They were smiling so wide it hurt near the Seymour encampment after the Columbus North cross-country regional Saturday.
It is remarkable what a low-key pep talk about maintaining a low-key mental outlook can do for the brain. Coach Spencer Sunbury’s remain-calm-and-collected speech contained the proper magic words.
Somehow, the Owls kept their minds loose and their muscles taut and put together their finest 5-kilometer race of the season to place third as a team, set personal bests and advance to next Saturday’s semistate competition in Brown County.
“Coach just said to stay relaxed,” said sophomore Kinsley Folsom, who was the first Seymour finisher and recorded the type of personal-record time she has been chasing all season. “I got my PR. I felt so strong and comfortable.”
Folsom was clocked in at 19 minutes, 31 seconds, and freshman Vivienne Siefker also broke 20 in 19:52. Hayley Harpe, who before this fall never competed at a distance longer than 400 meters, nearly joined them under that barrier in a best of 20:06.
Harpe said the Owls brought a “nothing to lose here” attitude to the regional. If they ran this way, the season continued. If they didn’t, the season could be over.
“The team was amazing,” Siefker said.
Powerhouse Columbus North won the team crown with 19 points, placing all seven of its runners in the top 10 behind winner Makenzie Barnett’s 18:04. Brown County was second with 85 points and Seymour third with 105.
The top five teams and 10 individuals not affiliated with those teams advance to semistate next Saturday at Brown County.
Seymour’s scorers were Folsom 11th, Siefker 13th, Harpe 15th, Samantha Jacobi 30th in 21:26 and Grace Lewis 61st in 23:13. This was Lewis’ second-quickest time of the season.
“It was just the right weather and just the right time,” Lewis said of how the team performed.
Usual No. 5 Lillian Sunbury has been sidelined with an injury.
Coach Sunbury has been surprised with how well Jacobi has done coming back from an injury that cost her a few weeks of practice.
“For her to run like that today was unbelievable,” he said.
The Ceraland course was friendly in terms of it featuring few hills. Some runners dislike the long straightaway finish, though.
“That straightaway is a beast,” Harpe said. “But that’s honestly better than the hills. It was a good race. That’s just what we needed.”
There was frost on the ground when the teams arrived, but the sun grew brighter and the weather warmed up in timely fashion as the mid-morning race began. It was a day to seize for a fast time.
“It was freezing and then the sun came out,” Jacobi said. “It’s almost perfect weather to run in.”
Jacobi said she felt stronger than expected without putting in miles and doing substitute workouts recently.
“I biked, but it’s really not the same,” she said.
The regional was owned by Columbus North, which had five runners under 19 minutes and set the front-running pace. Folsom and Siefker went out with the leaders and hung in as long as they could.
“I wanted to get out at the head of the pack,” Folsom said, seeking to avoid congestion in a race that had 81 finishers. “If you don’t, you’re trying to pick your way through the pack to get to where you’re supposed to be.”
Siefker, who was slowed by an injury at the beginning of the season, has been running faster by the week, and her goal was to get under 17.
“I wanted to do it somewhere this season,” she said. “The course is so quick.”
Brown County’s course is at least as fast and that sets up intriguing possibilities for the next round.
“Semistate, here we come,” Siefker said.
Coach Sunbury is already thinking up another speech.
“We want to race like this again,” he said.