Girls will run farther during Class 5A races this season

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By Scott Akanewich

Imagine arriving at the two-mile mark of a cross country course, expecting to see the finish line beckoning after pushing one’s mind and body through yet another crucible of pain and suffering in the never-ending battle against the clock.

Only instead of the race ending – guess what? – you still have another entire mile to go before finally being able to collapse to the ground in utter exhaustion, only to be helped back to the team tent to recover from the ordeal.

That’s exactly what the girls on the Liberty Hill cross country squad will face this season as the jump in competition to Class 5A means the Lady Panthers will be running five kilometers instead of only three on race day, equaling roughly a little more than an additional mile.

As a result, the Panthers’ girls have been running time trials at the new distance since preseason workouts began in order to acclimate themselves to having to go the extra mile – in a quite literal sense.

So far, so good, said Liberty Hill head coach Kim Holt.

“We’ve had them running the full distance,” she said. “They’ve been doing well, which I knew they could.”

One Panther runner who is already familiar with the longer distance is senior Ayanna Donwerth, who transferred to Liberty Hill last year after having competed at nearby Leander High School – which was already a Class 5A school – her freshman and sophomore years.

Donwerth actually likes the more lengthy stretch between the start and finish lines, she said.

“I prefer the longer distance,” said Donwerth. “I can go out fast for the first mile, then settle into my pace. Even with the extra mile this year, I don’t feel like it’s messed with my running rhythm at all.”

One thing Donwerth won’t have this season compared to last is a rival among the girls to push her in both training and races, as Zaila Smith, who burst onto the scene last year as a freshman, finishing fourth at the state championships, has transferred to another school, meaning if Donwerth wants worthy competition, she must cross the gender line and run with the boys’ squad during practice – something she isn’t always thrilled with, but understands the concept of, she said.

“Honestly, I’d prefer not to,” said Donwerth, of training with her male counterparts. “I feel like I’d rather run with the other girls and help build that bond we need to have.”

Speaking of team chemistry, Donwerth had the idea to host a team bonding event for her and her teammates in order to further the chemistry which the sport of cross country is so well known for and as a senior, was glad to take up the mantle of leadership left behind by the likes of graduated seniors such as Madison Sears and Lindsee Miller from last year’s team, she said.

“I feel like I have to get them together and let them know even though we’re all competitive with one another, we can still be a fun team,” said Donwerth, who has recently taken up jiu-jitsu as a hobby. “It helps me get my mind off running and be able to release any anger or stress I might have built up from maybe not doing as well in training as I think I should on a given week.”

Returning to the distance theme, Holt said it’s always good to get the first meet of the season out of the way in order to gain a more accurate gauge on her runners – especially this year with the increased mileage for not only the girls, but the freshman boys, as well – who have also moved up to five kilometers for the first time.

“For our younger runners, the first race will only be the second time they’ve ever run a 5K,” she said. “But, even though we’re moving up in class, our expectations will remain the same – it’s going to be different and won’t be as easy as it has been in the past.”

Liberty Hill’s first event of the season is at Cedar Park on Sept. 12, and Donwerth is looking forward to finally having a chance to prove herself once again – not only to others, but to herself.

“For me, the first race of the season is important because it gives me a chance to prove I mean what I say,” she said. “I can show myself all the training I’ve done hasn’t been for nothing.”

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