Younger runners push toward success for cross country teams
By TAYLOR GRAFFT
In four years, senior Chelsea Cole has never been far from the podium for the Liberty Hill cross country team.
And that is a rarity for some senior girls.
In a sport dominated by younger athletes, consistency from year to year can be the most difficult thing for female runners for a variety of reasons.
Young talented runners pop up every year crowding the field, creating added competition. For example, last season at the UIL State Meet then freshman McKynzie King placed fourth overall in her first varsity season.
The same holds true this season at Liberty Hill. King is back as the Lady Panthers’ top female runner. Courtney Peterson, the team’s only freshman, is consistently the third or fourth best runner for Liberty Hill. And a number of sophomores, like Hannah Manning and Emma Hofmann, who went to the UIL State Meet last season are also returning and dependable.
Young female runners tend to be mentally ready and mature when they enter high school as freshmen, allowing them to compete right away. Physical changes associated with puberty, however, don’t tend to lend themselves to better times, making it hard to maintain that competitive edge with age.
That’s why the consistency of Cole and Danielle Rimann, a junior, has really captured how much harder the two have worked during the summer and during the season to stay at the top.
Both are among the Panthers’ top runners, and keys to possible district, regional, and maybe state titles.
They have also helped grow the program with their dedication.
“When I started coaching, there were only about nine girls between JV and varsity,” said Coach Kim Holt. “And over the years it’s grown tremendously. It helps to have those girls there pushing each time. The big teams at state always have that and this year Liberty Hill finally has that.”
While girls face more challenges with age, boys tend to become better runners as they mature.
It is harder for freshman and sophomore boys to achieve high placements because they are running against 18-year-old men who have matured and developed bigger muscles in their later years of high school.
On the boys side, Ryan Ray is another rarity as an underclassman thriving at the varsity level. Ray dominated in middle school and as a freshman and he continues to lead the boys varsity this season as a sophomore.
“I’d say a lot of it is mental,” said Ray. “I’ve matured mentally this year alone and have to motivate myself to keep that up.”
Having a strong team hasn’t hurt either.
At every meet the top five runners from the school are used to calculate the team’s score. However, the other non-scoring runners placement can sometimes be as equally important for the success of the team. Those five runners, known as pushers, help their team by taking away points from their opponents. Often times, it is tough to accept this role. But in Liberty Hill, freshmen through seniors understand it’s a team game.
“It’s the reason we’re number one in state,” said Cole. ”We wouldn’t be there if we didn’t have freshmen pushing us and helping us get better. There were only four freshmen that came in with me when I was a freshman. Now it feels like there’s about 20.”
The teams traveled to Lampasas last week to race in their final regular season meet of the year. It’s also the same course for the District Meet.
The varsity girls finished first overall with a team score of 24. King finished first overall with a time of 12 minutes, and 34 seconds. Rimann finished second overall with a time of 12:36. Peterson finished seventh overall, and Cole finished in ninth place. Hofmann finished in 11th place.
The varsity boys team finished third at the meet with a team score of 102. Ray was the Panthers’ top runner with an 11th place finish in 17 minutes and 59 seconds. Clayton Nance (21st), Cade Castillo (23rd), Garrett Cummins (25th) all had top-25 finishes.
The junior varsity girls team finished first overall with 18 points. The junior varsity boys team finished third with 77 points.