Developing into an all-state runner during her high school career, Carthage senior Jenari Lopez has been named high school girls cross country athlete of the year by the Globe sports department.
"Jenari ran cross country in junior high and was a good runner, but she was very tentative when she came out her freshman year," Carthage coach Andy Youngworth said. "She made her first impression on me with her performance at our annual 2-mile time trial early in the fall. She could not hide after that and was a consistent force on our team even as a freshman."
Several Carthage girls have qualified for the state meet four times, but Lopez is the only one to qualify four times as an individual entry, which requires a top-25 finish at the sectional meet. The other Carthage four-time qualifiers were part of a team entry in some years.
This year Lopez placed ninth at sectionals with a time of 18 minutes, 57 seconds — the fourth fastest 5K time in Carthage cross country history. She then was 22nd at state to become the Tigers' first all-state runner since Melinda Sneddon and Margeaux Boyer in 1997.
Lopez had five more top-10 finishes last fall, including second places at the Carthage Invitational, Nixa Invitational and Central Ozark Conference meet to become a three-time all-COC performer. She also was eighth in the district meet and ninth at the Rim Rock Classic at the University of Kansas.
Lopez and her twin sister Jazuri will continue their running career at Missouri Southern.
"Jenari is a very quiet, soft-spoken person but is a fierce competitor," Youngworth said. "We were in a tough district with perennial powers Lee's Summit West and Raymore-Peculiar and sectionals with West Plains and Kickapoo among others. She was never intimidated by any of the runners that she took the line with at any meet regardless of the venue.
"She is also an outstanding student. She was a three-year letter winner in soccer and would have had a great senior year if things were different. As a result of her dual sport efforts, she never trained year round for cross country, and I am looking forward to seeing her improve under the guidance of Coach (Jamie) Burnham this fall."