Freshman girl is first Trojan to win state cross country title
Before her state championship winning run Saturday in Lawrence, Hillsboro High School cross-country runner Emily Sechrist did not really do anything different than any other race she has run all season.
The freshman walked the course with her coach Stuart Holmes to gauge the terrain but they did not map out a winning strategy. She did not eat a special pre-run meal. She did not get extra sleep.
In truth, she said she was nervous and a little intimidated of the field of nearly 100 female runners, most of whom were older. However, Sechrist took the attitude of giving her best effort; any outcome would be acceptable for her first trip to the state meet.
No one expected her to go to state as a freshman, not even Sechrist herself. Although she finished second at the Lake Afton regional, two seconds behind Sarah Wright of Douglass, Sechrist had not won a race all season.
“My dad was saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if the first meet you won was at state?’” Sechrist said.
Sechrist started out the race strong, running with the lead pack of runners. The group included last year’s state champion Heather Ruder of Hays-Thomas Moore Prep, Sarah Wright of Douglass, and Anna Trahan of Minneapolis.
“The favorite to win was Ruder,” Holmes said. “Emily had raced against Ruder twice this year. At Wamego, Emily was 35 seconds behind her in early September, but she was only 12 seconds behind her at Sterling in early October. With the gap closing, who knew what might happen in three weeks at state.”
Throughout the early part of the race, the four runners jockeyed for position and Sechrist was running anywhere from first to fifth.
After the two-mile mark, the Trojan runner made her push on a downhill and moved into first. With 600 meters to go, she continued to extend her lead up the Jim Ryan Skyline, the highest part of the course.
“Emily’s gutsy move was to take the lead and push the pace,” Holmes said. “Along with her ability to finish strong, it earned her the 2011 3A championship.”
As Sechrist was running on the flat section of skyline, Ruder began to make up ground and caught Sechrist with 300 meters left in the race.
“It was pretty dramatic as the two runner’s silhouettes raced across the Skyline side by side, heading toward the last curve toward the finish line,” Holmes said.
It seemed as though Ruder kicked too soon. Sechrist was able to pull away on the final downhill. She won the race with a time of 16 minutes, 3 seconds. Wright finished second at 16:15.
“Part of me was saying, ‘When are they going to catch up?’” Sechrist said. “I was really surprised.”
Sechrist said a strong supporting group of family, friends, coaches, and former Trojan runners shouted encouragement throughout the race. In that group was 2010 state runner-up Joel Allen.
“Joel was there helping me,” Sechrist said.
Sechrist said she enjoyed the course. Rim Rock is about as hilly as Wamego, the former site of the 3A state cross-country meet. It was also windy Saturday. Throughout the year, Sechrist has run her best when the conditions were adverse.
“I like hills,” she said. “I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s kind of an attitude I have.”
Even though she has three more years of competition ahead of her, she does not want to put too much pressure on herself to repeat. She said she just wants to continue to run her best and see what happens.
“Emily had a great year even before the state meet, but winning the state title is a tremendous accomplishment that takes a lot of effort and determination,” Holmes said.
“Not only did she run all summer and is very dedicated to her training, but she also takes a very mature approach to running and pays attention to her nutrition, hydration, rest, and warm-up — all the details it takes to achieve your potential. To top it off she’s very coachable.”
Sechrist is the first female runner from Hillsboro High School to win a state championship.
Richert is 17th
Josh Richert competed in the boys’ race later on Saturday and finished 17th with a time of 17:59.70. It was his first state medal.
“The key to Josh’s race was again staying with the pace in the middle part of the race after putting himself in a good position,” Holmes said.
“He should feel good about his improvement this year,” Holmes added. “Josh has been especially consistent this year with his training in practice and running more miles in the summer.”