Roberts surprises at Tonganoxie Invitational
If De Soto cross country coach Chris McAfee can't convince Melissa Roberts that she is capable of medaling at the Kansas 4A state cross country meet in late October, maybe her latest performance will.
Roberts erased 50 seconds from her previous personal-best effort in leading the Wildcats to the team championship Sept. 23 at the Tonganoxie Invitational.
The fourth-place effort of 12 minutes, 22 seconds not only placed her in fourth place on the school's top 20 personal records list but also put her in some elite company.
Just three runners at De Soto have set personal standards higher than Roberts.
In 1993, Alison Lawrence blazed to a personal and Wildcat best of 11:34 at the Holton Invitational.
Jamie Lightwine was timed twice at 11:48. The first time she ran the second-fastest personal best in school history was at her team's regional meet at Garnett in 1993. She did it again in 1995 at Wyandotte Park while running at the Kaw Valley championship.
Emily Dexter also set her personal standard in 1995 when she finished with a time of 12:01 at the Wyandotte Park course.
"The past couple of years Melissa's race strategy was to start conservatively and move up," McAfee said, "That gave her confidence. Now we're trying to get her out more aggressively."
Roberts doesn't want to settle for being just another runner at De Soto.
"She has been pushing the pace more in practice," McAfee said. "She wants to be the lead girl. She wants to beat everybody."
Roberts started her race Thursday at a pretty quick pace and felt pretty good running it. Once she realized she could hold that pace, she started to really hammer it home.
"She was closing the gap in the last mile," McAfee said. "Had she had a little more time she possibly could have caught the lead pack. She's a tough kid with a lot of confidence and determination."
The Wildcats received a good effort from their No. 6 runner as well. In fact, Lauren Karnitz ran such a good race that all six runners for the Wildcats landed in the top-16 spots. Karnitz placed 16th in the race with a time of 13:09.
"She's at the point now where she's probably saying, 'I got the hang of it. I like it. Now let's see what I can do with it,'" McAfee said of his sophomore. "Her attitude is changing from being timid to 'I think I can do it.'"
Finishing between Roberts and Karnitz were Morgan Frehe, Andrea Young, Katie James and Carrie Wilbert.
Frehe, who has been the Wildcats' top runner for most of the year, was just four seconds behind Roberts in sixth place.
Young (12:48) and James (12:52) gave De Soto four runners in the top 10 with eighth- and 10th-place finishes.
Wilbert guaranteed herself a spot in the top 15 when she earned a 14th-place medal with a time of 13:08.
Leslie Hodges and Jazz Roddick ran on the junior varsity team. Hodges was 21st in a time of 15:47. Roddick placed 41st in a time of 16:53.
Casey Johnson led the way again for the Wildcats by blasting out to the lead and cruising to a 17-second win over Tonganoxie's Andy Kolman.
Johnson, who led the race from start to finish, saw Kolman in the corner of his eye but was never truly threatened by the Chieftain runner.
"I guess his goal was to run with Casey as long as he could," McAfee said. "He was close enough to make Casey nervous but never really threatened him."
Donnie Gardner also made a strong showing with his fourth-place effort of 17:15.
Tanner McNamara gave De Soto its third top-10 finish when he crossed the finish line in a 10th-place time of 17:44.
Although the top three Wildcat runners pleased McAfee with their performances, the four, five and six runners did not.
"They didn't do any of the things we talked about prior to the race," McAfee said. "We didn't give ourselves a chance."
What's even more disheartening is the fact that Tonganoxie was the only team to defeat the Wildcats.
A week earlier, De Soto handed the Chieftains an 85-point thrashing at the Rim Rock Classic in Lawrence.
This week, however, Tonganoxie placed six runners in front of De Soto's top four.
Adam Wilcox (28th, 18:32), Alex Wayne (29th, 18:33), Jerin Riffel (30th, 18:38) and Matt Woywod (40th, 19:06) all ran for the Wildcats.
De Soto will be in action again at about 11 a.m. Saturday at the Oklahoma State Cowboy Jamboree.
The annual event draws ranging from 9,000 to 10,000 runners to Stillwater, Okla.