Getting ready for the end

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By Scott Akanewich

All season long, from the first day of practice in the heat of summer until the temperatures begin to drop in fall, cross country runners are always looking ahead and planning for one thing.

The end.

As in the final meet of the season, when state championship dreams will either be realized or crushed.

Such is the case for the Liberty Hill cross country squad at this critical convergence of the current campaign, as the race for all the marbles looms at the Class 4A meet in Round Rock on Nov. 9.

However, all along the season has been one of routine – train for five days during the week, then compete on Saturday.

But, leading up to the final two events of the season, there is more down time without competition, which means routines must be mixed up with levels of intensity constantly monitored to ensure everyone remains healthy.

According to junior Ayanna Donwerth, the extra time allows her the opportunity to experiment in order to find that little bit of extra speed and endurance, which can make all the difference in a sport measured to the hundredth of a second.

“I know I have to push myself harder when I have time off so I can see what my limits are,” said Donwerth. “If I do that and get past it, I know I can go harder in a race.”

But, there are sure signs she’s pushing herself too hard, if in fact that’s the case, she said.

“Once I feel like my form is dying out, I know I need to slow it down,” said Donwerth. “Like if my head is off to the side or if I’m not moving my arms properly.”

Last season, while still competing for Leander High School at the Class 5A level, Donwerth just missed out on making it to the state meet, so once she transferred to Liberty Hill for this season, she said she expected to fare better due to the lower class, but also her continued improvement.

“I kind of knew it was going to be a bit easier in 4A, but you never know about something until it actually happens,” said Donwerth. “But, missing state last year did motivate me to train harder this season.”

For sophomore Tyler Goode, the regional meet last season was a mixture of accomplishment and sadness after a pre-race speech and prayer by teammate Madison Sears, she said.

“I remember our team was all on the starting line crying after what she said to us,” said Goode. “We knew if we didn’t make it to state, it was going to be our last race of the season.”

Sophomore Gregory Miller has also been highly anticipating the big races at the end of the season and is definitely glad they’ve arrived, but also realizes the gravity of the situation, he said.

“It’s getting to the endgame now with our last races of the season,” said Miller. “So, we’re high on motivation to work harder.”

Last season, the Panther boys qualified for state and finished seventh out of 16 teams, a result that validated all of the hard work that went into their efforts all season long, he said.

“Definitely, it was a huge honor,” said Miller. “Very cool to be a part of.”

Moving forward, Miller knows he and his teammates are certainly ready from a physical standpoint with the only question remaining being the psychological side.

“At this point of the season, it’s definitely more mental,” he said. “We know we can all get it done physically, but mentally we need to push away anything which might be bothering us although it can be difficult to keep a positive mindset when the odds are against you.”

Miller said Progreso is the Panthers’ biggest rival at the regional level, so it was a boost to their hopes when they defeated the Red Ants at the McNeil Invitational – on the same course where the state meet will be held – earlier this season.

“Beating them was huge,” he said. “We’ve gained a lot of confidence.”

Last season, the state meet was quite an eye-opener for Miller, who was only a freshman at the time, he said.

“I was really nervous, but from there I’ve improved a lot,” he said. “But, even now as an underclassman, I know my place and to respect all my teammates.”

But, this season didn’t begin so well for Miller, as he admitted to not having worked quite as hard over the summer as he should have.

“I didn’t feel like I had the motivation to go to practice early in the morning during the summer,” he said. “So, I started this season very slowly.”

Seniors Gabe Diaz and Kevin Berber lead the Liberty Hill charge on the trails as the Panthers’ top two runners, so that leaves Miller to compete with the likes of Isaiah De La Garza, Jacob Russell and Cade Johnson to round out the point-scoring positions on a weekly basis, something that makes everyone better.

“I really want to be in the top five scoring points for our team,” said Miller. “I can do that if I’m always trying to stay up with the number three and four runners and we’re all very competitive, but after we’re out there trying to beat one another, we’re still like a family.”

Miller said he knows he and his teammates are capable of special things, with one slight stipulation.

“If we all run like we’re capable of,” he said. “We can win state.”

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