(Above, McKela Elder, left, and Mackenzie Smith, right, qualified Saturday to next weekend’s state cross country meet. Photo courtesy of Melissa Sue Elder)
TIFFIN – An outstanding cross country career nears its fitting conclusion. And another career, with boundless potential, is just beginning.
Fremont Ross is sending a pair of athletes to next weekend’s Division I state cross country meet after outstanding performances from senior McKela Elder and freshman Mackenzie Smith in Saturday’s Regional Meet.
Elder finished fifth overall, clocking a time of 19 minutes, 10 seconds.
It’s been a long road for Elder to make her return trip to the state meet. She qualified for the race as a freshman, but missed out the last two years thanks, in part, to an asthma condition not diagnosed until after last year’s regional meet where her condition forced her from the race with only a few hundred yards to go.
“She ran the exact race she’s always wanted to run,” coach John Elder said. “I think freshman year, she ran that race, but it was such a new thing and not understanding all the nuances of regionals, it wasn’t a great deal. Then the next two years, the moment overwhelmed her and today she went out and conquered it all. She ran a great race.
“It’s a nice bookend to her career.”
While McKela Elder’s state meet qualification was hoped for, if not expected, Smith’s performances was more than anyone could possibly have asked for. Smith finished sixth, just 1.6 seconds behind Elder. Last week, her time was 35 seconds behind the senior and 43 seconds the previous week, at the TRAC Championship.
So how, exactly, did Smith suddenly drop so much time in the biggest race of her young career?
“If you ask her, she has no idea,” John Elder said. “She was just phenomenal.
“She’s been, at the start of the last umpteen races, right behind McKela and she just hasn’t been able to hang on. But she is such a competitor. With about a quarter of a mile to go, she was in ninth place and she just went at it and passed three girls. That girl competes.
“You worry because, at this level, the pace is much faster and kids go out at that pace and can’t hang on and they tire out,” Elder continued. “She came through the first mile and a half and was in like, eighth place, and I’m like, ‘Holy crap.’ She just was on. It was very impressive.”
While the girls seasons extend one more week, the careers of seniors Ethan McClory and Zach Edmonds crossed the finish line. McClory placed 17th overall in 16:50 while Edmonds was one second behind, to place 18th.
In a race filled with fast times, Elder said his boys did the best they could.
“To get out, to get (to state) you had to run extremely fast,” Elder said. “They ran a great race. My attitude before they ran was, ‘Run the race that, when you’re done, you’re happy with, no matter what place you get. I think both of them were happy with how they ran. They ran the best they could. And I’m really happy with that.”
McKela Elder and Smith will run next Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at National Trail Raceway in Hebron.
John Elder said there are two types of runners at the state meet: Those running for a place on the podium and those just happy to be there.
“I’m not sure if they have a chance to be on the podium, but I hope they attack the race like they can be on the podium and they’re not just happy to be there,” Elder said. “And if it doesn’t work out, it’s OK.”
DIVISION I NORTHWEST REGIONAL MEET
McKela Elder, 5th overall, 19:10.0 – qualifies for state meet
Mackenzie Smith, 6th overall, 19:11.6 – qualifies for state meet
Ethan McClory, 17th overall, 16:50.0
Zach Edmonds, 18th overall, 16:51.0