Daigle sprints to state XC title
ANCHORAGE - For the first 4.9 kilometers of Saturday's Alaska State Cross-Country Championships, Seward High School senior Ruby Lindquist pushed herself unmercifully and looked as if she was about to turn in the race of her life. Funny thing happened on the way to the top step of the podium, however. Autumn Daigle also ran the best race of her life - and pulled off one of the biggest upsets since David slew Goliath.
The tiny sophomore stunned the state's cross-country world to the core by running down Lindquist over the final 1,000 meters. Daigle, who spent much of the race chasing Lindquist and Anchorage Christian's Tessa O'Hara, managed to catch and pass her biggest rival - and close friend - just 20 yards from the finish line and helped write a finish that is destined to become an instant classic.
"I still can't believe that happened," said Daigle. "She (Lindquist) is just so good. I never dreamed anything like this. Honestly, considering how she and Tessa had done at the Region III meet, I thought I was looking at third."
Lindquist certainly did her part to make Daigle's thoughts a reality. A 4-time state qualifier, she managed to survive a crowd start of more than 135 runners at Bartlett High School. By the first uphill segment of the 5-kilometer trail, she and O'Hara were already running stride-for-stride, with Daigle running behind them.
Lindquist dispensed with O'Hara midway through the race. Her pressure enabled her to race to the lead at the 3K mark of the race. By the start of the 4K mark, Lindquist's pace had sapped O'Hara - the Region III champion - of her energy.
"I didn't really know if I could beat them," said Daigle, a sophomore who finished more than 30 seconds behind O'Hara at the Region III meet a week earlier. "I couldn't even see them around the corners. All I could see was movement between the trees. Then I saw Tessa start to drop back and I knew I could get Tessa."
By the start of the final 1,000 meters, the only runner within shouting distance of Lindquist was Daigle.
From there, Daigle said months and months of having run behind Lindquist paid off.
"I've ran behind her so much it is crazy," she said. "I started to see her getting tired. Her arms were swinging and her head was bouncing around. You would only know that if you had ran behind her as many times as I have. She is such a strong, beautiful runner but I could tell she was getting tired."
Knowing Lindquist was weary, Daigle said she still didn't think she had a chance at catching Lindquist, but she decided to relax and gain what ground she could over the downhill stretch leading into the final stretch.
"I started running and working so hard," she said. "Ruby was so far ahead. But I've always been a good downhill runner. I could just let my hips relax and go since I knew the end was downhill and I thought I could gain on her. When I came around the corner and I saw her running, I said 'I can do this.' Then I was in the chute and all of the adrenaline was going and I was like 'I can't feel my legs so let's go."
Approximately 20 yards from the finish line, Daigle did the unthinkable. She caught and passed Lindquist.
She strode across the finish line in a winning time of 19 minutes, 30 seconds. Lindquist, who placed in the top three in each of the last three state cross-country meets, crossed the finish line at 19:35.
Daigle's victory highlighted a dominating performance by the Homer Lady Mariners. Overall, the Homer girls had three runners finish in the top 10 and raced to the Division II state runner up honors. Grace Christian edged Homer out for the state title by one point.
Freshman sensation Brooke Miller gave the Lady Mariners its second top 5 finishers by racing her way to fourth in the standings. Miller finished the event with a time of 20:09, crossing the finish line just 10 seconds behind O'Hara.
Alex Moseley grabbed ninth just a few moments later. A senior, Moseley sprinted across the finish line with a time of 20:37.
Joining Daigle, Miller and Moseley in turning in head-turning efforts on the trail was junior Sienna Carey, who was making her first appearance at the state meet since her freshman season as a member of the Su-Valley squad. A junior, Carey raced her way to 18th in the standings with a mark of 21:45.
"I was pretty happy with how I ran," said Carey, who missed last year's state meet after suffering a fractured ankle. "I think the biggest thing for me is just being able to run with these athletes. Our team is continuously driven to do well, and that is so great. It is such a privilege to run with them."
Daigle said part of the credit for the Lady Mariners' ability to clinch the Division II state runner-up honors should be credited to the hard work of Katie Davis. The junior fought her way back from a painful injury to begin the season to finish in the top 35 at state.
"We depended on her so much," said Daigle. "She fought her way through some problems and really came on when we needed her."
Davis rounded out the Lady Mariners' scoring by finishing 34th. Her final time was 22:55. Freshman Shine Carey and Harmony Davidson also turned in inspiring efforts for Homer. Carey was 39th at 23:12, while Davidson checked in at No. 66 with a mark of 24:12.
Tommy Wells can be reached at email@example.com