Kayla Harp almost had a state title herself in Class 3A, but it was a fabulous near miss.
The Sequoyah senior and Phoenix Cross Country Female Athlete of the Year finished the girls 3,200 meters in 12 minutes, 19.66 seconds, second behind Jones freshman Tabitha Jones’ 12:11.35.
That’s up from 15th as a junior, finishing in 13:12.
What a difference a year makes — not to mention an attitude adjustment that accompanied a change in strategy.
“Last year I’d burn myself out in the first mile, get left behind and kind of gave up,” she said. “I was a very negative runner and this being my senior year, I knew I had to do something different.”
She became a more patient runner, and she had to be patient with her body as well after encountering hip issues during track season in the spring, falling from a fifth-place time of 12:21.02 in the 3,200 there to a 13:24.20 in the Meet of Champions that followed.
“I’d go to the chiropractor three times a week, eventually getting it down to once a week just realigning it,” she said. “I worked more on strength training so it didn’t really bug me too much this fall. When I switched to more speed training I’d have to take it easy a couple days, ice it and be smart.
“And that’s what I did strategy-wise too. I quit burning myself out getting out too fast.”
It was the right strategy, said her coach, Sam Horsechief.
“She ran it just right,” Horsechief said. “We always talk about the finish. She had stayed about fifth for a long time and the last 1,000 meters she burned all her kicks off, the one girl came back on her and beat her the last 150 meters,” Horsechief said.
“She’s had such a good career. The only time she hasn’t medaled the last three years in either the fall or spring (1,600 or 3,200) was last year in cross country. She’s a tough little girl who cares about other people and is really supportive of them.”
That was reciprocated during the state run. Fans cheering her on were not just Sequoyah fans, but Marietta and Adair followers too.
“I’ve been racing against the Adair girls since seventh grade. Marietta, I’ve been racing against since my freshman year and I’m going to college with two of them. So as the years have gone by, we’ve all been supportive of each other.” Harp said.
Her college intentions, originally, focused on Northwestern Oklahoma until its coach. Brock Hime, moved to Arkansas Tech. Harp’s heart went with the coach she initially met when teammates were recruited at Northwestern.
“I got to know him and loved what he was doing at Northwestern. And his wife was an incredible runner,” she said, referring to Regan (Ward) Hime, who became an all-SEC distance runner at the University of Arkansas after a nine-time state champion runner in cross country and track at Beggs. “When he moved, he had me up for an unofficial visit, I fell in love with the school and campus and liked his plans for the program.”