From Staff reports
EDMOND — Regardless of what the record books say, Tahlequah coach Elzy Miller will always see Jessica Hembree as a four-time state champion.
Hembree — a state champion as a freshman and a sophomore before suffering an injury 50 yards from the finish line as a junior (while cruising to another crown) — rolled to another state championship on Saturday as the Tahlequah senior runner breezed past the Class 5A field in Edmond. Hembree finished the two-mile race in 11:48, beating Metro Christian’s Kelsey McKee by 14 seconds.
“She went out and took the race from the beginning,” Miller said of Hembree. “Jess just took over and it was her by herself.”
Hembree’s state crown capped off a season where she won the Metro Lakes Conference meet and a Class 5A regional meet last weekend. All that after suffering a gruesome injury that didn’t even allow her to finish last year’s state cross country meet.
“She’s undefeated in state competition, as far as I’m concerned,” Miller said. “In my eyes, she’s a four-time state champion.”
Hembree’s gold-medal performance led Tahlequah to a second-place showing as a team. The Lady Tigers finished with 79 points, 20 behind Metro Christian.
“I’m exceptionally proud,” Miller said of his team. “We stepped up and did what we wanted to do. Our goal was to get on the (medal) stand, and we did that.”
Gracie Medellin (12:21) was Tahlequah’s second finisher in ninth place. Amy Hembree (12:28) was 12th, Lindsey Chaffin (12:50) finished 20th and Breanna Duncan (13:15) came in 41st for Tahlequah.
“Would have love the championship, but we knew we were at a little bit of a disadvantage in the No. 5 spot,” said Miller, who added that this is the highest team finish by Tahlequah since Tahlequah won the Class 4A state meet in 1991. “Breanna ran well for us, it just didn’t work out.”
Rounding out the top five teams was Shawnee (104), Coweta (111) and Deer Creek (146).
VanFleet leads Tigers
Tahlequah’s Zech VanFleet nearly made it a clean sweep for Tahlequah on the individual medal stand. The Tiger sophomore came in second in the boys Class 5A state meet, finishing the 5K race at 16:26, nine seconds behind Deer Creek’s Bryce Balenseifen.
“That’s a huge accomplishment for him,” Tahlequah coach Jason Proctor said. “Really good for a sophomore year.”
As a team, Tahlequah finished third with 144 points. Deer Creek was first with 36 points and Coweta claimed the silver at 115.
“For our guys to make the stand, that’s a big deal,” Proctor said. “A lot of people thought we’d be lucky to make top five, so making the medal stand is huge.”
Mo Bassime came in 17th for Tahlequah at 17:12, while Ara Poteete (17:51) was 45th. Ty Tramell (17:59) was 54th and Aaron Eversole (18:16) came in 63rd.
“With two teams in the top three, an individual champion and another individual runner-up,” Proctor said, “this is the best state meet we’ve had in about 20-plus years.”