Leonard leads focused Raiders to state meet
Last year, Collins-Maxwell-Baxter was represented by just one runner at the state cross country meet.
What a difference a year makes.
In addition to senior state veteran Hayley Leonard, the Raiders also will send out their entire girls team, as well as senior Aaron Ward on the boys’ side, when competition begins in Fort Dodge on Saturday.
“It’s very exciting,” CMB coach Jerry Meinerts said. “We’ve got quite a few seniors going, so it’s nice to see all the hard work they’ve done the past few years pay off and reward them with a trip to state. They’re one of the hardest working groups I’ve had and they definitely deserve this.”
Joining Leonard this time around will be seniors Kayla Hennick and Anne Deutsch, junior Mackenzie Klemme, sophomore Chantel Maxwell and freshmen Stephanie Twohey and Chasity Moody. Although it will be the first time at state for five of those six, going as a team will obviously help ease the transition.
“It’s much more exciting this year because the whole team is going and it was really hard running without them last year,” Leonard said. “We use each other and push each other all the time, so it’s good that we’re going as a team.”
Leonard will be the first person to say that running at state is a much different experience than a normal meet. Running by herself last year, she had a panic attack right before the race started. She’ll use her experience to help any of her younger teammates that might fall victim to those same nerves this year.
“Being a captain, it’s a lot easier to take on a leadership role for eveything,” Leonard said. “They ask questions and I just tell them not to panic. Just run, have fun and if you panic, you’re going to tense up.”
Some of that advice could apply to Ward, who will be running by himself on the boys’ side. A three-year member of the team, Ward battled injuries throughout not only last fall, but also last spring during track season. He eased up on his summer running a bit this season, and the benefits have been obvious.
“It feels great,” Ward said. “I just cut back on training and ran a little smarter. You’ve got work hard, but it’s worth it.”
Although Ward, or Leo as he’s know in the cross country world, will be running alone, he got a feel for the course and atmosphere at state when he watched Leonard last season. He has his sights squarely set on running a 16:23 this weekend, which would be his career PR.
“I watched Hayley run up there last year and it was pretty legit,” Ward said of state. “Pretty cool.”
As far as the girls team’s goals, they’re simply looking to justify their ranking. Placed seventh in the most recent team polls, the Raiders are shooting for seventh or better to prove that they not only belong at state, but they were a contender during the regular season as well. The Raiders have a pretty good barometer or their progress throughout the season, considering they’ll be running against four other Heart of Iowa Conference schools in the meet.
Although she’s unsure about whether she’ll continue to run at the next level, Leonard only seems to have one regret about her cross country career _ not starting sooner.
“I actually wish I woul’ve run my freshman year to see if I could’ve done three or all four at state,” Leonard said. “It’s a sport that I’ve really found to love and enjoy, so it’s exciting that I get to go back.”
And while Leonard, Deutsch, Hennick and Ward will be gone from next year’s squad, Meinerts is hoping their leadership and the experience gained at state will lead to more teams reaching that level in the future.
“We’ve got great senior leaders this year, so they’ve kind of shown (the underclassmen) the ropes and what it takes to be a great team,” Meinerts said. “They really helped them out at meets and let them know that it was all right to take a day off it they’re injured or sick. From the top down, I think that helped a lot.”