Runner King ends high school career on state podium

Senior McKynzie King placed third overall in her final high school cross country race. (Shannon Hofmann Photo)

Senior McKynzie King placed third overall in her final high school cross country race. (Shannon Hofmann Photo)

By Mike Schoeffel

ROUND ROCK — For Liberty Hill senior McKynzie King, there couldn’t have been a better final chapter to her illustrious cross country career.

King placed third at the UIL 4A state cross country meet on Nov. 12 at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock. The top-three finish was the culmination of a prolific varsity career for King, who ran with her team at the state meet in each of her four years in high school. Her last finish at the state level was also her best. Last year, she was 21st, in 2014 she was 17th, and in 2013 she was fourth.

“I was at once very shocked and very excited to win third,” said King. “I was fourth until the last 200 meters, then I passed the girl and could not have been happier. Third place was the perfect way to wrap up my senior year, and I am proud of myself and my team.”

King’s noteworthy swan song helped the Panthers to a eighth place finish as a team. It was the program’s sixth consecutive trip to the state meet. That finish may not have given them the spot on the podium they were aiming for, but Liberty Hill head coach Kim Holt was still pleased with the way her girls competed in what was a tough and quick field.

“I thought the girls did well,” she said. “There were some fast teams.”

The Liberty Hill boys team was present, too, competing in their first state meet as a team since the 2011 season. They won their first ever regional championship on Oct. 29, but had an off day on the winding terrain of Old Settlers Park, finishing last out of 16 teams.

Alex Albarran, the top individual runner at the 4A Region III meet in Huntsville, fell to seventh amongst the Panthers’ eight runners.

As Holt put it, “that played a part in the boys’ finish.”

Still, the boys mere appearance at the state meet as a team was an accomplishment, a point Holt reiterated at the end of the race.

“I told them they had a great season,” said Holt. “They had a great year and we are very proud of them.”

The weather conditions at this year’s meet were the polar opposite of last year’s hideous, mud-slathered affair. Last year was so horrific, in fact, that the horrors were imprinted on King’s unconscious memory.

“The night before [this year’s race] I had a nightmare about it raining,” she said. “I was so grateful for the beautiful weather. Last year was an unforgettable race, but I’m happy the racing conditions were more in our favor this year.”

Indeed, when King awoke from her rain-splattered nightmare, she opened her eyes to a clear and sunny day in which temperatures ascended into the 80s. Holt, on the other hand, didn’t have any ominous visions the night before, but she was thankful for the improved conditions, saying “we were happy to have great weather to race in on that day.”

Behind King, fellow senior Emma Hofmann was the Panthers’ next top runner, finishing 54th in a field of 151. Sophomore Eliana Luna was 83rd, freshman Madison Sears was 89th, and sophomore Kennedy Coleman was 98th.

Sophomore Nicholas Roth was the top finisher for the boys at 56th, also in a field of 151. Senior Clayton Nance finished 80th, freshman Gabriel Diaz was 93rd, sophomore Cade Cole was 126th, and senior Ryan Ray was 128th.

For King, who plans on attending college, but “I don’t know where or if I’m going to run,” her final varsity meet will be a moment in time that won’t soon fade. And even if the details of the memory do begin to wither as time passes, she’ll always have a tangible reminder of what she accomplished — a bronze medallion.

“The state meet was the only race I felt 100-percent confident in,” she said. “Starting off, I knew I was not going to have a single weak moment…it’s my last race in high school and I just really wanted to make an impact. The race was tough, the course was different, but I liked it.

“I ran the race I have practiced in my head a million times,” she added. “And I ran it well.”