In a year filled with feelings of loss, grief and anger, the cross country team found the bright light of success. It had its first runners qualify to compete at the state level since 2016.
Seniors Thomas Crider and Itzela Darkenwald are the first Caney Creek runners in four years to earn the chance to compete at a state level. Darkenwald is the first girl ever from Caney Creek to do so, and Crider is the first boy since 2016.
Darkenwald takes pride in her barrier-breaking accolade.
“The feeling is amazing to know that I’m the first ever,” Darkenwald said. “I really had to take practices seriously and try to push myself more during practice. I learned during the meets about what I needed to improve and worked on it during the following practices. I would say that all the hard work I put in paid off.”
Darkenwald ended her state meet in 71st place out of 121 with a time of 19:18.24. Crider finished 72nd out of 122 runners with a time of 16:30.08. It was a personal and school record for both runners.
Crider attributes his success to practicing hard. Head girls coach Ray Sweat said she ran more than 300 miles this summer.
“I showed up to practice and worked hard,” Crider said. “ I ran after practice when I got home, and on the weekends. I had to run whenever I could.”
Crider also stressed the importance of sleep for an athlete.
“Sleep can be the difference between P.R.ing or passing out during your run,” Crider said. “I try to get at least nine to 10 hours of sleep per night.”
Darkenwald also says that running is about being mentally strong.”
Darkenwald’s advice also involves the importance of a powerhouse mindset.
“Stay strong and don’t give up,” Darkenwald said. “Running long distances is really a challenge but it is all about staying mentally strong and knowing that you can do it.”
It wasn’t an easy journey for her over the last few years. Darkenwald missed a state qualifying last year by a matter of yards when she passed out right before the finish line at the regional meet in 2019.
Head coach Ray Sweat said there were three goals at the beginning of the year: get senior Montse Ramos to state, get Darkenwald to state, and get the team to regionals. Ramos missed that goal by one slot while battling a groin injury.
Sweat said what sets an OK runner from a state qualifier is “the summer.”
“Not only are you getting in incredible shape over the summer, but you learn how to ignore that voice in your head that tells you to stop,” he said. “Those who run over the summer come into the season in amazing shape and ready to dominate. Those who don’t have to get in shape during the season, which means you’re not running well until much later.”
Moving forward, Sweat plans on using the exposure the younger runners had to Darkenwald’s success to their advantage.
“We have a lot of good runners on our team without Itzela and if we all run over the summer, I expect to be back at regionals next year,” he said, noting standout freshman Natalie Barker.”… My goal is to get her to individually qualify for regionals next year (she was three places away this year) and get her to state her junior year.”
Boys head coach Jason Banes said the off-season is also what set Crider apart.
“It is hard to start the season out of shape then play catch up,” Banes said. “Thomas also came to practice on a consistent basis. It is hard for a kid to show up at 5:30 a.m. every morning, but Thomas did that.”
Crider had a message for new people starting out.
“Stay consistent and practice,” Crider said. “You can definitely see the difference between those that stay consistent in practice and those that don’t. Don’t get discouraged by slow time or bad placement. Consistency is a requirement in anything, especially cross country.”