Morgan Flannigan does not define herself as a cross country runner.
“I did track in junior high,” Flannigan said. “Then about a week before cross country started in ninth grade, I just decided to try it out.”
Flannigan, who is now a senior at Free State High, said she doesn’t regret it.
Swimming, however, is Flannigan’s first love and first priority, according to cross country coach Steve Heffernan.
As a member of the Free State swim team, she was a key contributor to the Firebirds’ first girls swimming state championship last spring.
Yet this fall, Flannigan is trading in her swim cap for running shoes once again.
Last year, Flannigan was one of two Firebirds to receive a state medal.
Individually, she finished in 16th place, which helped the girl’s team finish third overall.
“I am really amazed at what she can do with her limited training,” Heffernan said. “She works extremely hard and has learned to race better each year. To medal at state and do as well as she did last year was great.”
With so much dedication to swimming in the offseason, it is lucky for Flannigan that conditioning in the water actually helps her movement on the ground.
“Swimming helps breathing-wise,” Flannigan said. “It helps with lung capacity, which is really important for running.”
The two sports go hand in hand, according to Heffernan.
“Both sports are dependent on aerobic fitness,” he said. “The only really big difference is developing leg strength.”
According to Heffernan, Flannigan was more excited about the team’s third-place finish than her individual performance.
And although Flannigan said she was hoping to improve this year, Heffernan said he suspected she would like to see everyone else finish higher first.
“She is determined to do the best she can for the sake of the team,” Heffernan said. “She goes out and runs on her own when swimming conflicts with our summer workouts.”
Juggling two sports and competing at the varsity, all-state level is not easy for anyone.
“Morgan’s greatest aspect is her positive attitude,” Heffernan said. “It’s the fact that she does all that work and is always up beat. I never hear her say a negative thing. She works herself to death, and at the same time is inspiring to her team and really a role model.”
Flannigan, who made it clear that the team’s goal will be to do as well if not better than last year, is not alone in the mix of talent for the Firebirds’ girls cross country team this fall.
Hayley Francis, a junior who could not compete at state last year because of injury, and returning senior Libby Wiebe will help replace those who graduated.
“We should be realistically improving from where we were a year ago,” Heffernan said. “Last year we depended on a lot on new girls. With all of those girls getting their first state meet in last year, I am confident in making it back to state as a team.”