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(Above, with coach John Elder, left, Mackenzie Smith, center, and McKela Elder, right, walk toward the check-in table prior to Saturday’s Division I cross country state meet.)

HEBRON, OHIO – Three years ago, as a freshman running in the Division I state cross country meet, McKela Elder got lost in the shuffle of the massive race, finishing 120th out of 178 runners.

Mackenzie Smith, left, and McKela Elder, right, stretch prior to Saturday’s Division I cross country state meet.

But it was OK. Just a freshman at the time, she had plenty of time to return and improve.

Saturday, Elder made her overdue return to the state’s biggest stage. Gone was the wide-eyed freshman and in her place a senior, running the final race of an outstanding career.

Determined not to be left deep in the pack, Elder raced out and clocked the fastest first mile of her career, 5 minutes, 45 seconds, and did all she could to stay as close as possible to the lead packs.

She closed her career with a time of 19:19.2, placing 59th out of 183 runners thanks, in part, to a strong finish which saw her pass a handful of runners in the final stretch.

“It’s sad that it’s over but I’m happy for all the memories that it gave me,” Elder said of her now-completed career. “I know I worked my butt off to get here and I’m happy that my last race of my senior year I got to be here again. Despite all my medical issues I had, I still fought through it.

McKela Elder, center, sprints to the finish line of the Division I cross country state meet.

“It means a lot to me,” she continued. “It shows things can go good but you’re always going to have failures that set you back, but it makes you work all the more.”

Said head coach John Elder, “What McKela did today was great. Her freshman year she got lost and ended up just being happy she was here. Today she attacked and did the best she could. That’s all you can do.”

While Elder was making sure she closed her career on a high note, freshman Mackenzie Smith got a glimpse of what it takes to run with the state’s best, just as Elder did three years ago. Smith finished 116th overall, clocking a time of 19:57.7, which beat Elder’s freshman state-meet time by three seconds.

Even though she knew the challenge she’d face at the state meet, Smith acknowledged seeing the speed of the competition first-hand, took it to another level.

Mackenzie Smith runs in the second mile of the Division I cross country state meet.

“It was pretty crazy being a freshman coming to state for the first time,” Smith said. “I wasn’t expecting it to go as fast as it went. I just went out and ran my race, did the best I could. Going through the race, there weren’t gaps in the packs and they wouldn’t separate, and it was hard to get through.

“It was a big surprise, as a first-timer, coming to meet like this when you’re used to 40, 50 kids for a regular race. It’s surprising coming to a big race like this.”

Smith, who qualified for the state meet thanks to a monstrous performance in the regional meet which saw her run nearly a full minute faster than her previous personal-best, still managed to break 20 minutes.

Due to Elder’s experiences the last two years, Smith knows a return trip to the state meet is no guarantee, but she also knows she is capable of returning.

“I have to keep up my work, keep up my training and train harder then come back and run my race,” Smith said. “I have to go with the flow. I can’t pressure myself into doing anything, I can’t expect myself to not be able to do it. I have to tell myself I can do it, but not expect it.”

 

“I was hoping she could replicate last week’s race, but that was a lot to ask for,” John Elder said of Smith. “I’m glad she got in the 19s again. That means that’s her spot. And she can get faster now. It means that 19:10 (in regionals) wasn’t a fluke, it proves she can do it and do it every week and come back next year.”

 

DIVISION I STATE MEET

GIRLS

McKela Elder, 59th overall, 19:19.2

Mackenzie Smith, 115th overall, 19:57.8

 

 

 

MCKELA

It’s significant.

 

John

She ran anawesome race compared to her first year. She came and went at it.

 

McKela

Cma[pred to my freshman eya,r I wa sin the hundreds place. Myf rehsman yea rI just rab, was just having fun, ‘I made it ehre, that’s all that matters.’ Today Iw anted ot try to break out of the hundreds. I wanted to work my hardest the first mile was the fastest first mile I’ve ever had for cross country, (5:45). I kept on trying to pick off packs and when I realize dI was finishing, I said, ‘I have to go,’ and I tried ot pass as many people as I could.

John” “She closed awesome”

 

 

SMITH

It was pretty crazy ebing a freshman coming to state for the first time. I wasn’t expecting it to go as fast as it went. I just went out and ran my race, did the best I could. Going through the rac,e there were gaps in the packs and they wouldn’t separet and it was hard to get through.

It was a big surprise, coming as a first-timer, coming to meet like this when you’re sued to 40, 50 kdis for a regular race. It’s surprising coming to a big race like this.

 

I ahev to ekpe up my work, keep up my training and train harder then come abcka nd run my race. I jhave to go with the flow, I cnap;t pressure myself into fdoing anytbing, Ic a;t expect myself to not be able to do it. I have ot tlel myself I can do it, but not expect it.

JOHN

She’s very coachable and she gets a long with everybody. It hin she;s apse dhtta along to Alison Tyalroa dn Mackenzie to get laong with everybody and include verybod.t that part of her perosality will be sorely misse.d and she;s bene tougher than nails.

 

I think we’ve found another No. 1. I can’t say she;s groomed her, but I can sya she;s helped show her this how you do it and she’s been a good example to the girls – and even to the boys – hwo you go after things, attack it and conquer and overcome. Obvisoulys he’ll eb missed.

 

Eighth-graders coming up.

 

I’m excited Mackenzie made it. That was a shock. What McEkla did today was great, her freshman year she got lost and ended up being happy she was here, today she attacked and did the best she could. That’s all you can do.

 

Chewed up. I was hoping she could replicate last week’s race, but that was a lot to ask for. I’m glad she got in the 19s again. That means that’s; her spot. And she can get faster now. It means that 19:10 wasn’t a fluke, it proves she can do ti it and do it every week and come back next year.

She eats well, she’s coachable and she;s a greta student So she checks all the boxes fo, I think, hopeufllyc omign abck netx yea.r Hopefully we can stay injury-fre.e If she can stay heathy and maintains that competitve attitude, she should make ti back next year

 

 

 

 

DIVISION I STATE MEET

GIRLS

McKela Elder, 59th overall, 19:19.2

Mackenzie Smith, 115th overall, 19:57.8

 
BOYS GOLF
BOYS SOCCER
CHEERLEADING
CROSS COUNTRY
FOOTBALL
GIRLS GOLF
GIRLS SOCCER
GIRLS TENNIS
VOLLEYBALL
BOYS BASKETBALL
GIRLS BASKETBALL
SWIMMING & DIVING
WRESTLING
BOWLING
BASEBALL
BOYS TENNIS
SOFTBALL
TRACK & FIELD
CHEERLEADING
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