EDMOND — Laynie Nichols could feel the anxiety building.
With her body tensing and muscle relaxation hard to come by, the Claremore senior desperately sought a way to relieve her unease.
She admittedly let those nerves get the better of her at last year’s state meet, leading to one of her slowest times of the season.
To avoid making the same mistake twice, she found a way to break the stronghold gripping her psyching.
The antidote? Praying.
“I had to pray and think about my breathing, and I had to tell myself to relax and just go out and run,” Nichols said. “I have lots of nerves, so I have to calm myself down.”
That act alone removed her from a prison of nervousness to a state of serenity, and it showed during the race.
Free from angst and worry, Nichols paced herself to a second-place finish (of 110 runners) with a time of 19 minutes, 25 seconds in the 5K—3.1 miles—at the Class 5A cross-country state meet at Edmond Santa Fe on Saturday afternoon.
Bishop Kelley’s Ella Eureste won the individual championship in 19:15, leading the Lady Comets to the team title with 25 points.
The Lady Zebras tallied 294 points, finishing 12th of 14 teams.
Nichols credited her 55-second improvement from last year’s finish to her faith, citing her habitual praying as her aid through the toughest stretches of the race.
“Praying has a lot to do with it,” Nichols said. “I try to give my anxiety to God and not focus on it all by myself. Praying helps get your mind off if your body is hurting; just having someone to talk to.
“You’re not by yourself throughout the rest of the race.”
Staying within striking distance of Eureste was Nichols’ main objective heading into the race, and though she didn’t win, she accomplished just that.
The friendly rivals separated from the pack early and led for the entirety of the competition.
Eureste’s teammate Abigail Hills managed to close the gap between second and third later on, but she still finished eight seconds behind Nichols.
Nichols said she was comfortable with the quick pace she and Eureste set, but it began taking its toll on her body with about half a mile remaining.
“I saw (Eureste) pick it up a little bit, so I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to do the same,’” Nichols said. “At around that time, I was like, ‘Woah, my body is feeling it.’”
She didn’t get discouraged when Eureste pulled away for good, though.
Instead, Nichols shifted her focus to holding off Hills and securing second place.
She wasn’t about to drop to the bronze medal. Not after all the effort she exerted to keep pace with Eureste.
“I wasn’t thinking, ‘I’m not going to win this, so I’m going to slow down,’” Nichols said. “It was, ‘I have to keep this pace or pick it up because I’m not going to get third.’
“It was good to come out at state this year and get the time I was wanting and place second if not first, so I’m pretty happy with how it went.”
Wofford, Stokes set PR’s
Emily Wofford felt cross-country wasn’t for her.
She gave the sport a try in seventh and eighth grade, but after seeing minimal improvements to her times, she decided to refocus her efforts toward pole vault and track.
“It was fun, and I loved it,” Wofford said of cross-country. “But freshman year, I didn’t think I was that good at it, so I just didn’t do it again.”
However, she had a change of heart after qualifying for the state meet in the pole vault during her freshman year last spring.
“I decided to really focus on running because I really needed to,” Wofford said. “So I decided to join cross-country again.”
She is glad she did.
The sophomore clocked in at 25:25 on Saturday, shattering her previous personal best of 26:58 by 1:33 in the process to place 107th overall and 93rd among eligible point scorers.
She said her significantly increased pace hurt at first, but she was determined to beat as many people as she could while running her fastest time of the season.
“I was nervous, but I wanted to run hard and push myself in a way I haven’t yet,” Wofford said. “I really think I did that. This year, I really worked at it and tried to get better.
“Dedication and passion are what you need for (cross-country).”
It was a rough start to the season for Carolina Stokes.
The junior opened the year with a time of 27:27 at Claremore’s home meet on Sept. 6, beating out only seven runners.
She ran two seconds slower at the Booker T. Washington meet a week later, and she lingered in the 26-minute range for most of the season.
She managed a 25:21 at the regional meet in Sand Springs on Oct. 26, but even that was nearly two minutes off her personal-best time of 23:44, set her sophomore year.
Despite the letdowns, Stokes never let up at practice, and that hard work paid off on Saturday.
She experienced a breakthrough at the state meet, crossing the finish line at the 23:36-mark to beat her season best by 1:45 and her personal best by eight seconds.
She was the third-highest Claremore finisher behind only Nichols and junior Kate Bustamante (22:32), placing 88th overall and 74th among eligible point scorers.
Bustamante came within one second of tying her own personal best.
“I think with pushing hard at practice, it got a lot better throughout the year,” Stokes said. “I ended up where I wanted to finish this year.”
Stokes runs the 1,600 and 3,200-meter races in track, and her favorable finish has her optimistic for what the spring season will bring.
“It makes me feel pretty good about the season coming up and that I can actually do well,” Stokes said. “I’m also really excited about next cross-country season.”
Claremore finishes: 2. Laynie Nichols, 19:25; 61/49 Kate Bustamante, 22:32; 88/74 Carolina Stokes, 23:36; 95/81 Erin Kuykendall, 23:46; 102/88 Ainsley Hendrickson, 24:17; 104/90 Hailey Burden, 24:45; 107/93 Emily Wofford, 25:25.