A "rabbit" is well known in the running world.

The rabbit is an informal name for a runner who leads a middle or long distance running event for the first sections to ensure a fast time and to avoid excessive tactical racing.

Rabbits run for the first portion of high profile races and then peel off before completing the race, allowing the other runners to finish with the best times possible.

Claremore has its own rabbit — Jack Vincent. The difference is he starts out front but doesn't peel off until he crosses the finish line, like he did at last Saturday's 5A regional. Vincent won the regional meet and is a favorite to win again in Saturday's 5A State Cross Country Championships at Edmond Santa Fe High School.

So, the nickname "Jack Rabbit" is appropriate.

"I got that a few times, but not as often as I would like," Vincent said of his "Rabbit" moniker.

Also in the hunt for a state championship is junior Laynie Nichols, who really doesn't need a nickname except for "two-time state champion."

She is searching for a third straight individual championship Saturday.

This may be the toughest title yet for Nichols. A new freshman on the block, Bishop Kelley's Ella Eureste, has been tearing up courses this season and is the best runner on the best team in 5A. Eureste beat Nichols by 24 seconds at the regional last Saturday.

But Nichols has experience on her side, and has run on the Santa Fe course four times prior to upcoming the championship race.

"Strategy … We've got it all figured out," Nichols said.

Team titles are probably not in the cards for Claremore. But a top five finish would be a successful team finish for the Zebra runners.

"My ultimate goal, and it's a long shot, is a top five finish for the girls and the boys," Claremore coach Eric Wiens said. "Sometimes we tend to overshoot it, but I'd rather overshoot than undershoot. I think our boys are really primed and the girls are going to do really well also."

The girls race begins at 10 a.m., and the boys follow at 10:45 a.m.

JACK "RABBIT" VINCENT

Last year, Vincent played football instead of running cross country. He was a star on the track in the spring, but he hadn't run the 5K for the Zebras until this season. Now, he's a regional champion.

"I was playing football and I enjoyed that," Vincent said. "But as I started getting better at track, I started seeing the difference that cross country could make. All the other good runners I knew were all cross country runners and I just took the hint after a while."

Wiens is happy he did. Vincent broke the school cross country record this season and has been a blessing both on the course and the track.

"It's his first year out for cross country and even though it's running, it's still a new sport," Wiens said. "It takes getting used to. You've got to figure out how to race and run in a 5K race and he's starting to figure that out."

After Vincent won the state 800-meter championship last spring, he has continued to run, which is why is the one to beat Saturday.

"I started running with a club in Tulsa and ran in USA Track and Field meets and ended up going to nationals and doing pretty well," he said. "I've been running ever since track season ended."

As the season has progressed, so has Vincent. Wiens sees him as one of the favorites to bring home an individual title.

"He loves the thrill of the race," Wiens said. "He'll sit back and let somebody do all the work and then pass them at the end, or he'll pull somebody too fast where they can't keep up at the end. He's really a smart runner."

Wiens said there are good runners from the west side of the state who beat Vincent earlier in the season, but as their times have risen, Vincent's have continued to drop. He is peaking at the right time.

Vincent is focused on that gold medal. He has punched the clock, put in the work ... and Saturday is payday.

"It's looking pretty good right now," Vincent said. "I have the fastest time of the two regionals. It's hard comparing different courses with different times, but I like my chances at state. The other runners at state are good runners and I've raced against them before. I know how they run, and I think I have a pretty good shot."

LAYNIE NICHOLS

As a junior, Nichols knows what it is like to burst onto the scene.

As a freshman, she already had a reputation from breaking all sorts of running records at Justus-Tiawah. She won immediately in high school. She won regional and state championships as a freshman and sophomore.

Nichols doesn't possess long legs like many prototypical cross country runners. Once asked how she does it, she replied "I take a lot of steps."

She is now the veteran, and another freshman is threatening to take what is hers. Ella Eureste, the freshman phenom from Bishop Kelley, is going to be difficult to beat if the little Zebra wants to win her third straight state championship.

"Laynie is a phenomenal runner," Wiens said. "(Eureste) is going to be tough for Laynie to beat. I think it's going to be a pretty phenomenal race."

At the regional meet, Nichols followed Eureste for half the race, right on her heels. But while Eureste pulled away late, Nichols gained a lot of knowledge about her opponent. And, with the help of Wiens, has a strategy for success.

Was Nichols setting up Eureste at regionals?

"That wasn't my intention," Nichols said. "But I feel like, and what we've though about, is I have a good chance at catching her."

This season, Nichols has been posting times of just under 19 minutes for the 5K races. She expects to knock a significant amount of time off her state time, hoping for low 19s or better.

If she posts that time, can she cross the line ahead of Eureste? She might be the favorite, but she isn't the two-time champ.

"It's a lot (being the defending state champ)," Nichols said. "But it helps me and pushes me to continue to try to keep that title."

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