As if competing on a testy 3-mile course that hosts the IHSA State Cross Country meets at the end of the season isn’t tough enough, it was even harder on Saturday when the Highland High School girls were one of 60 Class 2A squads who had to tackle it when it was a muddy and sloppy mess.
“We ran in the soup today. It was a mess,” Highland coach Doug Bradley said. “Bradley University hosted a meet on the course last night in the rain and then the Class 1A boys and girls raced before we did this morning. It created a mess. The times and results were impacted greatly.”
Runners were falling all over the packed course that had 60 girl teams competing in the Class 2A race alone. HHS sophomore Lexi Gilliam fell twice. Highland ended up finishing right in the middle of the pack in 30th place.
“That was the theme for pretty much every school,” Bradley said. “We all had kids flailing in the mud at some point. It’s hard to gauge how we ran because short, choppy steps became the norm at almost every turn.”
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But the sloppy conditions did not stop Highland freshman Samantha Hengehold from showing her stuff on the huge stage. She collected the Lady Bulldogs’ lone medal after crossing the finish line in 17th place out of an eye-popping 747 harriers in the Class 2A girls race with a time of 19 minutes, 24 seconds.
“I was hoping to run under 18:00 today, but the conditions were pretty tough with the mud,” Hengehold said. “I was running great until I got to the last mile and I just couldn’t hold my pace anymore. I’m pleased with my race though.”
Bradley said two girls pretty much ran away from everyone at the start of the race and they were followed by a pack of girls who have ran in the 17:00s on this course.
“Samantha Hengehold was right there with that pack for two miles,” he said. “She ran a really courageous race. She really showed me something today. Sam has heart and intelligence. It’s a great combo for any athlete.”
Highland senior Sarah Beth Wiegman was sick all week and wasn’t able to run part of the week because she was so congested, but she pushed herself to still finish 127th in 21:17.
“She really wanted to give it a go today but she just couldn’t get enough air in to find a rhythm,” Bradley said. “She’ll be fine her next time out.”
Also for Highland, Lily Becker came in 168th place at 21:36 and Bradley said junior Brittney Nigh continues to impress after she placed 232nd at 22:42.
“I was hopeful that she would really drop a bunch of time today but the conditions were simply too much to overcome,” Bradley said of Nigh.
Bradly said he thought the girls underachieved because he felt like they let the conditions bother them too much. In addition, the girls had to deal with a late arrival to the park.
“This is a focus issue that we have to work on if we are going to get better,” he said. “The girls have to realize that there is only one thing they can control in cross country and that’s their effort. We can’t change the course, the conditions, the arrival time, or the performance of the competition. We have to take care of us.”