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State cross country meet a learning experience for Trojans

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The CIF state cross country championships proved to be a learning experience for a majority of the girls on the Oak Ridge team.

Sophomore Abby Fletcher ran in last year’s meet on Oak Ridge’s team that placed 14th in the Division I meet, but the other six runners on the squad were running for the first time in the state championships.

“I thought we did OK,” Oak Ridge coach Bob Wright said. “Our goal was to qualify for the state meet, so we were down there for the experience and we sure got a lot of it. This is the youngest team we’ve ever had at the meet.”

Oak Ridge placed 20th this season, as four the team’s scoring runners either had personal-best times at the 5K distance or on the course. Fletcher finished the 5,000-meter course with her best time ever of 18 minutes, 40 seconds, 10 seconds faster than her time a year ago. Fletcher placed 35th.

Fellow sophomore Tiana Oliver finished in 75th place in 19:15.7, also a personal-best time, while freshman Ava Maier ran her fastest time on the Woodward Park course in Fresno by 18 seconds, placing 91st in 19:25.8.

Freshmen Kayla Rutz and Dylan Wright learned all about the chaos of the start of the state meet race, as both girls were knocked down/fell during a pile up a little more than 100 meters into the race. Both girls got up and finished the race with Rutz running a personal-best time of 20:47.6 for a 5K and placed 156th. Wright placed 161st in 20:58.0.

Rounding out the Oak Ridge runners, junior Hannah Connover placed 185th in 22:19.6, while senior Courtney Heller placed 188th in 23:33.5.

“Tiana had a good race, and Ava still had a personal-record even though she’s normally our second runner,” Wright said. “That’s the nature of this team. Runners can be a little off and yet they still perform as a team.”

With two sophomores and three freshmen as the scoring runners, Oak Ridge has plenty of youth. Wright said the team was composed and looked ready to go during the warm-up.

“Once they got to the starting line, though, you could tell there were some nerves,” Wright said. “It’s a pretty big event. This is a race that controls you the first time you’re in it. Once you’ve experienced it and you go back, you’re in a little more control of the race. After they finished, I think they were relieved the race was behind them, but then they started talking about next year. They’re definitely excited to do it again next year.”