Lafayette Is The Best Team Missouri Has Ever Seen, But Are They Title-Worthy?

Editor's Note: Greg Hall of MileSplit MO spent three days embedded with the No. 5 ranked Lafayette (Wildwood) boys cross country team as they prepared for the Missouri State Championship this weekend and Nike Cross Regionals at the end of the month. These are his observations...

Dylan Quisenberry was a street-tough wrestler who was just this side of being a juvenile delinquent when he entered Lafayette High School -- or maybe it was just the other side. Devin Meyrer was a soccer kid who was so small and insignificant he was almost invisible to his coaches. Tommy Laarman was a chubby catcher who didn't know cross country from cross-stitch. Alec Haines was an elite club soccer player who thought he was a sprinter (and still does). Austin Hindman did not know a soul on the cross country team when he showed up for his first practice as a freshman to stay in shape to compete in triathlons.

Not exactly the recipe you would expect to create what many believe to be the greatest high school cross country team the state of Missouri has ever produced. But that is exactly what Coach Sean O'Connor has fashioned here in the picturesque tree-covered hills and valleys of welcoming Wildwood, MO.

"We're an island of misfit toys," is how senior Quisenberry described the Lancers' top-five runners.

O'Connor himself is an oddity of sorts. A middling high school runner from nearby Marquette, the 32-year-old math/IT teacher never broke 18 minutes in high school on the 5K state course in Jefferson City. He did not run in college at Mizzou. You might think those things worked against OC -- his team's nickname for him -- as a high school distance coach. You would be wrong.

"I didn't run in college," explains O'Connor. "Which I think in some ways is a benefit because I didn't get molded into one certain style of training. What I've been able to do is look at all these (successful running coaches) and pick the pieces that you can apply to high school kids and then make sure that it all progresses. So we do a lot of stuff. We are us. It's a blend of a lot of stuff."

What that "blend of a lot of stuff" has produced are results that are difficult for long-time cross country historians around the state to comprehend. Lafayette took the first three places in the boy's 3200 meter race at the State track meet last May. It is almost impossible to get three runners to even qualify for a single event let alone take the top three medals! The database lists no school with more than four runners who have ever run 15:24 or better for a 5K, something the Lafayette boys team accomplished in one race this season.

To put it another way, if you took an All-Star team of the best four cross country runners in the history of each Missouri school, you could not find four times at any one school over the histories of those schools' cross country programs to match what Hindman, Meyrer, Haines and Quisenberry did last month at Chile Pepper in Fayetteville.

Yes, it is difficult and unfair to compare 5K times over different courses run in various weather conditions -- but read that again and tell me that is not an almost inconceivably incredible feat by four boys from the same neighborhood.

What the Lafayette boys cross country team has accomplished the last three years is the reason I drove across the state to spend three days with O'Connor and his defending State champs as they prepared for their Sectional race.