After a third-place finish at regionals a week ago, the Manhattan High girls’ cross country team is looking at the state meet in Lawrence as the next opportunity to showcase a season full of improved times and scores.
Ranked fifth in Class 6A, Manhattan has the top-end runners and the confidence to take a run at the medal stand.
“The girls have been improving,” head coach Susan Melgares said. “We’re putting more pieces together every meet. To continue to do that could bring us some hardware.”
Part of that equation will be another top performance from senior Alaina Schroeder, who after a second-place finish as a sophomore and a third-place finish last year, gets one more crack at the state meet. The senior said she is just the right amount of nervous.
“My goal is always to win, but also just to do my best,” Schroeder said. “We all watched a movie last night to relax and not let the nerves get to us. I just need to do what I always do, it’s just another race. I’m nervous, but I get nervous for all races. It’ll be the right amount of nervous.”
For the rest of the team, doing their best is the key if they want to finish in the top three. That’s the goal for Molly Bollman.
“I would love it if we placed,” Bollman said. “I think we’re ranked fifth, so it’d be nice to place top three.”
A big part of finishing high is minimizing stress, something the team has focused on all week.
“I just want to make sure our team stays relaxed,” junior Megan Ochoa said. “We don’t need to stress out about it. It’s state, yes, but it’s also going to be fun and it’ll be enjoyable.”
In the case of more than half the team, Saturday’s race will be their first time at state, though between a regular-season race at Rim Rock and years of running JV, it’s not totally new territory.
For freshman Cara Melgares, the trip to Lawrence is familiar, just not as an athlete.
“I’m pretty excited,” freshman Cara Melgares said. “I’ve been there a lot of times, but I’ve always just been watching, so it’ll be pretty exciting to compete.
It’s the same way for senior Katherine Culbertson, who is making her debut as a runner at state.
“It’s my last time, and my first time running at state,” Culbertson said. “I’ve been there before, cheering the team on, but I’m really excited to actually have the chance to be in the competition this year. I’m hoping we can bring home some hardware.”
Another first-timer, MacKenzie Gwinner, said the rest of the team has been helpful during the preparation for state.
“The whole team has been really supportive and keeps reminding me to relax and just run my hardest,” Gwinner said. “It’s just another race.”
For Taylor Efurd, who went to state as an alternate a season ago, Rim Rock is familiar, though she hopes conditions have improved since the regular-season meet on the same course.
“I hope this year it’s not muddy like it was earlier this season,” Efurd said. “I think times and places will be different if it’s a good running day.”
The 6A girls’ race is scheduled to start at noon Saturday in Lawrence.