Buchanan senior Meagen Lowe found herself in unfamiliar territory before the biggest race of the year.
Lowe’s teammate and trusted friend, Corie Smith, a junior and the defending Division I state champion, fell ill early in the morning and was unable to race in the CIF State Cross Country Championships, a potential devastating blow not only for Smith and her Bear teammates but for Lowe, who runs in tandem with Smith during races.
Last year the dynamic duo placed 1-2 in the state meet, the first teammates in state history to accomplish the feat.
Yet, Lowe dug deep and stayed the course, finishing in second place on an unusual and unpredictable day at a misty and damp Woodward Park, the site of every state cross championship since its inception in 1987.
“It was weird, but not having her there didn’t change my strategy,” Lowe said, who crossed the finish line at 17:26.6, 7.6 seconds after Tori Gaitan of Great Oak. “We’ve run separately in age group races before but it’s never been in a big race like this.
“I’m really happy with the way it turned out, my goal from my freshman year was to not move backward. Going from 26th [place] to six to two and two … I’m happy with it.”
Smith and Lowe went 1-2 in most of the meets this year, including the TRAC and Central Section championships, training hours upon hours on their home course for the chance to finish top two again.
In fact, they are so much better than their teammates, they often separate from the pack during team runs.
Smith fell ill at the untimely hour of 4 a.m. and tried to give it a go in warmups, but she and coach Brian Weaver decided best to shut it down.
“I thought it was just nerves, even though I’m not like that,” said the usually calm Smith. “I tried to come and do the warm ups but the walking even made me nauseous.”
However, instead of going home, she took on the role of encourager, wearing her letterman’s jacket adorned with championship patches.
“She pulled me aside and said, ‘go kick some butt,’” Lowe said Smith told her before the race. “We’ve both been training for this all year and she doesn’t have the opportunity to go out and race so I wanted to go out and show everybody what this program is all about.”
Weaver was also proud of the way Lowe responded.
”It was a great race for her,” said Weaver, one of the directors of the state tournament. “I think it was a shock for her to not have her teammate there at first but that shows what type of an athlete she is. She proved she can do her job. Second in the state is not bad.”
The Bears finished sixth as a team on the 3.1 mile course after finishing second last year, with Mai Jauregui (19:07.8, 65th), Morgan Hutchinson (19:11.8, 68th), Kaylee Elliott (19:16.877th) and Rachel Culver (19:18.2, 79th) scoring in addition to Lowe.
“I’m super-duper proud of everyone,” Smith said of her teammates that stepped up in her stead. “Of course I’m bummed I didn’t get to race but it was great to watch.”
In the boys Division I race, Clovis North junior Isaiah Galindo placed 7th with a time of 15:12.6, helping the Broncos place 10th overall while the Clovis West girls placed 15th as a team with freshman Kalei Aoki-Chance leading the way at 56th overall with a time of 19:01.7.