At the tender age of`17, Sarozjani Hunter has her priorities straight and her life in order.
A senior at Governor French Academy in Belleville, Hunter will graduate from the the only school she has ever attended. It is a place where she has grown as an individual, an athlete and most of all a student for the past 13 years.
One of the top athletes in the school that is located in downtown Belleville and includes 145 students kindergarten through the 12th grade, Hunter will put a storybook ending on a solid running career on Saturday when she competes in the Class 1A Girls State Cross Country Championships at beautiful Detweiller Park in Peoria.
The trip to the state finals will be a history making one for the Governor French standout as it will mark just the second time in school history that an athlete has qualified for and competed at an Illinois High School Association state competition. The other —Christine Idoux — competed in the IHSA Girls State Golf Tournament in 2001 where she placed 15th.
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For Hunter, who will leave for Peoria on Friday morning, the trip to famed Detweiller Park is the culmination of four years of hard work and dedication. An excellent all-around athlete, Hunter has been competing in the sport for just four years.
“I have done many different sports all my life and have a black belt in karate. I had run with my mom and dad in the past and so I thought cross country would be something I would like to try. My mom (Cynthia Hunter) still runs with me a lot,” Hunter said. “I’m just really excited about having the chance to run at the state meet. It’s something I’ve been working towards for the past four years. But I had never been able to get past the sectional meet at SIU-Edwardsville. This year, being a senior, I was even more determined then ever to make it. This was my last chance.”
Hunter seized upon her final chance. After running a personal best of 19 minutes, 20 seconds to place third at the Freeburg Regional two weeks ago, Hunter covered the difficult layout on the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in 20:57 seconds. Her 11th place finish overall was good enough to grab one of five spots in the state finals.
“I don’t think people realize the amount of time and dedication it takes to be a top cross country runner and to be at the front of the pack,” Governor French coach James Meers said. “That’s the type of person Sarozjani is. She’s ours (Governor French), she’s been here and has excelled both athletically and in the classroom. We are just so proud of her and what she has accomplished.”
About Governor French
Governor French opened in 1983 and features basketball, volleyball and cross country for its student-athletes. Hunter is one of six or seven athletes to compete on the cross country team.
“I love Governor French. We’re a small school and because of that I’m able to get more one-on-one attention,” Hunter said. “If I am having a little trouble in one of my classes and I need extra help, all I have to do is ask. It’s whatever you need, the teachers will help you with. It’s great.
“Karate and cross country are similar in the dedication and discipline it takes to be successful in both sports. Cross country was difficult at first in terms of endurance and being able to pace myself. I love the sport now. Hopefully I’ll have the chance to do it in college.”
As for college, Hunter is looking at several schools including Indiana Tech, Ottawa (West Virginia) University and Missouri S & T. She plans on majoring in bio-medical engineering.
From peace to the state finals
Like most distance runners Hunter finds the sport of cross country peaceful in some ways.
“I like to run in the woods. I find it very relaxing and peaceful,’’ Hunter said. “When I run alone I usually think about God mostly. I have like a mental conversation with him. It’s just my time alone.”
Hunter won’t be alone on Saturday. Competing in one of the showcase events put on by the IHSA, Hunter will be one of over 1,500 harriers who will run on the three-mile rugged Detweiller Park course.
“I have never seen the course. I hear its flat and fast though,” Hunter said. “My goal is to have fun and enjoy the experience of being at the state meet. I’ve worked hard the past four years to get here. Time-wise, I would like to be able to go under 19 minutes. I hope some of my friends and classmates come up and see me run. That would make it even better.”