Two runners, both blessed with super athleticism, both still innocent to the mental and strategic rigors of cross country.
Both are all-state in 2003.
Free State High's Alysha Valencia and Danny Schneider capped an inspiring season of growth with a strong finish at the Kansas Class 6A state meet Saturday at Rim Rock Farm.
Valencia, a sophomore in her second year of cross country, finished sixth in the girls' 4,000-meter race with a time of 15:14.21. Schneider, a junior in his first year of cross country, finished 11th in the boys' 5,000-meter race with a time of 16:33.00.
For Valencia, the finish actually was one spot lower than where she finished last year at state. Still, she has reason to beam: Of the five runners who finished in front of her, four are seniors. The other, Blue Valley North junior Jana Gwinn, won the state title in dominating fashion. Her time of 14:15.67 won the elite race by 43 seconds.
For the first mile of the race, though, Valencia, Gwinn and several others were in a tight pack.
"It was weird," Valencia said. "Everyone was afraid to take the lead. They kept staying back."
Eventually, the pack spaced out, and after Valencia held on to third place for a while, she eventually took sixth behind the more experienced seniors.
"Even though it was one less place than last year, it was 20 seconds better," Valencia said. "I'm excited about that."
For Schneider, expectations were mysterious. Just three months ago, he started running cross country for the first time. His growth was obvious: a fifth-place finish at the Sunflower League meet, a runner-up finish at regionals in Emporia, and all-state honors stemming from his race Saturday.
Not bad, considering Schneider joined the team "hoping to contribute a little bit."
"When I decided to do cross country," Schneider said, "I was hoping to be the fourth or fifth runner."
Instead, he led the Free State boys team to a sixth-place team finish at state. After Schneider, FSHS senior Nick Squier finished 23rd in 16:53, and junior Aaron Trent took 38th in 17:04.
The Lawrence High girls, led by sophomore Megan Johnson's 27th-place finish, took ninth place as a team. The Lions' second-best runner, senior Meg Gentry, was injured and wasn't able to complete the race.
The Lawrence High boys had one representative, senior Harry Swartz, who finished 56th in 17:27.
"I've had better races," Swartz said. "I started really dying near the end."
SM Northwest won both the boys and girls 6A team titles. Blue Valley West's Paul Hefferon was crowned boys 6A state champion, taking first place with a time of 15:37. Second place Tucker Weems of Shawnee Mission Northwest was 28 seconds behind.¢
Area runners fare well: Two area schools -- Ottawa and Mill Valley -- competed in Saturday's 5A state meet at Rim Rock. Mill Valley senior Jay Matlack finished fourth in the boys race with a time of 16:39.79. Ottawa's lone boys representative, junior Dustyn Toland, took ninth in a time of 16:57.02.
Ottawa senior Lisa Morrisey also earned all-state honors, taking fourth in the girls race. Her two-mile time of 12:26.16 paced the Cyclones' girls team to a ninth-place finish.
Mill Valley's boys finished 11th as a team.