by John Unrein
The Grain Valley Lady Eagles Cross Country program is fresh off their impressive Suburban Conference victory in which they placed six runners among the top seven finishers. Individual meet champion Ella Casey was joined by Annalynn Earley (2nd), Lilly Ogle (4th), Valerie Holcomb (5th), Lexie Nicholson (6th), and Kayley Bell (7th) in earning 1st Team All-Conference Honors.
Lady Eagles Head Cross Country coach Nick Small is pleased with the buy in to the program he has received from the team. The hash tag used by the Cross Country program on social media this season has been “#more than running.” Small has encouraged this mantra as a reminder to his team to be successful in the classroom, conducting community service, and doing the little things needed to be a better competitor.
“I really feel like this crew in general has been willing to fight together in a sport that can be very individual oriented. The success we have experienced is through being a team,” Small said.
The Eagles have a two and half week stretch ahead of them where they will compete sparingly prior to the Class 5, District 5 meet at the end of October in Jefferson City. There have been a fewer number of meets this season on the calendar. A change that Small embraces and one that has caused programs and coaches to reevaluate their training regimen. Less racing across the nation has led to less demand on the body (due to the volume of training) and there are more personal records being set in the sport of cross country.
“I often say there a thousand ways to skin a cat when it comes to training. Over the years we have tweaked stuff. In general, we start in the summer with adding distance to their runs in getting their anerobic capacity built up. Then, as we move through season, we look to add intensity (speed work) as we decrease load (mileage),” Small said.
“The last couple of weeks have been the highest combination of load and intensity both. Their legs are starting to feel that a little bit. As we approach districts and prepare for state though, we are going to reduce load and intensity for what is referred to as a tapper effect.”
“Varying the stressors makes the body continue to adapt for continued growth in performance. Hopefully, if we do it right, those various stressors culminate in success.”
Small struggled to find just one runner who has exemplified leadership and exceeded expectations this season. Seniors Annalynn Earley and Lilly Ogle have seen their times shrink this season through courses that Small characterizes as going from easy to hard in progression.
Small added, “It’s been impressive to watch Annalynn and Lilly run this season. We talk about a ‘switch going on’ with the mental side of running. They have figured out that switch. It is the difference between surviving a race and attacking a race.”
Valley News asked both Earley and Ogle six spotlight questions in an effort for the community to get to know them better as student athletes.
1. What sets Grain Valley Cross County across from other programs?
Earley: “The people on this team. We hang out with each other outside of school and our sport. This group collectively likes hard work.”
Ogle: “We create a family atmosphere.”
2. Any unique pre-meet rituals?
Earley: “Our food tradition the night before a race.”
Ogle: “In the past we have done ice baths. That hasn’t happened this year because of COVID. We always look forward to the pasta dinners the night before a meet so that we can load up on carbs.”
3. What is the strangest thing you’ve seen happen during a race?
Earley: “One of the girls on my team lost her shoe during the first 800 meters of a race and ran the entire way with one shoe.”
Ogle: “That’s a hard one to pick just one thing.”
4. Who is your role model?
Earley: “Definitely my Dad. He’s a cross country coach at Fort Osage. He’s had me running since I was little.”
Olge: “My Mom is a positive person who is full of encouragement. She has pushes me to focus on positive things and not dwell on the negative.”
5. If you could run with anyone dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Earley: “I would run with my Grandma. She was never an athlete. She wanted to do sports in high school, but they didn’t have cross country for girls when she was younger. It would be cool to run with her.”
Ogle: “A famous singer who could sing to you the whole run and make it go buy faster. Some throwback Miley Cyrus like ‘The Climb’ would be good.”
6. What do you love most about running and competing?
Earley: “I like the team aspect of our sport. It’s good to know that I’m hurting for someone other than just myself. Getting to talk and laugh with those around me is fun.”
Ogle: “The way you feel after a successful race is a crazy feeling you don’t understand until you do it. People ask, ‘why do you like running?’ I tell them if you can do this, and get through it, you have an honest sense of accomplishment you can’t get any other way.”
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