EDMOND — With nobody really even close behind her, Claremore sophomore cross country runner Laynie Nichols turned right on the last turn and headed down the final stretch toward the finish line.
Nichols had been in this position before. She won the 5A state cross country championship last year as a freshman, and Saturday at Edmond High School, she did it again.
Her repeat championship time of 19:30 was 15 seconds faster than runner-up Rory Greer of Grove. Nichols’ teammate Katelyn Alexander finished six seconds behind Greer and beat Coweta’s Emerson Turner for her second third-place state finish in a row.
“They ran awesome,” said Claremore coach Eric Wiens.
Awesome is right. A 1-3 finish still wasn’t enough to overcome state champion Bishop Kelley. The Lady Comets finished with 55 team points to Claremore’s 67.
But still, nobody was complaining.
Nichols didn’t seem very winded after crossing the finish line. She could have kept going, and wasn’t going to make this race as close as her regional championship race where she won by five seconds — which is considered a photo finish in Laynie Land.
“I was bound and determined to get up there,” Nichols said. “I wouldn’t say it’s my best performance, but I felt good while I did it.”
Nichols admits it was harder to breath in the cold air Saturday, but her body responded by getting her out to a large early lead. She never took the time to look back at her competition — she just imaged they were right on her heels.
“I do not like looking behind me because that only makes me that much more nervous,” Nichols said. “It might be better for me because I think I run better with nerves.”
For Wiens, it was nice to see his star runner win again.
“We weren’t 100 percent sure where she was going to be this week,” Wiens said. “I think she struggled a bit at regionals — her health wasn’t 100 percent last week and she came through (at state) and ran great.”
Alexander was running around sixth place for most of the race, but in the final portion of the course, turned on the jets and finished third in 19:51.
“My brother (RSU cross country runner Ryan Alexander) was running around the course cheering for me,” she said. “He really pushed me to do what I didn’t think I could do.”
Wiens had seen this before from his senior, who ran her final race as a Zebra.
“We knew Katelyn, being a senior, being strong like she is — she did awesome getting third,” Wiens said. “That last 1,000 meters, she focuses. She did really good that last 1,000. She had just enough in her tank.”
Kassidy Hannah and Gloria Butts finished side by side, taking 22nd and 23rd place, respectively. Erin Kuykendall was 28th, Lauren Kuykendall was 49th and Bailey Pritchett was 58th.
The boys team finished 12th, led by Andrew Vanaman’s 17th place finish. Johnson Long was 48th.
Vanaman, who led the Zebras all season, got caught up in a massive crowd at the start, and couldn’t catch up. This was also his final high school race.
In all, Wiens will take Saturday’s performance home with a smile. So will Nichols and Alexander.
Alexander let her emotions spill out down the chute of the finish line.
“It feels amazing,” she said. “I didn’t know if I could do it, but God gave me a lot of strength today. I’m just glad I have the teammates that I have and that we can push each other and glorify God through the whole thing.”
Alexander wants to continue her running career at the next level. She has narrowed her choices to Rogers State and the University of Central Oklahoma.
“I will make my decision later,” she said.
As for Nichols, she still has two more high school seasons to make her lasting mark on the school records.
And a possibly four state championship would certainly be a record nobody would ever beat. Her coach thinks she can do it.
“She could, she very easily could,” Wiens said. “Keep her focused on running and I think four in a row is definitely a possibility.”
Is four in a row in the cards for the “little engine that could?”
“I’ll sure try,” Nichols said.
Girls: Bishop Kelley 55, Claremore 67, Elgin 104, Durant 140, Guthrie 157, Bishop McGuinness 164, Guymon 201, Coweta 203, Tahlequah 204, Grove 228, Altus 231, Collinsville 241.
1. Laynie Nichols 19:30
3. Katelyn Alexander 19:51
22. Kassidy Hannah 20:59
23. Gloria Butts 21:00
28. Erin Kuykendall 21:02
49. Lauren Kuykendall 22:06
58. Bailey Pritchett 23:03
Boys: Guymon 66, Piedmont 71, Bishop Kelley 99, Carl Albert 99, Bishop McGuinness 138, Santa Fe South 186, Tahlequah 195, Guthrie 230, Collinsville 235, Duncan 243, Noble 281, Claremore 291, Coweta 319, Elgin 335.
17. Andrew Vanaman 17:11
48. Johnson Long 17:58
83. Reid Willhoit 18:39
89. Blaine Phillippi 19:03
97. Blake Phillippi 19:21
98. Buck Davis 19:22
103. Alex Wiseman 20:01