Ridge (86), Sparta (97) and Wheaton (99).
Parkview's Monica Lingbeck edged teammate Sayra Villela, 20:46 to 20:47, for the individual crown. Cassville's Deborah Kern was sixth in 22:19. Brittany Harmon led Wheaton with her 18th place finish.