One mile at a time

Girls Cross Country plans to take on state championships in Jefferson City, Nov. 4


Taylor Werges

Adyson DeLaney (12) closes the gap between her competitors during the Twilight Classic in Memphis, Tennessee, Sept. 2.

The average high school student strives–and sometimes struggles–to run a 10 minute mile in PE class. Adyson Delaney, girls varsity cross country team captain, runs an average meet (3.1 miles/5k) in under 20 minutes–about the duration of one episode of “Friends”.

The courses aren’t a typical track either. Cross country runners take on hilly terrain, gravel roads, mud and other obstacles that could potentially throw off their focus. They not only have to focus on their speed and progress but also overcoming their difficult surroundings.

Experience a 1.14 minute time lapse of girls varsity cross country captain Adyson Delaney’s routine practice run of about 8 miles:

One Mile at a Time from EHS-hub Broadcast News on Vimeo.

“During districts I was running up a hill and a girl in front of me reached the end of a barrier and walked around it. Then she laid down because she couldn’t keep going,” Alyssa Jakcsy (12) said. “To watch that you think, ‘Oh my gosh if she collapsed, how am I going to keep going?’ That’s the hardest part: trying to pick yourself up and say, ‘That’s not me. That’s her.’”

During the era of Hannah Long, 2011-2014, Eureka won three state titles in cross country with her record-breaking times. Several EHS runners are seeking their own state titles this season.

The varsity team has seven swift girls this season that have added depth to the once narrow-skilled team.

“In cross country it’s cool to have a girl who is really out front and fast, but to be a really good team you need five good runners. It is what puts the overall team on top,” Delaney said. “Whenever you have one girl who is fast but the other four are not, that’s not depth. Depth is when all five of your runners are strong and they all bring out their best every race.”

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The team hasn’t attended state championships since 2014, when Hannah Long and Delaney (12) qualified for state and helped place the team at 12th out of 16 participating teams.

For the past two years, Delaney has brought the Eureka name to sectionals and state on her own.

This season has gone well for the team as a whole. The girls team ranked in the top five for over half their season.

“At the beginning of the season I asked them, ‘Are we pretenders, up-and-comers, winners, champions or a dynasty?’” Darrell Lewis, head girls cross country coach, said. “Most of them put that we were up-and-comers last year and this year they want to become champions.”

Hard work and new additions to the team have proven successful.

“Winners is what we’ve been this year,” Lewis said. “We’ve won our fair-share of meets, but we haven’t been in the conversation as far as winning districts or sectionals. It’s always our goal, but running is different than all other sports because it’s 16 teams competing at the same time instead of one team against another.”

With one meet determining their state rank, the freshmen have pushed the team’s average to about 20:54.

“Overall it’s gone really well,” Alexis Kleekamp (11) said. “We’ve improved a lot from last year because we got a couple really good freshman [Savannah Lesher, Kayla Voelker and Anna Lombardo].”

Kleekamp is one of the team’s top seven runners, breaking her personal records multiple times over the season.

For sectionals, Oct. 28, the team had set a goal to advance together. The end result: the team placed third overall, advancing the entire team. Three varsity girls–Kleekamp, DeLaney and Kayla Voelker (9)–were able to place in the top 30 individuals and reserve a spot for a personal state record.

“At sectionals, after the first mile, you either keep up with them or fall back,” Lesher said. “Everyone is trying to qualify for state, so they give it their all. I slowly veered off their pace.”

Sectionals was different for Delaney this year; she wasn’t alone.

“Sectionals was definitely a better experience for me and our team,” Delaney said. “Last year it was just me competing, so it was a much better time having my six best friends to run the race with.”

Sectionals demonstrated the team’s sense of family and unity, proving that this sport is more than just individual competition.

“We couldn’t have done it without each of the girls that raced,” Jakcsy said.

The team overall has had a successful season; proving to be a top competitor with placing in the top 10 for over half of their races, and a majority of the girls completed numerous personal records.

At districts, Voelker ran 21:04 minutes and strived “to get under 20:30 for sectionals.”

She achieved her goal racing at 19:45 at sectionals, almost a minute faster than her goal.

“I’m very happy about my time at sectionals because I felt that at districts I didn’t do the best that I could,” Voelker said. “Doing really well at sectionals kind of gave me a boost of confidence.”

Sectionals brought the same teams from districts but added a new team to the mix: Lindbergh. EHS participated in the second class of districts while Lindbergh participated in the first class of districts. The team ran alongside Lindbergh in previous races but didn’t know what to expect at sectionals.

“I was very nervous beforehand because, in cross country, you can’t call a time-out like you can in every other sport,” Lewis said. “Once the gun fires I get like a three-second window as they run by me to actually yell something to them. So everything’s out of my control. You just trust that they do what they’ve worked for. They performed to the best of their abilities. Before I saw the team scores, I felt pretty good about our chances. Once we saw the team scores we were excited.”

These girls definitely have proved their speed and determination, but state will test their abilities.

After collecting the average times from sectionals, Lewis finds the average for a prediction.

“We’re hoping to be in the top 10 teams and thinking we could be in the top eight,” Lesher said.

The girls have had an objective in mind since before the season began.

“This summer at camp, I had them sit down and write goals for the team. Top eight was the goal they all selected together,” Lewis said. “Going from a team with Adyson at the state championships and no one else got out of districts to the top eight is a pretty dramatic improvement; it appears to be a very realistic goal.”

Every runner participating affects the outcome of the team. Lewis has hopes for his top runners to make improvements.

“I’d see Adyson and Kayla closer to 19:30, Alexis and Savannah closer to 20:00 minutes, and then Aly Jakcsy, Anna, and Courtney Reid probably 20:30 or faster,” Lewis said.

The weather, competitors and courses all factor into the outcome of the run, but terrain can pose the biggest threat.

“They say that the sectionals course, Parkway Central, is pretty similar difficulty-wise to state,” Lewis said. “I’d like to see a little bit faster times from each one of them.”

Lewis has taken a different approach to training this season.

“Lewis started to focus more on quantity over quality to better improve our aerobic fitness,” Delaney said. “So that we were more prepared by the end of the season for the state series.”

Lewis intensified their workouts and increased the girls milage; some running over 40 miles a week, as opposed to 30 miles towards the beginning of the season.

“Last year was the first year I have ever coached girl distance runners,” Lewis said. “I coached boys for nine or 10 years and knew what they could handle and how many miles I could throw at them. I didn’t want to injure a lot of girls, so I went with the under-training method last year. I learned what they could handle; we’re still doing the same type of workouts, they’re just longer.”

The girls take their own approach to training for the race in addition to their coach’s tactics.

“I’m just getting in the right mindset making sure I have positive thoughts–wanting to help my team–before and throughout my run,” Voelker said. “I believe in my team and our potential.”

The new training has proven to work for the Wildcats, but beyond the training it’s the girls bond that pushes them to work together each race.

“I love cross country because of the friendships and how we all connect through the love of the sport,” Courtney Reid (10) said.

State begins at Oak Hills Golf Center in Jefferson City at 9:00 a.m., Nov. 4. Entrance fee is $8 for adults. Children five and under are free. Nick Mungenast (11) is joining the girls to compete individually for Eureka boys cross country.

“I don’t know that I’d say that we’re that championship team yet, but we’re well on our way,” Lewis said.