Tommy O’Leary pushes the pace for the Spring Hill Broncos in the Louisburg Invitational. He placed fourth in the Frontier League meet. O’Leary was named the Spotlight boys runner of the year.

SPRING HILL — Tommy O’Leary was one of just two area runners to turn in a time under 18 minutes for a 5K race this season.

Racing against the rest of the Tri-County Spotlight Boys Cross Country Team, O’Leary was undefeated.

O’Leary, a Spring Hill senior, turned in one of the fastest times in the area, covering the Kansas City Metro Classic course in 17 minutes, 46 seconds.

“Tommy never lost a head-to-head race to anyone from Miami County this season,” Spring Hill coach Brent Smitheran said. “In fact, it was never closer than 30 seconds.”

The only one close to O’Leary in two races was teammate Kael Knittel, who also ran his way onto the Spotlight cross country team with first-team honors.

O’Leary is the Tri-County Spotlight Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year.

“I am very honored to have won this award two years in a row,” O’Leary said. ”Our whole team had a great season this year despite many setbacks with COVID-19, the untypically hot weather and injuries. I am thankful to be part of a team full of natural leaders. I feel like they deserve this award just as much as I do.”

O’Leary led the Spring Hill boys in the Frontier League meet held at Ottawa, placing fourth with a time of 18:15. He was 30 seconds faster than any other runner from the Tri-County Spotlight.

O’Leary goes to work every day, coach Smitheran said. He pushes not only himself, but also everyone around him to be better.

“Tommy has been our most consistent performer for the past three years,” he said. “He doesn’t really have ‘off days.’

“Even when he is not feeling 100 percent, he finds a way to work through it and race hard,” Smitheran said. “Tommy is a great kid that always has a smile on his face. His happy-go-lucky attitude is contagious on our team. He has always set a positive tone for practice that his peers follow along with.”

Spring Hill had their work cut out for them in the Frontier League and in the post-season at regionals, facing the giants of Class 5A like St. Thomas Aquinas, St. James, Mill Valley and Bishop Carroll.

The state meet came early for the Spring Hill Bronco boys cross country team with the top five teams in Class 5A in the regional.

“We had a brutal regional,” Smitheran said. “Tommy and Kael did not have much of a chance at qualifying this season.”

O’Leary finished the season strong, placing in the top five at the Frontier League meet, Smitheran said.

He won the Louisburg Invitational, crossing the finish line in 17:52. The Spring Hill boys were runner-up in the meet.

“League was a challenge this year, running at Ottawa, a very tough course,” O’Leary said. “I feel like our team had some very good individual times there. We also competed well as a team.

“Winning this award is a great honor,” he said. “It shows that our team has a lot of grit and heart, and that our coaches do a great job with everything.”

O’Leary said Spring Hill might want to hang on to the award for a third year in a row.

“I believe we have another kid on our team who can win this award next year,” O’Leary said.

“Winning this shows me that I put in the work that was needed to be excellent. It lets me know that all that work, determination, time and effort was worth it,” he said,

Sports Editor Gene Morris can be reached at (913) 294-2311 or gene.morris@miconews.com.

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