Keller leads Falcons to a title

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

WOODSTOCK — When Central’s Lexi Keller started her freshman year, she was a basketball player.

Keller decided to go out for cross country as a freshman to stay in shape for basketball and track. Two years later, Keller is a runner.

“I thought running would just be something to get me in shape for my upcoming other sports, but it actually became my favorite sport of all the other ones,” Keller said.

This season Keller made a tough decision, deciding to give up basketball. She said she plans to swim for Central instead to prepare better for track.

“It definitely was [a tough decision], because I’ve played basketball since I was really small,” Keller said. “I think it will pay off.”

Keller has certainly meant a lot to Central as a runner, and last week was a great example. Keller used a very strong finish to place second, in 22:10, in the Shenandoah County meet last Thursday at New Mark Battlefield Park, Stonewall Jackson’s home course.

That was more than enough to help the Falcons win the team title, and helped make Keller The Northern Virginia Daily’s Female Athlete of the Week for the week of Oct. 12-18.

“The course was really nice to run coming up on postseason because of all the hills and it’s kind of a tougher course,” Keller said of the county meet. “I know the course at Rappahannock [for Wednesday’s Bull Run District meet] will also be similar to that one. So it’s good to prepare for that.”

Keller was in fourth place with about a half mile left in the race, but as they started to go down the last big hill towards the finish Keller surged past teammate Bethany Neri. Keller then set her sights on Stonewall Jackson’s Lulu Funkhouser, and was able to pass her for second place by two seconds.

“I saw [Funkhouser] in front of me, and I knew that it was important that I try to get as close to her as possible so my team could maybe get a trophy,” Keller said. “I knew that the race was almost over. So if I could push it a little harder it would be over soon, and I could relax after that.”

Keller runs track in the spring, but runs in the sprints instead of the distance events. Central coach Melissa Wright said that running the sprints help Keller have a stronger finish in cross country.

“When you have a foot race with Lexi you got to be careful, because she’s got the speed and she’s going to challenge you to the finish,” Wright said.

Wright said Keller was Central’s top runner for most of last season and she advanced to the Group 3A state meet. This year she has been mostly No. 2 for Central behind Neri, but Wright said she’s still having a very strong season.

Keller, Neri and Elsa Garcia typically run in a pack for the Falcons and have helped them to a very solid year. Keller said she’s learned a lot from both Neri and Garcia, who are both seniors.

“We have a really good relationship,” Keller said of Neri and Garcia. “I’m going to miss them when they’re gone because they’re seniors, but I kind of pace off of them and they kind of keep me going through the race. I know where I need to be, and they help me along. If I’m falling behind they pull me back up, they talk me through it even though they’re racing.”

Wright said the girls have a very strong bond.

“I think if you ask any one of them individually, they always want to do their best and they want to finish with a better time. But the other day Bethany was extremely happy for Lexi to go ahead and pass her and the other girl too, because she wanted her to do well,” Wright said. “Bethany thought if she couldn’t do it, she wanted somebody on her team to be able to do that.”

Keller said she feels like she’s improving as the season has went on, and is hoping the best is yet to come.

“I don’t think I was as prepared as I should have been coming into this season, but the coaches know what we need to do,” Keller said. “They know how to get us ready for the season, so I feel pretty good right now.”

Keller said last year’s Group 3A state meet was a great learning experience, and getting back there is a big goal for her. She also wants to see the team make it that far as well.

“We have a lot of strong freshmen, which is awesome for our team, because we’re only going to get stronger as we get older,” Keller said. “I think we have a lot of potential.”