(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
BENTON -- Dedication is key when it comes to a cross country race.
It's a good thing that Kelly High School will be represented by Tara Johnson and Cody Kern in the Missouri state cross country meet, because the dedication that these two runners show to their sport is second-to-none.
Both Johnson and Kern, who have already broken Kelly's cross country school records, will be in their third straight state cross country meet on Saturday and with each trip, invaluable experience has been gained.
"Your first experience at state is a little overwhelming," Hale said. "It's a big event. Your nervous and you don't know what to expect. But, if it's your third year in-a-row you kind of know what to expect. You know the competition is going to be there and they know how the race is going to be ran. So, they can use that to their advantage as well.
Johnson, a senior, finished 68th as a sophomore in her first state meet but made a huge leap in her second attempt as a junior with a 17th place finish. Not only is Johnson hoping for a higher finish, but she knows that this will be her last chance in this particular race, which will make it that much more special.
"This year I've just kind of thought about this being my last year," Johnson said. "This is the last time that I'll get to run. I have roughly around 20 minutes to prove myself. I think that since this will be my last time it might make this experience a little bit better."
Kern, a junior, has had almost identical finishes in the state meet as Johnson has in the past two years. In his freshman year he finished 67th and in his sophomore year, he matched Johnson's 17th place finish.
"I kind of want to improve on my performance from last year," Kern said. "It feels good to be able to go again and get the chance to run at state."
Kern admitted that in his first meet as a freshman he was a little nervous. But the experience he gained there and in last year's race has him in a more relaxed state this time around.
"I was really nervous," Kern said about his first experience as a freshman. "I could tell when I ran. The state course is just so overwhelming. There are people everywhere constantly cheering for you. I think this year I will be more comfortable and I'll be able to run my race and concentrate on what I have to do."
In the past two years, each runner has finished tremendously higher than in their previous year. Hale said that their dedication to their running has them in the position that they're in now and maybe, a position that they each want to be in at the end of the race.
"Each year, we've seen them get better and better each year," Hale said. "I think the reason why is because of the work that they have put in each year. They set a goal and they work hard to achieve that goal. That's just the type of people they are. They are very hard workers and they are very dedicated at what they do."
The state meet will take place on Saturday in Jefferson City.