The cross-country course was a little hilly, and the weather was rather chilly.
But for Laramie High long-distance runners who spend train in the same or worse conditions on the high plains in and around Laramie, those were not considerable obstacles to overcome.
In fact, seniors Abigail Whitman and Mason Swingholm described the 5-kilometer course at Star Valley View Golf Course in Afton as snowflakes started to fall Saturday as a welcome sight.
It was the first time the Plainsmen and Lady Plainsmen raced there, and it was for the Class 4A Wyoming State Cross-Country Championships.
“When I saw the course, I was a little relieved because our coaches kept saying there were a lot of hills and it sounded terrifying,’” Whitman said. “Once we got there, I thought ‘oh, this isn’t too bad.’ There were some hills and it was challenging, but our season prepared me well for the course.
“The conditions affected me in a positive way. I love the snow because I ski, and I love the cold. I was actually enjoying the snow while I was running.”
Swingholm added: “I actually kind of thought, this is a hilly course? It seemed a little less hilly than people were giving it credit for. As an athlete, when someone tells you it’s a hilly course, you may think you may be going up Mount Everest on a part of the course. But it was nice to be able to pick the course apart and find areas where I could assume some people would start getting gassed late in the race and where I could really focus on to get mentally prepared.
“I actually liked the weather conditions a lot. I tend to race better in chillier weather. When it was 32 degrees, not getting too much warmer and not too windy, it was a confidence boost. I would’ve raced just as well in hotter weather, but knowing I train in colder weather than the rest of the state kind of gave me a mental boost that I could be more prepared than anybody else.”
Whitman, who was seventh as a freshman, third as sophomore and fourth as a junior, won her cross-country state race by a large margin crossing the finish line in 19 minutes, 11.99 seconds.
“After the first mile and a half, she was smiling and almost waving to her friends,” 12-year LHS coach Greg Schabron said. “That’s when I thought, ‘OK, she’s relaxed, she’s good.’ Then I thought she made her move a little too early and it made me nervous when she did that after about 1 1/3 miles. But she opened it up, and was certainly feeling it by the end of the race. But she put so much distance between herself and second place, it wasn’t going to be a contest at that point. Knowing Abigail, if another girl caught up to her, she would’ve found another gear.”
Finley Klinger of Kelly Walsh was runner-up 29.4 seconds later.
“I stayed with front pack, not trying to lead it for most of the way,” Whitman said. “Then I really started racing for the last mile, which was my strategy. I just kept my pace, and once I hit the hills, I started taking off. It was really fun, and I was super happy with that pace on that course.
“There was some … finally! Then it was knowing that it was my last high school cross-country race — it was sadness, happiness and so many emotions when I crossed the finish line.”
Swingholm was 33rd as a freshman, 17th as a sophomore and sixth as a junior in his previous state races.
“The night before I was staying relaxed and told myself not to think about the race, but just think about what I could do in the moment,” Swingholm said. “It was actually the most calm I’ve been before a state race, and I think it kind of showed itself and I prepared best for this one than I ever did before.”
Swingholm picked the right place and time to make his move and took the lead on a hill at about the second mile. He kept the lead until the final stretch when Trevor Stephen caught up and won with a course record 16:26.9, and Swingholm eight seconds later for second place.
“Mason might have been disappointed, but seeing what he put together, I wouldn’t have changed a thing,” Schabron said. “He was very aware of what he wanted to do in the race and how to break it down.
“I haven’t told him this yet, but I was really impressed how he executed the race. There was nothing else he could’ve done strategically for him to do as well has he did in the race.”
Swingholm added: “Once we were in a pace I was comfortable with, there was a long hill around mile two and that’s when I made my move and nobody really came with me. Trevor kind of snuck up on me in that last 300 meters. I knew I had a gap, but it may not have been long enough because a lot of the guys behind me were kickers. Around the last bend I had a decent lead and it was not being able to pick up my knees and hit that next gear quite soon enough. I eventually hit it, but it was just too late by the time I got into it.
“To get second and be close to winning it was a good feeling. Initially, there was a little bit of a disappointment, but that faded really quick. I learned this year to accept what I get and not dwell on it. I can’t change it and can only focus on the next season or the next race and chase some championships during indoor track.”
Whitman and Swingholm will have one more cross-country race on the horizon. They will be competing at the Nike Cross Regionals-Northwest Nov. 16 at Eagle Island XC Course in Boise, Idaho.
“It will be nice to see some competition that is really top tier and have an opportunity to shine in that field,” Swingholm said.
The Lady Plainsmen volleyball team begins the postseason at the 4A East Regional Tournament today in Cheyenne.
At the beginning of October, the Lady Plainsmen were 9-13 overall and 1-2 in the Southeast Quadrant, but the team continued to improve as the season progressed.
“At the beginning of the season, it was what we were hoping this group could do,” fifth-year LHS coach Becky Baker said. “We knew we were really young with lots of sophomores and a couple of freshmen we’ve pulled up now. We knew there would be learning curves along the way. But to see how this group has embraced those different learning challenges and improved throughout the season has been so great. I think we are peaking at the right time.”
The continued development increased the Lady Plainsmen’s overall record to 16-14 overall and a 4-2 mark to earn a No. 2 Southeast seeding for the regional tournament. The end of the regular season was highlighted with a pair of wins at Cheyenne Central (3-1) and at home against Cheyenne East (3-1).
“I was really thrilled for us to finish strong against Central and East to gather that second spot,” Baker said. “We know it will be a challenge, but to have a little breathing room is nice.”
The Lady Plainsmen will begin regionals against Northeast No. 3 Campbell County (12-18 overall) at 1 p.m. today at Cheyenne Central.
“We knew the beginning was going to be a little rough, but if we could finish and peak at the right time, it wouldn’t matter,” Baker said. “It’s when you get to regionals, that’s when you to take care of business. We’ve been working on a lot of high pressure drills for when they have to perform in the moment — to get them prepared for when those moments come in a game.
“Other than that, we’ve been balancing that with fun and to keep doing what we’ve been doing. I want to keep getting better, but we are not going to just magically change everything we’ve been doing.”
Baker said she and her staff tinkered with the lineup and positions four major time during the season, finally settling in on the current layout on the floor a little more than two weeks ago.
“We have a lot of kids who are really talented in a lot of areas and it took a few tries to find exactly where each player thrives the best and how we will function best as a team,” Baker said.
Right now the Lady Plainsmen mainly have junior Camryn Nagy and sophomore Alexis Stucky setting in a 6-2 lineup. Senior Jessica Crane and sophomore Anna Gatlin are outside hitters, senior Morgan Brown and sophomore Morgann Jensen as middle blockers and sophomore libero Halley Feezer and freshman Taylor Tyser in the back.