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Archive for Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Tittrington: A rivalry worth watching

October 17, 2006

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Forget black cats, haunted houses and the little old lady down the street who hands out apples instead of Snickers bars on Halloween night.

As the end of October nears, Baldwin High junior Heather Garcia has her own list of things to avoid: dodgeballs, the flu bug and Eudora High senior Brittney Graff.

The first two completely destroyed Garcia's sophomore cross-country season last fall. A game of dodgeball gone wrong in early September resulted in a broken arm that threw a wrench into her training schedule, and a case of the flu that reared its ugly head at the two worst possible times - during the Frontier League meet and the Class 4A state competition - made the 2005 campaign one to forget.

Right now, it appears the only thing capable of causing a repeat letdown is item No. 3, and she's quite a challenge.

While Garcia never found her stride last fall, Graff was busy leaving everyone else with a diet of dust on her way to the Class 4A state individual title. It has been more of the same this fall, setting up a three-week battle of fleet feet that's likely to decide who will leave Wamego Country Club on Oct. 28 with a gold medal dangling from around her neck.

The first installment came Thursday, when Garcia and Graff finally had to forsake the cruise control that has been good enough most of this season and engage in some real racing at the Frontier League meet at Rim Rock Farm. Garcia got an early leg up in the rivalry, winning with a time of 14 minutes, 42 seconds. Graff crossed the line in 14:55, and a full minute elapsed before anyone else tripped the wire.

Next up is Saturday's Class 4A regional meet hosted by Anderson County at Garnett, and barring an unforeseen circumstance - spectators, please keep your red rubber balls at home, just to be safe - they'll battle one final, decisive time one week later at this year's state meet in Wamego.

Garcia and Graff are similar in size, similar in speed and from similar parts of the state. Where they differ is in their outlook on having someone provide an actual challenge after six weeks of convincing victories against competition that's just not up to speed.

"Close races, they scare me a little bit," said Garcia, who finished off Thursday's victory by pulling away from Graff as they crested the Billy Mills Hill near the end of the Rim Rock course. "I don't like it to come down to neck-and-neck."

Countered Graff: "I feel like I push myself harder when I'm with people. ... You like having the competition there because it just makes the race more fun."

Of course, Graff knows nothing would be more fun than adding another piece of gold jewelry to her medal collection, not only repeating her feat from a year ago, but gaining a measure of satisfaction against the same runner who relegated her to silver status twice at last year's state track and field competition in Wichita.

After all, turnabout is fair play - especially when you've got seniority.

"She can have next year. I get to win this year," Graff joked. "I've got to do it now. I can't do it again later."

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