By Kevin Green
It all comes down to this.
The Stillwater High School girls’ cross-country team’s season is on the line when it travels to O’Brien Park in Tulsa for the regional meet at 10 a.m. on Saturday.
There are two regions, East and West, with the top seven teams from each region advancing to the state meet. The Pioneers are in the East Region.
With a top seven finish, the Stillwater girls’ cross-country program would qualify for the state meet for the first time since 2002.
Coach David Crynes said he has been honest with the girls about how they stand against the other teams.
“We think there’s five teams that are in, and then we think there’s about six teams that are competing for the last two spots, and we’re right in the thick of that hunt,” Crynes said. “All of the feedback from our workouts and our last three or four weeks of racing were real positive.”
Last season, the Pioneers finished 10th out of 15 teams, and this year won’t be any easier.
The East Region hosts 16 teams this season, including six of the top 10 teams in Class 6A. Among those teams are No. 1 Bartlesville and No. 3 Owasso. Two teams ranked outside of the top 10 are also set to compete in the region.
“We were a little surprised, but going to state is special,” Crynes said. “You have to earn it, and that’s what we plan to do.”
Every year, some teams from the West compete in the East, and this year No. 6 Edmond North and No. 8 Norman North are teams are making the move, something that Crynes said has changed the dynamic of the state.
“We weren’t expecting two top 10 teams to come,” Crynes said. “All of a sudden, there’s 12 or 13 teams on the East side that are capable of going to state.”
For seniors Ella Luttbeg and Rachel Brown, the regional meet will be the biggest race of their running careers. They know one mistake is all it will take to end their hopes and dreams of a state meet berth.
“It’s more than making it to state; it’s whether or not we’ve proven ourselves,” Brown said. “We have worked harder than we ever have before to get here, and if we fall short, it will feel like it was for nothing. This is the one race we have worked for all season.”
For most teams, this time of the cross-country season normally means fewer hard workouts, for strategies become the center of attention. However, Luttbeg said the team plans to take advantage of that.
“This week we did a couple of hard workouts, and we are mentally ready to have a good race,” Luttbeg said. “We have an advantage because we’ve never been in the picture for [other teams]. They won’t be expecting to need to track us.”
Although it has been 13 years since Stillwater has qualified a team for the state meet, it has qualified individuals. In addition to the top seven teams from each region, the top seven individuals from each region not on a qualifying team advance to the state meet.
Junior Elise Rackley is the only girl on the team who has accomplished that feat.
Her freshman year, Rackley qualified for the state meet in the 2-mile run, running a time of 13 minutes, 7 seconds to place 65th.
In 2014, the event length changed to 5,000 kilometers, or 3.1 miles.
Last season, Rackley failed to qualify for the state meet in the 5K after getting disqualified at the finish line for interfering with another runner’s progress.
Although she hopes to atone for her error, Rackley’s main concern is helping Luttbeg and Brown qualify for the state meet.
“It’s really important to perform really well not just for the team, but for [Luttbeg and Brown] because it’s really important for them because it’s their senior year,” Rackley said.
Regardless of whether they advance, Brown said she feels like she has given everything she has to be successful, but she wishes she would have taken cross-country more seriously during her underclassman years.
“I feel confident that I put everything I had into every workout, invested into my team and focused on being the best runner I can be,” Brown said. “I only regret taking so long to get to that point.”