64° F Thursday, April 27, 2017

Placing their top five runners in the top 20, the Lady Cavaliers cross country team finished third at the district meet to gain entry to the regional race.
Lake Travis captured the final qualifying spot with 70 points, finishing well ahead of fourth-place Anderson, which had 107 points. Westlake was first with 15 points and Bowie nabbed second with 52.
Freshman Bailey Payne paced the Lady Cavs with an eighth place run and the top five all finished close to one another.
“We did really awesome;  we really showed what we’re made of and did the best we could,” Payne said. “I’m really proud of our accomplishment.  I knew we could do it.”
Freshman Madison Hilgers was 14th with a time of 20:57.00, junior Elaine Howington came in 16th at 21:04.80, freshman Natalie Evans finished in 21:06.40 to take 17th and freshman Bailey Bench was 20th with a time of 22:04.90.
“I felt like we were going to regionals, and we are going to go,” Hilgers said. “It feels really good. The past two years, we’ve been last at district. No one expected us to do good, and we showed what we can do.”
As the season went along, the team’s overall confidence kept climbing under new head coach Megan O’Connor.
“In past years, district has been our worst race, and I hated it,” Howington said. “But now, it’s turned my view around, and this is the best ever. I didn’t think we’d be able to make it at the beginning, but toward the middle of the year, I thought that we had a chance, but I didn’t know we had this good of a chance. We ended up doing so much better than I ever thought we would.”
The Lady Cavaliers came in confident they were the third best team, at least, in district and proved just that with a season-long goal to make the regional race.
“We were just looking to hold on to third,” O’Connor said. “The girls like this course; they ran their hearts out and laid it all out there. They had one of her best races of the season. All the girls are happy for each other, happy for the team, and I’m just so excited. It was overwhelming for me to watch all of them. I’m so happy for them to reach their goal.”
Senior Malena Pennycock came across in 22:59.60 to take 23rd and junior Louisa Angly was 26th with a time of 23:07.30. The Region 2-5A meet will be at Vandergriff Park in Arlington Nov. 3.
“We’ve come a really long ways,” Pennycock said. “We’ve all really pushed ourselves through the season this year. As a team, it’s exciting getting to do it together and have fun doing it. It’s certainly different; the team has grown a lot. We have a lot of new students and Coach O’Connor has brought a lot of energy to the team.”
Hilgers said the team is aiming high, but they are realistic about where the squad stands now, and where it could end up.
“We’re working hard, getting our act together now, and we’ve got a great new head coach,” she said. “It feel like the next few years, we might be able to go to state. We’ll see.”
Even with success just out of grasp in years’ past, the Lady Cavs didn’t come into this season, their first in Class 5A, thinking things would be the same.
“The team has always been really close; we all bond over how hard the sport is,” Pennycock said. “And the more we raced together, the closer we got. Regionals is going to be a really great experience. We’re going up against some much harder teams from all over, but we’ll get out there and give it our best and try to do a good job and have fun with it.”
After earning the top spot in the district race, Payne admitted she had nerves prior to – and during – the race, which actually fueled her top time. The freshman runner attributed the team’s success this season to O’Connor’s drive.
“Coach O’Connor has really pushed us through, she really wanted this so much for us,” Payne said.

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