By Brian Eller
WINCHESTER -- Trying to catch up to Kayla Gibbons isn't easy. In just her second season at Warren County, the sophomore has established herself as the top runner for the Wildcats and one of the fastest runners in the area.
Gibbons' opponents are fortunate they only have to deal with her a few times a year. Rachel Oden, however, has gotten used to trying to keep up with Gibbons. After all, when you're on the same team, it's hard to get away.
"She's so fast," Oden said. "Running with Kayla is really inspirational and encouraging, though. It's awesome."
That is, of course, if you're able to keep up with her. Not many people can say they have. And Saturday at the Third Battle Invitational, it was easy to see why. Gibbons finished second overall in the varsity girls race, clocking in with a time of 19:09. She was just a few seconds behind overall winner Krista DeCeault, from Sherando, but it was Warren County that had the top team score with 29 points.
"She's a tank," Warren County coach Jeremy Burnworth said of Gibbons. "That's the best way to put it. Have you ever heard the expression, 'she's a mudder?' Well, she's a mudder."
Gibbons set the pace for the Wildcats, who represented five of the top 11 spots in the seven-team race. But it was the time of one of Gibbons' teammates that secured the win for Warren County.
Like any freshman, Oden has had to adjust to the rigors of cross country running, particularly on a team that features so many young and talented runners. The Wildcats boast just one senior this season, but have 12 freshmen and sophomores on the team. That means for Oden to move up on the team, she has to show her skills on the course.
In Saturday's race, however, Oden helped clinch the win. With Warren County already finishing four runners, it was up to Oden to clock in with the Wildcats' fifth score which would account for the overall team score.
As she came down the home stretch, two other runners, Sherando's Erin Dougherty and James Wood's Samantha Ratcliffe, were with her step for step. The Wildcats were currently in the lead, but if Oden could beat Dougherty and Ratcliffe, it would give Warren County the victory.
"I knew I needed to get there before those other girls did," Oden said. "I thought, 'I need to get up there with Ariel [Asher] and Leanna [Eisenman]."
It's a good thing Oden has had so much experience trying to keep pace with Gibbons.
Her added energy in the final few yards helped Oden narrowly finish ahead of Dougherty and Ratcliffe, giving her a time of 20:28, her personal best. Dougherty and Ratcliffe both finished one second behind her.
While the girls race featured a slew of young talent at the top, the boys' race was led by a handful of seniors, as Handley's Tom Delaney finished first with a time of 15:39, followed closely by Warren County's Seamus O'Reilly with a time of 15:43.
For both boys, having the chance to run against each other forces them to increase the intensity, an opportunity they both look forward to should they meet on the course.
"We've run against each other for a long time now," Delaney said, "and we just seem to push each other when we're running. It was a great race. The wind was a little tough, though. You have to adjust to it. You'd come out of the woods on the course and the wind would hit you, but it's something you have to adjust to."
Delaney's top finish helped the Judges to first place with a team score of 56, edging out James Wood who finished with 68.