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A meet to remember: Ruhala, Lovejoy boys make the cut at state
After a year that spanned multiple cities and states, the Lovejoy cross country season came to an end Saturday at the Class 4A State Meet from Old Settlers Park in Round Rock.
And the Leopards appear to have saved their best for last.
"I felt like [senior Katie Ruhala] and the guys had their best efforts of the season and that is all you can ask for at an end-of-season race," said Greg Christensen, Lovejoy head coach. "This was a meet I will remember for a long time in that I feel it was the meet that made the big leap for our program."
On a course that featured plenty of wind, dust and heat, Ruhala and the Lovejoy boys both finished in the top 10, with the latter doing so in the team competition.
Saturday was Ruhala's fourth trip to state, having won the Class 3A State Championship in 2010 as a sophomore and placing fourth as a freshman and second as a junior. Previously running at the 3A level, Ruhala's transition to 4A yielded another state placing as she finished ninth (19:03.66).
Ruhala was in the top 15 after the first mile and moved up from there.
"In the week leading up to the race we had been talking about the importance of laying off the fast early mile and moving through miles two and three," Christensen said. "From there she executed the race plan and worked her way up to seventh after two miles. In the third mile she continued to move and gain ground on the leaders but, in this race, the leaders also had some extra gears and were able to hold their places."
That provided Ruhala with another state placing in her varsity finale.
"During her career at Lovejoy, Katie always carried herself with poise, confidence and underlying humility and grace that she will pass on to our younger girls as a perfect example of what Lovejoy distance running is all about," Christensen said. "We're all so thankful for what she has done for the program and I know the younger girls are anxious to make her proud next year."
The Lovejoy boys made their program proud as well.
The Leopards finished seventh (176 points) in the team competition, which was won by Boerne Champion (55).
Leading the way for Lovejoy was the trio of junior Kendall Joiner (35th place, 17:00.79), sophomore Grant Ballard (54th, 17:28.14) and senior Mike Jones (63rd, 17:35.46).
"Kendall and Mike were terrific in getting with the Highland Park guys and breaking up their pack," Christensen said. "Grant was right behind them at the mile, but made a huge move during the second mile and that proved huge for our scoring having him as our No. 2 runner."
Also aiding in the team scoring were freshman Noah Landguth (69th, 17:45.89) and senior Evan Hartter (77th, 17:54.02).
"Evan had a huge last 800 in running down Highland Park's fifth man near the finish," Christensen said.
Lovejoy's quintet placed seventh, just two points back of sixth-place Georgetown.
"I felt like each and every one of the guys had exactly the races we needed and that not a one of them left the course thinking they could have given any more," Christensen said.
Much like Ruhala, Christensen feels these boys have set up future teams for success.
"These guys have the team headed in the right direction in our new classification," he said, "and they have shown our younger runners the dedication, drive, attention to detail and desire that it will take to make a run for the podium next November."
But before focusing on next year, Lovejoy will official wrap 2012 during tonight's team banquet.
"It's hard to believe our time with these seniors is over for cross country," Christensen said. "But I am so thankful for all they have given to Lovejoy and this program."