Sears, Diaz ready to lead

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By Scott Akanewich

Madison Sears was never interested in being a distance runner.

Only problem was she ended up being really good at it.

“I never really wanted to do it,” Sears said. “I hadn’t ever focused on distance and didn’t think it was my thing. In fact, I wanted to be a sprinter. But, I continued to keep getting better.”

So when did the Liberty Hill senior realize she had found her calling on the trails?

“My freshman year, we had a meet in Cedar Park and Coach (Kim) Holt had said it was pretty much a make-or-break race as far as if you were going to make the varsity,” Sears said. “I ended up cutting a minute off my time and moved up to varsity.”

Sears also played basketball earlier on in her athletic career, but upon her arrival on the high school campus, she quickly realized she would be best served running without dribbling a ball. Along the way, she discovered an aspect of the sport that she has since found to be one of the most gratifying aspects of her young life.

“Mostly, it’s the people,” she said. “We’re like a family – we all get up at 6 a.m. and train together.”

Fellow senior Gabe Diaz had something in common with Sears in that he also didn’t fancy himself running long-distance races.

“I wish I was fast enough to be a sprinter,” he said. “But, I just always wanted to be the best at whatever I did and go farther than anyone else.”

Diaz has also played baseball, basketball and run track, but it’s off-road where he’s most excelled, although he finished fifth in the Class 4A state track meet in the 800 meters as a sophomore and also clocked a personal best 4:40 in the 1600 that season.

According to Diaz, running is as much or more mental than anything.

“It’s all a mindset – it’s what we do,” he said. “In order to get better and faster, we all have to work harder.”

In addition to the 800 and 1600, Diaz also competes in the 4×400-meter relay, which is a mental challenge as far as flipping a kind of competitive switch when going from one event to the other, he said.

“For example, the 1600 is a thinking race – there’s more strategy involved and you’re out there on your own, so you only plan for yourself,” said Diaz. “But, when you’re running a relay, you go out as hard and fast as you can and you don’t want to let the other guys down.”

Despite the fact cross country is an individual sport, Sears said the team spirit and camaraderie are always alive and well.

“We always talk about running in groups, whether it’s practice or races,” she said. “It’s cool when you can feed off other people.”

During races, that can come from teammates or opponents, including the inevitable pain and suffering inherent in the sport.

“You just have to keep telling yourself the other person is hurting just as much as you are – it’s all about mental strength and being able to stay with that person,” said Sears. “I tell my teammates all the time you can’t be afraid to hurt. A lot of it is mind over matter.”

As a senior, Sears feels the responsibility that comes along with being someone the younger runners look to for guidance and truly embraces the concept.

“I really enjoy it because when I came in as a freshman, we had those leaders to help us, so it was nice to be able to have that in the beginning.”

Cross country is a sport in which one must be fully immersed around the clock in order to ensure maximum performance levels, a concept both Sears and Diaz have fully bought into.

“You have to keep your body in great shape,” Diaz said. “Sometimes after a run, you have to eat to load up on carbs or do more lifting to get stronger.”

Speaking of food, Sears said she knows exactly when she’s pushing herself hard enough.

“I probably throw up more than anyone else on the team,” she said. “But, for me, all throughout the day, I have to monitor how much water I’m drinking to stay hydrated, make sure I eat right and of course get enough sleep.”

Except when studying gets in the way of proper rest.

“I’m up every morning at 4:30, so I try to get to sleep by around 10, but sometimes I’ll still have homework which needs to be done,” she said. “Sometimes, I’ll be exhausted when I’m at school.”

Something Sears recently decided to take up is ceramics, which provides her with a welcome respite from the endless cycle of studies and athletics, she said.

“I really like working the wheel and creating things like pottery,” said Sears. “It’s something I just started last year.”

For Diaz, competing for Liberty Hill is a dream come true, he said.

“It’s awesome because I used to go to the football games and be one of those little kids running around on the field,” he said. “I would say to myself I was going to be one of those guys, so being from here my whole life and getting to represent my school is an honor.”

As far as what this season has in store, Sears is optimistic special things lie ahead on the trails.

“I think our team has a different dynamic this year,” she said. “I’m ready for regionals and state already.”

Liberty Hill will open the season on Aug. 16 at Leander High School.

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