CHEYENNE – A simple yet direct conversation early in the season ignited what is becoming a standout cross-country season for Cheyenne East freshman Makaila Trujillo.

First-year East coach Becky Fournier pulled Trujillo aside before her first varsity race and offered a calming but meaningful message.

“‘Don’t be afraid to take the reins,’” the coach said.

Fournier trusted Trujillo.

Trujillo trusted not only her coach, but herself.

“I’m not afraid, Coach,” Trujillo quickly answered.

From that point forward, Trujillo went out and ran as hard and fast as she could. The results have been fruitful.

Trujillo set a personal-best time of 20 minutes, 38.5 seconds to finish 45th at the Liberty Bell Invitational on Sept. 7 in Littleton, Colorado.

Trujillo has emerged as the Lady Thunderbirds’ top runner this season.

“She has been consistently there,” Fournier said. “She has been working really, really hard every day. She was here with us all summer long, and she put in a lot of extra work over the summer and summer mileage. She came in ready and prepared. She is really hardworking, she is highly motivated, she has got tons of energy, and she is just working her tail off every day, and it’s paying off for her.”

Trujillo also placed fourth at the Mercury Invitational on Sept. 19 in Brighton, Colorado, in 21:18, and at the Bulldog Invitational on Oct. 4 in Wheatland in 20:47.1. East won the team title at both of those competitions.

“I’ve always liked to be the best at everything I did, which I think everyone likes to be the best,” Trujillo said.

Trujillo will look to continue building on her successful rookie campaign at the Class 4A East Conference meet at 1 p.m. Friday in Sheridan.

Despite this being Trujillo’s first season on the varsity squad, she carries herself like a four-year starter. She often talks to herself before and after races, calming herself down and pumping herself up.

“On the bus, I sit there and I (think), ‘OK, this is going to go good. It’s just another race,’” she said. “And then when I get out there, I stretch with the team, and then we all have a talk, and I just kind of think I can get my goal.”

Trujillo hasn’t shied away from taking over a leadership role for East, which has helped her be successful, Fournier said.

“She stepped right into that really easily,” the coach said. “She is really outgoing. All the girls love her, and so she is an easy one to follow. Our upperclassmen, too, really welcomed her and helped her find her footing and let her know that it’s OK to be the top dog, and she just took it and ran with it.”

It’s common for freshman athletes in any sport to get overwhelmed or feel pressure in the heat of the moment. That’s not necessarily the case with Trujillo. Yes, she puts pressure on herself at times, but that’s because of the high expectations she has set.

Fournier remembers one meet earlier this season where Trujillo was not the top finisher for the T-Birds. That only drove Trujillo to work harder to achieve her goals.

“She felt pressure at that point to come back and take back over the lead on our team,” Fournier said. “So, I know that she does feel a little pressure that way. And she likes to succeed, she likes to win. She is really competitive. She puts pressure on herself more than anyone else puts pressure on her.”

Whenever Trujillo does feel pressure, she doesn’t panic. She goes over every scenario in her mind and works everything out from there.

“At some of the big races, if I can hear people breathing around me or their footsteps, (I think), ‘OK, I’ve got to pick it up,’” she said. “And then I remember that I’m just running for me and for the team. It’s not about how they’re doing.”

As Trujillo competes at regionals, and eventually the 4A state meet, she will continue to grow as an athlete.

She will always, however, remember the moment that sparked her career.

“(I) think about how (Fournier) said, ‘Just run the race, don’t worry about what’s after,’” Trujillo said. “It’s just another race, so no matter how long it is, whether it’s 20 minutes more or less, it’s just another race. That’s 20 minutes of my life I’m running.”

On the course

East, Cheyenne Central and Cheyenne South will compete in the Class 4A East Conference meet at 1 p.m. Friday in Sheridan. Pine Bluffs-Burns travels to the Absaraka Conference meet at 2 p.m. in Douglas.

In the pool

Central, East and South travel to the Gillette Pre-Invitational at 4 p.m. Friday, while the Gillette Invite starts at 8 a.m. Saturday.

On the court

Burns hosts Rawlins at 3 p.m. Friday, while No. 3-ranked East hosts Campbell County at 6 p.m. South hosts Sheridan at 6 p.m., while Central hosts No. 2-ranked Thunder Basin at 6 p.m.

Central hosts Campbell County at noon Saturday, while Casper Natrona County travels to South for a noon match, and East hosts Thunder Basin at noon.

Burns hosts Torrington at 1 p.m., while Pine Bluffs travels to Glenrock for a 3 p.m. match.

Tyler Poslosky is a writer for WyoSports. He can be reached at 307-633-3123 or by email at tposlosky@wyosports.net. Follow him on Twitter at @TylerPoslosky.

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