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St. Vincent's Steele turns training tool into cross country title
What started as a way to get in shape for the soccer season turned into a district title for St. Vincent senior Laura Steele.
"I started running my sophomore year to get in shape for soccer and I just realized, 'Oh my gosh, this is a whole bunch of fun,'" she said. "I love the way it makes me feel. I really love doing this."
The problem was that St. Vincent didn't have a cross country team, so Steele spent the fall sports season playing softball the last two years. But Steele saw an opportunity when the school decided to add cross country this season.
"My initial plan had been to play softball," Steele said. "I had even gone to the meeting already. When I heard that [the school was adding cross country], I was like, 'I think that's for me.' I didn't just throw softball to the side. I really had to think on it. In the end, I thought, 'I'm not that good at softball. I loved running. I don't know if I'll be good at it, but even if I'm not, it's something I like to do and I'll get to run because it will be a small team and they can't be picky.'"
Steele looked like a veteran during Saturday's Class 1 District 1 race at Jackson City Park. She ran with Valle Catholic's Neve Cavanaugh for more than a mile before making her move.
Steele opened a 20-second lead to win the district title in 21 minutes, 19.47 seconds.
"I think right now it's probably the highlight of my high school year, and that's saying something because I've had a lot of highlights," Steele said.
Steele's victory earned her a trip to the Class 1 state meet at the Oak Hills Golf Center in Jefferson City, Mo. But it won't be Steele's first taste of state competition. She was a member of the Indians' soccer team that placed second in Class 1 in June.
"I'm not one of the starters on soccer," she said. "I was more mentally preparing to go to support my team and try to do my best to keep their heads up and do the best they can do. Now it's just me, and I have to keep my head up."
Steele was only a step behind Cavanaugh at the mile marker, which was according to plan.
"This is my first year running, so I haven't quite gotten a hold of how to do it by myself, set that pace and stick with it," Steele said. "So get her, set a pace and just wait for her to tire out and then just keep going."
Steele finally passed Cavanaugh on a hill during the second mile. Cavanaugh slowed slightly, which allowed Steele to make her move.
"I felt like slowing down, but it was just a keep going," Steele said. "I was about to slow down, but it was just giving myself a mental kick. You've got to keep going."
The urge to slow down again reared its head as Steele approached the finish line. She'd opened a sizable lead on Cavanaugh by that point, but Steele decided it was in her best interest to keep running hard.
"I wasn't feeling too hot at all," Steele said. "I was feeling a little nauseous, but it was just like it will all be over and slowing down just makes it worse."
Steele is the only female runner on the St. Vincent team, but she said the boys on the team have embraced her as one of them.
"These guys, I'm the one who kind of just shakes my head and I've got to laugh at them," she said. "They never made it awkward for me. I feel like I fit right in. I feel like part of the group. I thought it was going to be a little awkward, but you love doing it."
While Steele didn't have any teammates to push her on the course, that wasn't the case for the Oak Ridge team. The Blue Jays earned a trip to the state meet by finishing second in the team standings with 37 points, only two behind district champion Valle.
"Our No. 1 girl, McKenzie Elam, who was the district champion last year, she was out because she hurt her ankle," Oak Ridge coach Jason Niswonger said. "The rest of the girls, this was their best effort of the year. I've never had a team with chemistry as good as these girls have. They're like sisters, hanging out all the time, and it's great for the team. They came together and really had a great race today."
Oak Ridge placed four runners in the top 10, led by Amanda Lappe in third place (22:36.29).
"Just through practices and stuff, we've always ran pushing each other, having that group out there," Lappe said.
Carlie Bolen was fifth, Lexi Wunderlich sixth and Kendra Kohler ninth for the Blue Jays.
"Our girl who is normally our fifth man, Kendra Kohler, she's having an awesome season," Niswonger said. "She just closed that gap a little bit. The first girls are doing awesome, she's just getting closer every week. I could not be more proud of them. Holy cow, the effort. And losing by two points to a very good Valle Catholic team, and without our No. 1, I'll take that any time."
Niswonger said Elam, who injured her ankle during the final volleyball practice of the season, could run at the state meet if the ankle improves.
Two Chaffee runners will make the trip to Jefferson City. Freshman Lyndsey Statler was eighth, while sophomore Molli McGowan took 10th. Delta's Renae Bartels earned the last state berth by taking 15th.
Team -- 1. Valle Catholic 35; 2. Oak Ridge 37; 3. Chaffee 78; 4. Viburnum 92; 5. Meadow Heights 105
Top 15 -- 1. Laura Steele (SV) 21:19.47; 2. Neve Cavanaugh (VC) 21:42.86; 3. Amanda Lappe (OR) 22:36.29; 4. Rebecca Abt (VC) 22:43.83; 5. Carlie Bolen (OR) 22:51.06; 6. Lexi Wunderlich (OR) 23:04.77; 7. Paige Fallert (VC) 23:07.06; 8. Lyndsey Statler (C) 23:10.60; 9. Kendra Kohler (OR) 23:11.34; 10. Molli McGowan (C) 23:17.14; 11. Nicole Barron (VC) 23:24.62; 12. Jerrica Givens (V) 23:29.66; 13. Avery Gibbs (V) 23:50.68; 14. Leah Gibbs (V) 24:19.06; 15. Renae Bartels (D) 24:27.02
Local top fives
St. Vincent -- 1. Laura Steele 21:19.47
Oak Ridge -- 3. Amanda Lappe 22:36.29; 5. Carlie Bolen 22:51.06; 6. Lexi Wunderlich 23:04.77; 9. Kendra Kohler 23:11.34; 20. Chelsea Seyer 25:36.75
Chaffee -- 8. Lyndsey Statler 23:10.60; 10. Molli McGowan 23:17.14; 19. Melanie Mucke 25:27.79; 25. Cassie Hindman 26:31.02; 26. Holly Rutherford 26:31.19
Delta -- 15. Renae Bartels 24:27.02
Meadow Heights -- 16. Makayla McGruder 24:39.68; 19. Valerie Hernandez 25:15.37; 22. Becky Mayfield 25:59.86; 30. Jessica Baremore 28:07.00; 31. Kylee Whitener 28:21.37
Zalma -- 23. Trista Clark 26:01.63
Advance -- 33. Madison Brown 31:15.33