In only the third year of having a cross country team, St. Paul Lutheran High School sent two runners to the state championship in Jefferson City on Nov. 4.
Junior Gabe Ayers and Senor Sarah Lacy finished a stellar season with top notched performances at the Missouri State Competition in the Class 1 Division.
“We are very proud of both Gabe and Sarah’s performance this year,” said Todd Varhalla, the school’s athletic director and cross country coach. “Since last year, Gabe was able to drop down from 97th last year in the competition to 40th this year. For never running cross country, Sarah finished 53rd in the state. She did very well.”
For both athletes, the state tournament was the culmination of a hard fought season, but both seemed pleased with their performance.
“It’s the best of the best, so it’s pretty tight competition, but I was able to knock one minute, 15 seconds off of my time,” Ayers said. “It felt pretty good. I’m not too upset with my performance or where I stand. I still have next year to run.”
Although Lacy finished with a time of 23:30, placing 53rd in the competition, she thought she could have done better.
“I did OK,” Lacy said. “There was a lot of runners on the field, and I got stuck in the middle of the pack and could not break out.”
For someone who waited until her senior year before running cross country, Lacy’s performance was, according to her coach, quite impressive.
“Sarah was definitely a big surprise,” Varhalla said. “With this being her first year, we really didn’t know what to expect from her. She was a little slow at her first meet, but every week she got stronger, and she got faster. She began understanding what a 5K was asking both physically and mentally of her.”
With having such a late start, Lacy was bound and determined to make her only year count.
“I knew I only had one year to do my best,” Lacy said. “I wanted to do well enough, so I would get noticed by some colleges and try for some scholarships.”
Lacy may have gotten her wish. Her performance this year has caught the eye of the cross country coach at Hannibal-LeGrange University and will be paying them a visit shortly.
For both Ayers and Lacy, the road to Jefferson City didn’t come easy. They both logged many of miles running hills, doing road work and enduring blistering hot temps or trying to just keep moving to stay warm. And although they were successful most of the time, there were some meets they would rather forget.
“The hardest meet this year was at Jefferson Barracks,” Ayers said. “It was about 100 degrees, and the course is ridiculous. It has a lot of hills and the footing was not good. I spent most of the time looking down at the ground.”
They may wish to forget about Jefferson Barracks, but their performance on Oct. 28 at the Cross Country District Tournament will be a meet they won’t easily forget as both finished the 3.14 mile course with personal best times.
Ayers scored a second place finish with a personal record of 18:17 and Lacy took third in the girls division with a 22:20.
“I was hoping for a first or second place finish,” Lacy said. “But the two girls ahead of me both scored personal records. But I think I did pretty well.
For Ayers, his second place finish was pretty much where he was expected to finish according to Athletic.net, a web site that tracks Missouri cross country statistics.
“I was predicted to finish second with the person in first five seconds ahead of me and the person in third four seconds behind me,” Ayers said. “The person behind me was actually four seconds behind me, but the first place runner just took off. He was a great deal ahead of me.”
Although the both athletes have put in a good season and logged more miles than they thought possible, they both still enjoy running.
“For me, it is an outlet, especially at the beginning of a school year when everything is so hectic.” Ayers said. “When I run, I block everything out. It helps me relax and feel better.”
With cross country over, both athletes said they will soon be turning their attention to this year’s track season. Although there are plenty of events both athletes could easily compete in, it is a safe bet they will be sticking to long distance.