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Former linebacker Novinger finds Branson's hilly Cedar Ridge course to his liking


BRANSON — Zane Novinger is still somewhat of a novice as a cross country runner and thus the novelty of the different venues Nixa visits hasn’t worn off for him.

Novinger enjoyed the sights and terrain of Branson’s Cedar Ridge Elementary course on his way to a first-place finish at the Branson Invitational on Saturday.

“It's amazing. It’s very hilly, scenic, a little muddy, but fun to run on,” Novinger said of his review of the course. “There are a few big hills where you go straight up, down and up again again. It's awesome.”

Novinger stormed from the middle of the pack to lead a Nixa 1-2-3 finsh. Novinger’s winning time was 16:16, while the Eagles’ Aaron Ashley was runner-up in 16:20 and Devon Kemp third in 16:25.

Novinger, a sophomore, admittedly is still learning routes to assert himself at the start of races. 

“That's one of my big goals to try to work on as we work to bigger meets,” he said. “I couldn't get up to the front today for a while. There were lots of runners. It was like a stampede, it was chaos. People were everywhere, you're surrounded. You go down a big muddy hill and people are slipping and flying and you're trying to dodge people's spikes.”

Novinger welcomed the long, gradual hills throughout the course.  

“(Hills) make it more interesting. It breaks (a race) up in your mind,” he said. “You focus on getting up the hill one (step) at a time. It all depends on what you do in your mind. I like to think of a hill is what I have to challenge (me) now. People don't think like that always.”

While Ashley set the Cedar Ridge 2,400-meter record for junior high boys in 2020, Novinger didn’t compete in cross country for the first time until his freshman year.

He played football in the fall while in junior high and was a linebacker, wide receiver and running back. His interest in cross county stemmed from his experience running track in the spring in junior high.

“I love football, but I realized I love running more,” Novinger said. “It's something I knew I'd like to work at. 

Nixa had six of the top 11 finishers.

The Eagles’ Logan Richart was sixth (16:33), Nicholas Flannery 10th (16:42) and Reyes Martinez 11th (16:44).

Ozark was led by Garrett Stafford (18:07), who was 36th.

In the girls race, Nixa had four top-10 finishers.

The Lady Eagles’ Mackenzie Harris was second (19:48), Brooklyn Bidinger fifth (21:33), Erin Seale eighth (21:39) and Meliah Copley 10th (21:44).

Ozark’s top finisher was Katie Hartgraves, who was 25th (23:43).