Mason Swingholm describes himself as tough, resilient and just grinding it out.
Abigail Whitman says she is hard working and very driven as an athlete.
The Laramie High distance runners are poised and ready for special senior seasons as they help lead the cross-country teams this season.
“They are a great combination of talent, and especially work ethic with those two,” said Greg Schabron, who enters his 12th year as the helm of LHS cross-country. “They put in a lot of the miles and time in the weight room over the summer — they just came in strong, fit and ready to go. That can be hard because a lot of times with running workouts they are training by themselves. That’s also good leadership by leading by example.”
Whitman, along with fellow senior Emmy Johnson, led the Lady Plainsmen the past several years and return as three-time all-state cross-country runners.
“It has been really fun,” Whitman said. “I definitely have grown a lot as an athlete and a student. Our team has grown a lot, and I’ve just been able to provide a lot for the team.”
Whitman was seventh (18 minutes, 47.19 seconds) at the state championships as a freshman in 2016, third (18:21.24) as a sophomore in 2017 (18:21.24) and fourth last season (19:01.00) as a junior.
“Last year wasn’t the best for me,” Whitman said. “I was injured with shin splints, so I didn’t feel like I had enough. But I’m really excited for this year — it’s a new year, I’m not injured and really hoping to get that state title.”
During the first race of the season Aug. 30 at the Kelly Walsh Beartrap Invitational on Casper Mountain, Whitman was runner-up (20:33.21) to Rawlins’ standout Sydney Thorvaldson (18:09.48), a three-time Gatorade Wyoming Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year. Whitman was then seventh (19:04.60) last Saturday in the Division 2 race at the large Liberty Bell Invitational in Littleton, Colorado.
“I’m pretty happy with my results and slowly decreasing time, which I hope I can still keep doing,” Whitman said.
It was an upward trajectory for Swingholm during his first three years running for the Plainsmen. He was a part of two state championship teams during the LHS boys’ six-year title run in his freshman and sophomore seasons.
During his first year in 2016, Swingholm finished 33rd at state (17:30.17) and improved his placing by almost half when he was 17th (17:13.18) as a sophomore.
“There was a lot of learning in my first three years,” Swingholm said. “I started out as a young, super ambitious but kind of lazy freshman to be honest. I knew I wanted to run, but didn’t know if I wanted to be fast at it. Being a part of that state championship team gave me the idea I could really go for this, try my hardest and put my heart and soul into this sport.
“Since then, it’s just been a matter for me of finding my limit, trying to push my limit and trying to make myself the best runner and best physical athlete I can.”
That renewed focused enabled Swingholm to crack the top 10 at state last season when he finished sixth (16:41.17) for all-state honors.
“That was definitely not my goal — it was to be in the top three, and really trying to win it,” Swingholm said. “Part of it was nerves getting to me during the race and I went out faster than I should have. I could’ve prepared mentally in better ways than I did and could’ve placed better. But overall, I’m happy with the way it went because I learned a lot from that race.”
So far this season, Swingholm was runner-up (17:40.89) at the Kelly Walsh Beartrap Invitational and ninth (16:20.00) at the Liberty Bell Invitational, just two seconds from a personal best.
“Overall, I am happy I have a new starting point to work off of that is closer to my PR,” Swingholm said. “I just really want to make myself better and one of the best runners in the state.”
The Plainsmen’s six-year dominance at the state meet came to an end last season after winning the team titles from 2012-17.
The LHS boys finished third with 99 points. Evanston won with a low of 39 with Cheyenne Central second at 90 and Sheridan was fourth at 120.
Also returning for the Plainsmen who competed at state will be junior Kent Henry (26th, 17:49.48) and sophomores Collin Krueger (42nd, 18:17.70) and Cameron Burns (66th, 19:08.49).
The Lady Plainsmen’s lone state title was in 2011. They were fourth last season with 99 points. Natrona County won with 70, followed by Central at 91 and Evanston at 94.
Johnson returns for the Lady Plainsmen after she was seventh at state as a freshman (18:47.19), fifth as a sophomore (18:55.66) and sixth last season (19:11.01).
Also returning for the LHS girls with state experience last season will be senior Katie Kozlowski (25th, 20:35.06) and junior Libby Berryhill (49th, 21:51.74).
“Some of the upperclassmen did quite a bit and we were a little light on training for some of the underclassmen,” Schabron said about the offseason individual workouts. “So we are seeing some big improvements on times, which we are really pleased with. There’s a lot of freshmen and sophomores dropping times on junior varsity.
“What that will do for our teams is make the varsity runners stay sharp. If they want to stay in the top seven, they can’t back off on the hard workouts. It is friendly pressure making sure everyone is competing and training at their best.”
The program boasts its largest turnout in its history with 33 Plainsmen and 20 Lady Plainsmen.
The state championships were at the Sheridan VA Hospital Grounds since 2013. This season the culminating races will be in Afton hosted by Star Valley.