EDWARDSVILLE - Former Edwardsville High runner Jack Pifer, who now runs for Saint Louis University, and Kassidy Dexheimer of Washington, Ill., who runs for the women's team at SIU-Edwardsville, were the winners of the 25th running of the Mud Mountain 5K Classic race at the famed SIUE cross country course on Saturday morning.

The event, an annual fund-raiser for the Edwardsville High cross country and track teams, as well the teams at both Lincoln and Liberty middle schools, returned after having been reduced to a virtual event last year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And everything went very well in its return.

"I'm happy with the turnout," said race director and Tiger head cross country coach George Patrylak. "A lot of things were kind of against us, COVID numbers starting to spike a little bit again, and SIUE kind of really looking at their policies. And we're very thankful that they decided to give us the green light. So, under the circumstances, I'm extremely, extremely happy with the turnout."

Out of about 250 runners who registered before the race, 203 runners actually competed in the various age groups and also those who participated in the one mile fun run held after the classic, which Patrylak felt was a very decent turnout, given the short notice of the race date, and with parking on the course restricted, with SIUE making shuttle bus service available to and from the course. And of course, Patrylak and everyone were very grateful to be back out and running.

"Yeah, I know I was itching to get back and try some races," Patrylak said, "because I was able to use COVID to get back in better shape, like a lot of people. I think some people were excited to get back to racing, but for us, obviously, a big part of this is family, and that's what our athletes are. The alumni, we're getting ready for the picture and everything. It is family, and it always will be family for us and getting everyone together is what's most important."

In looking back on the 25 years of the event, Patrylak saluted former Tiger coach Jim Price, the creator of the event, who served as the race's honorary starter. Price gave a speech beforehand, talking about how special the sport really is.

"Coach Price started this, really, 26 years ago," Patrylak said. "This was his dream, the booster club was actually created by him. So to have this great event for the community; it started off as a fund-raiser and a community event. Now, it's really turned into quite an elite competition up front. You've got all the alumni back, and it's just morphed into a different thing, a little bit bigger. The amount of support we get from the community, event his close to COVID, we're going to be possibly our second-highest community donations from local businesses that we've ever had, which we're extremely thankful for. But to me, this is such a fun event to get to see everybody back, and for some people, it's been double-digit years that they've come back and participated. So it's great, this year, especially for us to have the opportunity to recognize coach Price. To me, that was the most important thing for this weekend. The fund-raising, the alumni, the family, all of that, is so important.

"But Jim Price is an individual that has given so much to so many people," Patrylak continued. "One of the strongest educators we've ever had in the district. A big, big important part of the Edwardsville teaching union. Like I said, he was the second-longest tenured cross country coach in Edwardsville history. So he's been a mentor and a friend to so many people out here today. I'm so glad to be able to be a part of something where we could give some recognition for a man who never asked for it, but probably deserves it as much, if not more, than anybody who's ever stepped foot on an Edwardsville course."

Tigers' assistant coach Dustin Davis agreed that everyone enjoyed themselves during the race, and were all glad to be back.

"Yeah, we certainly were missing last year, making it a virtual event," Davis said. "We tried to make the best that we could, but there's nothing like being here on the course on the day of the race. And the busing that we've got to do from the parking lot out to the course, it's not great, but we just have a great support base, that they come out and still support us. And we've got a ton of alumni around here today, which is pretty normal for a lot of years. So, it's just great to see so many people continuing to give back to the sport and be part of the event."

The Edwardsville running community is a very tight and close-knit group, and it was a delight to see so many of the familiar faces at the event.

"Yeah, absolutely," Davis said, "and you know, I take care of contacting alumni for the Elite Eight sponsorship, the donations that we give to the program. And I've got people who ran in the mid-90s who are donating large dollar amounts. And then, I've got some kids who graduated three years ago that are giving five, 10 bucks apiece. And so, there's not a lot of programs, I think, that continue to get that much support from alumni. And to get alumni to even come out to the race; I graduated in 2006, there's a guy walking around this morning, he graduated in 2003. To have people still involved in the event 20 years later, I think, is a huge testament to this family we've got growing here."

The family atmosphere of the event, as well as the Tiger cross country alumni and to give back to the community is the most important thing to the race.

"Absolutely," Davis said. "And you know, coach Price talked about the great thing about this sport is it's individually focused. It's all about you, it's all about running your time. And I'm not going to contradict him, but at the same time, all of those people here are trying are all trying to push themselves, trying to be boundary breakers. And there's community in that. There's a real camaraderie in that you develop. Even though you're trying to go for your best time, everyone else out here is here to support you, and that's the great thing about this sport."

And the biggest thing on the day was that everyone was out enjoying themselves, having fun and very glad to be back.

"Absolutely," Davis said. "Hope to keep continuing to do it for years and years to come. Just glad to be back, and if you didn't make it out this year, we hope you make it out next year."

In the men's race, Pifer won with a time of 16:32.77, with another Edwardsville alum, Zach Walters, coming in second at 16:39.65. Third place went to Justin Mumford of New Baden, with a time of 16:52.48, while Tiger runner Ryan Luitjohan was fourth at 17:10.05. In fifth place was former Tiger runner Franky Romano, who came in at 17:40.07, with Bethalto's Jake Peal, the head coach of Civic Memorial High School, placing sixth at 17:47.54. Edwardsville runner Geo Patrylak was seventh at 17:51.29, Chris Floyd of Black Jack, Mo., was eighth at 17:57.48, ninth place went to another Tiger alumnus, Eric Johannigmeier, with a time of 18:20.61 and rounding out the top ten was Andrew Pace, with a time of 18:33.54.

Dexheimer won the women's race with a time of 20:11.87, with former Tiger runner Julianna Determan second at 20:17.25, Courtney Link of Brentwood placed third at 20:21.32, Maddie Keller of Troy was fourth at 20:32.91, Chess Nikonowicz of Granite City was fifth at 21:35.62, in sixth place was Worden's Emily Nuttall at 21:37.72, seventh place went to Edwardsville High runner Maya Lueking at 22:10.69, Maggie Dust was eighth with a time of 22:11.98, Troy's Ana Keller came in ninth at 22:36.76 and completing the top ten was Roxanne Patrylak of Collinsville with a time of 22:58.09.

In the women's age groups, the 11-and-under winner was Alexandra Merrick, who had a time of 33:12.36, with the 12-13 winner being Ava Horsfall of Edwardsville, who came in at 28:47.20, and Lueking won the 14-15 category. Nuttall won the 16-18 age group, while Keller took the 19-24 group, Stephanie Pruitt of Bunker Hill took the 25-29 race with a time of 23:03.86, Dust won the 30-34 age group, Casey Jones of Chicago won the 35-39 section, coming in at 33:07.38, Edwardsville's Kathryn Range was the winner in the 40-44 category with a time of 26:01.49, Rita Prenzler of Edwardsville won the 45-49 age group at 27:23.68, Patrylak won the 50-54 age group and the winner of the 55-59 group was Rebecca Bradley of Edwardsville at 24:10.56.

In the men's age groups, the 11-and-under winner was Zavier Miller of Edwardsville, who came in at 32:02.74, with the 12-13 winner being Edwardsville's Colin Luitjohan at 21:13.72, the 14-15 age group winner was Pace, Geo Patrylak took the 16-18 category, Ryan Luitjohan was the winner of the 19-24 grouping, Peal took the 25-29 age group, Johannigmeier was the winner in the 30-34 category, Mark Dorris won the 35-39 age group with a time of 21:04.90, Jason Jaxson won the 40-44 group with a time 20:10.66, George Patrylak won the 45-49 group, coming in at 21:20.80, Edwardsville's Bob Lavelle won the 50-54 age group with a time of 28:11.24, Anthony Valdez of Edwardsville was the winner of the 55-59 race at 25:59.87 and the 60-and-over winner was Jim Taylor of Glen Carbon at 25:47.08.

Patrylak thanked the runners, fans and volunteers for their assistance in making this year's race a resounding success.

"I hope everybody had fun," Patrylak said, "because this is always a special place for us."

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