Freshman rebounds to capture state bid
It wasn't clear in the days leading up to Saturday's regional cross country race whether Juan Ramirez had a realistic chance of earning a trip to the Class 4A state meet.
Ramirez, a freshman, appeared a sure thing earlier in the season as he blitzed across courses and into the conciseness of the area opponents.
A hip injury slowed him for the last two races, however, and his times and placings began to slip.
A runner needs to finish in the top 10 at regionals or be one of the first four runners not on a state qualifying team, it was unclear whether a hobbled Ramirez would make it -- at least until Saturday's race started.
Ramirez cleared any questions up quickly, dashing across the difficult and hilly five-kilometer course just south of Ottawa to finishing eighth in 18 minutes, five seconds.
"It felt good," Ramirez said, his white teeth on display to the world.
He barely broke the smile as he continued to dig deep for a breath even 15 minutes after his race was over, the excitement stealing his breath more than the lingering effects of the race.
"Felt great," he said, catching up. "That was a goal I set over the summer. It was a goal, but it was out in space. Eudora coach Boone and I talked and he said 'You have to work at it.'"
It took work in the summer, work through the season and most definitely work Saturday at Ottawa.
Ramirez did everything he could to make it a sure thing on one the hilliest courses the Cardinals had ever seen.
He broke away early and ran near the race's lead group as the trail wound around a lake and down -- then up again -- a steep hill that featured the start the finish.
Many of the runners that tore out with the lead group burned out on the slopes, but Ramirez hung in, never slipping out of the top 10 or away from a guaranteed ticket to state.
"When a guy is injured you have to take some chances and we laid off on him (in training) all week," Boone said. "Physically we let him heal a little and mentally he was ready to run fast."
Ramirez might be the only Cardinal boy running next week, but he wasn't the only one to take advantage of the critical race.
The boys team finished fifth in the 13-team event, two spots shy of a spot at state, but well ahead of many current and former Frontier League foes.
Freshman Ivan Espinosa was 23rd in the 84-runner race, finishing in 19:19. John Hadle and Colby Root were 35th and 37th respectively and Zack Courter was 50th.
Isaac Smoots was 75th and Chase Brecheisen was 79th.
They didn't all have the races they had envisioned, Boone said -- Espinosa in particular had hoped to qualify for state. As a team, it was definitely a strong enough performance to serve as a springboard for 2008, he said.
"We competed well and the guys were focused and taking it seriously," Boone said. "They're just beginning to understand we have something special here. They like each other, they like running together and this core has a lot of potential if it devotes itself."