Last Saturday was a pretty good day in a season of good days for Switzerland County junior cross country sensation Leah Anders.
Not only did she qualify to run in this Saturday’s IHSAA state cross country meet in Terre Haute, but she set a new school record in the process.
Anders covered the semistate course at Brown County – the same course she finished fourth overall on at the Regional, in a record-setting time of 19:04 – which beat the previous record set by Whitley Schirmer of 19:19 by 15 seconds.
In reaching the state meet, Anders becomes just the fourth Lady Pacer to achieve the level, joining Patience Meyer (2003), Amanda Hon (2005), and Schirmer (2013 and 2015).
The state meet will be run at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course, Wabash Valley Sports Center, 599 S. Tabortown Road, Terre Haute, Indiana, 47803. The girls race will be run at 1:45 p.m.; and those who can’t make the trip can also watch the live stream of the race at www.ISHAAtv.org.
This past Saturday, Anders ran in the semistate as an individual, having run along with her Switzerland County teammates through the season, as well as at the Sectional and Regional meets.
“I was pretty nervous on the start line, I was like shaking and stuff,” Anders said of the semistate race. “There was a girl in the box with me that kept talking to me, and I just didn’t want to talk, because I was very nervous.”
Anders said that the race, especially over the first mile, was packed, as some of the best runners in the state jockeyed for position coming off of the starting line.
“The top 20 was just in one big, huge group,” she said. “There were maybe like 180 runners. It was fast.”
Anders said that runners are assigned to specific “boxes” at the start line, which spreads the competitors out rather than having a big group in one spot. On Saturday, she will run out of box #8. She said that there are usually 2-3 other runners in each box.
At the semistate, Anders said that she needed to find her way out of the big pack.
“The first mile, there was this huge group of us, the first place girl was right in front of me because we were all in one big group,” she said. “After that, it kind of spread out, but there were still people all around me. I was passing people and getting passed the whole time. My coaches told me before to try and stay around the top 20, so I knew I had to stay in that range. They were telling me what place I was in as I would run by. There were people all over the place.”
Anders said that she tries to make mental plans for how her race is going to go – but admits that once the race starts, she doesn’t really follow them.
“I don’t really think a lot during the race,” she says. “I just feel like I just keep trying to pass the person right in front of me. If there’s someone in front of me, I just work on trying to pass them.”
Working to pass other runners is a rare feeling for Anders, as she’s spent the entire season leading nearly every pack she’s run in, racking up individual win titles all along the way – including being the first Lady Pacer runner to ever win the individual Sectional championship. Being used to running in front, reaching higher levels of the state meets has meant doing some adjusting.
“We had a workout before Regionals, and my coach ran it with me to get me used to someone being there, running with me, because he knew I wouldn’t be used to it,” Anders said.
Anders will again run as an individual, but there will also be teams in Terre Haute vying for the State Championship, as well as an individual champion being crowned.
Anders said that she has run on the state championship course before, having attended camps there in the summer; and after traveling to Terre Haute tomorrow (Friday) night, she will have the chance to run the course that evening; as well as see the course on Saturday prior to the beginning of the race.
A map of the course found on the IHSAA website shows the course beginning with a long, straight stretch that covers approximately 600 meters before the runners hit a series of turns and curves. That long stretch should sort out the packs early in the race.
Leah’s expectations on Saturday include finishing in the top 50 overall, but doesn’t want to get bogged down in those expectations.
“Truthfully, I don’t have a lot of expectations,” she smiles. “I’m just going to go and run as fast as I can, there’s not really a lot of pressure on it.”