With the 2013 girls' cross country season still motoring on, Daniel Boone High School senior Alex Santora is soaking up everything she can in her last year of high school. With help from head coach Russ Keith and the other upperclassmen on the team, Santora is making sure the younger girls are ready to take charge next year.
"I've loved running ever since I was little,' Santora said. "I was always excited to participate in track in middle school, but I never really had thought about cross country because of the tedium of it. However, when I was in eighth grade, I had a friend on the high school cross country team who suggested I join. I thought about it, came to a couple of summer runs, and I ended up sticking with it.'
The cross country team finished 14-1 this season, which was identical to how they finished last year. The team also finished second in the county and fifth at districts.
"I was very pleased with that outcome,' said Santora. "Our team goals included having an undefeated season, which we came so close to, but we had a couple of injuries that held us back. However, we still had a good year.
"Individually, I was real happy that I had a 5k personal record of over a minute this year,' Santora continued, "That was a huge jump for me. I also had my best finish at counties. It was my most consistent season to date.'
The senior noted that in midsummer, the team was really coming together and looking good, but two of the team's top five runners struggled with injuries and set the team back. Santora thought that the team ended up doing considerably well under the circumstances. The team finished second in the county, a feat the team has accomplished just one other time in its history.
"My goal coming into this season was to try to break 20:30 in a 5k,' Santora said, "I ended up running a 19:39. I was really excited about doing that at the Penn State Invitational early in the season. I also broke 20 again at the Council Rock Invitational when I ran 19:54. In both of those meets I was in the top 15, and I medaled.
"Another one of my goals was to run a good race at the county meet. The last two years I haven't really had a good showing, but this year I ran well and placed 13th. I think, all-in-all, I'm pretty satisfied with my season.'
Santora said that her mindset going into a season was to just have fun. "When you start a season,' the senior said, "it's easy to get caught up in the competition of it. But then you have to remember why we're out there doing it — because we love it — and you can free your mind while you run, talking to teammates, blowing off steam, but we're also getting things done at the same time.'
The senior noted to keep a clear mind on the course; she tries to focus on one specific thing.
"If we're running a really challenging course,' Santora said, "I focus on the top of a big hill (if there is one) and count as soon as the hill has been passed. That helps you get past the obstacle, and it helps you zone in on your goals, and not put too much stress on yourself.'
Running cross country is the most challenging sport out there, according to the senior.
"You have to give 100% every day,' said Santora. "Other sports may have a conditioning day or days, but every day for us is conditioning day. In a regular day we take an hour run, and it does take a physical toll. Mentally it's also tough when you train so hard for as long as we do and you have a bad showing. You have to stay focused in on what the goal is and the fact that you put in the work and at one point, it'll all work out at some point.'
To keep everything in check for herself, Santora says she just keeps thinking how great it feels when she has that good race.
"It's really hard when you have that bad race and you question everything you've done up to that point — and then you have that good race,' she said. "It's the best feeling in the world, and you just have to focus on what you're getting out of it.'
At the District 3 meet, Santora said she performed well. "I had goals of possibly medaling,' she noted, "That didn't happen, but I was okay with it because I ran a 25 second course personal best. I cut some time off of what I did last year and I can't be upset about running that much faster. I also qualified individually for states, which I'm really excited about, and it's the second year I'm doing that.'
As a team at the meet, Santora said the team finished fifth, which was a hard pill to swallow, but she had to just focus then on the fact that she had made states individually, and is trying to look forward to that.
"Missing out on states as a team was very hard for us, and it was emotional,' Santora noted, "It took a toll on us, especially after we had done so well during the year. We had one of our assistant coaches constantly updating the results for us, and the news came across that we finished fifth — by seven points — we all were beside ourselves, and it was really hard, especially for the seniors who had gotten injured earlier in the year. We felt like we let each other down, but then we realized we're all into the sport, we ran with heart, and we did everything that we could possibly do, and if it wasn't enough, it wasn't enough.'
As for the future, Santora said she knows the team will be in good hands.
"I think they have a lot of potential,' she said. "They're losing three seniors, but they'll have underclassmen that are poised to do some good things. They looked really good this year, and they're excited to be moving up. They'll definitely be able to step it up and replace what will be lost. I think they'll be just as competitive as we were this season.'