By Jimmy Gillispie
Amelia Arrieta put the whole state of Missouri on notice early this season.
It just happened to be her second-ever 5K cross country race.
At the Raymore-Peculiar Invitational on Sept. 11, Arrieta blew the competition away en route to her third victory of the season. In doing so, she beat Nixa’s Alicen Ashley, who finished 25th at state last year, by 47 seconds.
Arrieta also defeated third-place finisher, Ray-Pec sophomore Ashlyn Smith, who finished eighth at the Class 5 state meet last year, by 1:09.
“Once we started competing, she just went to the very front of the pack and has surprised everybody with her progress,” STA coach Karen Moran said.
Arrieta is not a star freshman who burst on the scene. In fact, nearly the opposite.
She joined the St. Teresa’s Academy this fall for the first time as a senior. She was fresh off her first track season, in which she competed in two races at the state meet.
“She has been at St. Teresa’s all four years, but has never run before,” Moran said. “She decided to go out for the track team this year, and did well. She made it to state in a couple of events.”
At the state meet last spring, Arrieta finished ninth in the 1,600-meter run. Her time was 5:20.28 and she was one place from becoming an all-state runner. She also helped the Stars’ 4×800 relay place third, but she had the slowest of the four splits.
“Her times were good, but nothing like the times she’s running now,” Moran said. “The distance girls convinced her to go out for cross country and she ran with us all summer long in our summer running program.”
Then the cross country season began, and she has immediately made an impact on her team and sent a ripple across the state. Arrieta has won every race but one this fall.
She won the two-mile race at the Dave Denny Classic to begin the season. Her time was 11:31.6 on Aug. 28. One week later, Arrieta won the Tim Nixon Invitational in Liberty. Her first 5K time was 18:56.
Arrieta has followed that up with wins at the Ray-Pec Invite, the Lee’s Summit North Solsberg Invitational and the Gans Creek Classic. Her lone loss was a runner-up finish last Saturday at the KC Classic to Olathe North’s Anjali Hocker Smith, who won the Kansas Class 6A state championship last year.
It was at the Gans Creek Classic where Arrieta turned heads and become a household name in the state. At a meet with many of the best teams in Missouri, she first-year senior blazed the competition, beating the 2020 state champion, Ally Kruger from Liberty (Wentzville) by 31 seconds.
Arrieta’s winning time of 17:24.8 at the meet is the best time in Missouri this year. It’s also the 40th-best time in the country this fall.
“She doesn’t even realize how good her time is,” Moran said. “They told her after the race and told her she broke the course record, and she had no idea. She had no idea what the course record was or who had it. She just doesn’t know, so it’s definitely been fun and quite the learning curve for her.”
For comparison’s sake, Arrieta’s best 1,600-meter run (5:16.35) time last spring was the 27th-best in Missouri, but ranked 1,571 in the country. Arrieta’s first mile at the Gans Creek meet was 5:26 – just 10 seconds slower than her PR last spring.
Additionally, her fastest 800-run time was the 135th-best in Missouri and ranked 6,424 in the country.
Now, the runner who has burst onto the scene in 2021 is beginning to figure out the sport as her confidence grows. That’s also shown in her interviews, according to her coach.
“It’s grown tremendously,” Moran said of Arrieta’s confidence. “There was a guy who interviewed her after her race (at Gans Creek) and I guess he interviewed her at a track meet last spring. He said he could barely get one-word answers out of her at the time. This time, she was being funny and she was cracking jokes. Her self confidence is great and she’s just so happy and loving life. She seems like she’s really come out of her shell.”
Moran said some of her varsity runners will not be competing this weekend. She wanted to give them some rest instead of running at Kearney.
They will be preparing for the District 4 meet set for Oct. 30 at Lee’s Summit North. The state meet will be six days later at Gans Creek.
Moran said her team ran very well lsat year at the state meet, and its fifth runner finished higher than the fifth runners of the two teams ahead of her squad. Yet, it lacked a top runner. She now knows the Stars have a top runner – maybe the best runner in the state – heading into the postseason this year.
“I feel great about their fitness levels, and we still have a lot of our harder workouts ahead of us in the next few weeks,” Moran said. “That will prepare them for the postseason meets. … We still have a lot of work to do and we need to try close that gap with our scoring runners – that gap is still too big – and that’s something we need to work on.”