Even when faced with cold and rainy days, Claremore cross-country coach Eric Wiens doesn’t like to deviate from typical workouts.
So despite temperatures lingering in the 40s and 30s for most of the week, he didn’t hesitate to send his team outside for runs.
To Wiens, changing things up the week of the state meet wouldn’t be a great idea, regardless of the weather.
The Zebras compete in the Class 5A state meet today at Edmond Santa Fe High School. The girls are set to run at noon, followed by the boys race at 12:45 p.m.
Zebra runners begin practice with 15-minute stretches and a 10 or 12-minute warmup followed by that day’s respective workout.
Aside from Wednesday, everything stuck to the status quo this week.
“We didn’t send them out (Wednesday) because it was a little too rainy and too cold,” Wiens said. “We did a couple of 10-minute runs inside and stretched real good and then took off. Tuesday was still pretty cold and rainy, but they went out and did about a 4-mile run. We had a tough practice on Monday with our 1,000s routine.”
Wiens said he hopes sticking to the routine helps Claremore reach its goals of placing the girls in the top 10 and the boys in the top five.
According to ohstrack.com, the girls come into the race ranked eighth, and the boys are No. 7.
Although the boys seemingly have some work to do for the desired finish, Wiens is optimistic.
He said he believes every member of the girls team has a decent chance to log a personal best, while Michael McMorris and Tyler Douthitt are names to keep an eye on in the boys race alongside perennial contender Jack Vincent.
“I think we can accomplish that, but it’s just one of those wait and see things,” Wiens said. “At state, everything is fair game. Sometimes it never comes out the way you want it to.”
Leading the way for the girls is two-time state champion Laynie Nichols.
The senior bested the field her freshman and sophomore years, but she was unseated by Bishop Kelley’s Ella Eureste last season.
Eureste, now a sophomore, beat her again last weekend at the regional meet in Sand Springs, but Nichols isn’t conceding defeat just yet.
“She’s a strong competitor and a really good runner,” Nichols said. “I do believe I have a good chance if I can get my head in the right spot. It’s hard not running against her until regionals and state. So at regionals, I’m like, ‘OK, she’s still right where I knew she was.’ Having that knowledge, I can really prepare for her. I know how she runs, and I know her strengths. She has a good finish, so I just need to make sure I get the job done.”
Nichols has run the Edmond Santa Fe course many times throughout her career, so she already knows her strategy for the race’s opening moments.
The course narrows after about 300 meters, so to avoid the risk of getting boxed in by a cluster of fellow runners, Nichols plans to take an early lead.
“No matter what course it is, I like to get out fast and set the pace,” Nichols said. “I don’t want to be stuck in a group and have to work my way through it to get to the pace I want to be at.
“Same thing for the state course. Get out fast, settle into a pace, try to hold on until the finish and kick it in at the end.”
Vincent has the exact opposite approach as he tries to improve upon last year’s fourth-place finish.
A quick start has burned him in the past, so he is looking to take advantage of other contenders’ paces.
“I don’t want to lead the race,” Vincent said. “Last year, I made the mistake of trying to lead it and ended up not having anything left at the end. I don’t want to set the pace. I want to go with (the leaders), hang with them and at the right time, I’ll know when to make a move.
“I don’t have a target time; my goal is to just win the race. I’d like for it to be a fast race, but I’d rather win with a slow time than get second with a fast time.”
Competing against Vincent for that top spot will be defending state champion Christian Arenivar of Santa Fe South and the 2017 champion, Guymon’s Dereje Himbago.
Himbago is back in Oklahoma after spending a year in Washington, and he is certainly hungry to reclaim his spot atop Class 5A.
Arenivar and Himbago might be the favorites on paper, but Vincent said he knows all to well what it is like to lose as a projected winner.
“Last spring in the 800, I went in thinking it was my race to win, and I got second,” Vincent said. “I go with the mindset that that can happen to anybody. Anybody can beat anybody on any given day, so I think I have as good of a chance as anybody else who is contending for it.”
Claremore girls: Laynie Nichols, Erin Kuykendall, Kate Bustamante, Ainsley Hendrickson, Hailey Burden, Carolina Stokes, Emily Wofford.
Claremore boys: Jack Vincent, Michael McMorris, Tyler Douthitt, Aiden Boyd, Blake Phillippi, Blaine Phillippi, Talon Woody.