Wildcats’ Morrow thriving early in senior season

Claire Morrow

FRONT ROYAL – Claire Morrow has always loved tackling hills during her cross country races. That’s why the Warren County senior enjoys racing the course at the Eastern Mennonite Invitational.

Morrow appeared as comfortable as ever at the annual race this past Saturday, as she placed second overall in the 14-team girls competition with a time of 21 minutes, 40 seconds.

“I’ve run that course pretty much like every year since I’ve been running and every year it’s pretty much just gotten better and better,” said Morrow, The Northern Virginia Daily’s Female Athlete of the Week for Sept. 6-12, on Monday. “I’ve always enjoyed running there. It’s just a good course.

“Most people wouldn’t like it but I’m a hill runner. I really like the hills, so it’s a lot of up and down and that’s really just kind of what I like to do.”

The key to successfully navigating the changes in terrain during a race, Morrow said, is all in the mind, and the biggest step is simply convincing yourself to push to the top.

Grasping the idea that cross country is largely a sport of the mind is something that Morrow said she was successful at fairly quickly in her running career.

“When we’re all on the line we’re all feeling just as bad at the end of the race and stuff, and we’re all just as nervous. It’s really just the people who can really just get themselves through it and push themselves that pretty much do the best, I think,” Morrow said.

Now a senior with three-plus years of varsity cross country experience, Morrow appears primed for her most successful season with the Wildcats. Though the sample size is small – Warren County has run only two races so far this fall – Morrow already has a pair of top-five finishes in 2015, including a fourth-place effort at the Central Invitational on Aug. 29.

Wildcats first-year coach Joseph Owens said Warren County’s coaching staff isn’t surprised to see Morrow get off to such a strong start this season, but he added that it’s exciting to see Morrow “peaking at the right time for her senior year.”

“She’s a really good kid and she’s one of those kids that really deserves everything,” Owens said. “All the success that she’s getting she works hard for it. At the cross country meets she has books spread out, she’s working on her academic stuff first and then she goes out and gets second place in these big meets. That just pretty much kind of sums up who she is. She’s a very hard worker. She puts the work in in the classroom and on the track and it’s really paying off for her.”

As one of five seniors for the Wildcats this season and the team’s lone state qualifier a year ago, Morrow said she’s actively trying to set a good example for her teammates.

“I really hope that I can kind of inspire the younger generation, I guess,” Morrow said with a laugh, “because they’re looking like they’re gonna do pretty good.”

Through two races this fall, Warren County’s girls squad has not placed lower than third as a team. The Wildcats finished second out of seven teams at the Central Invitational and were third this past weekend at Eastern Mennonite.

Morrow’s leadership on the course has been a big factor in that early success, and Owens said Morrow offers “exactly” what you want out of a senior with her past experience and accomplishments.

“We have some stuff (in practice) where the guys might have seven reps and the girls have five, she does the seven with the guys. We were doing a workout the other day and coach Paul (Ranney) was like, ‘OK, do you guys wanna stop or do you want to do one more?’ She’s always gonna do that extra one,” Owens said. “So she’s ready to go the extra mile, she’s ready to put the work in and she pulls everybody along with her when she does that.”

Morrow, who placed 50th in the Group 3A state cross country meet in 2014, entered the 2015 season having reached the state race in each of the last two seasons, and she said the goal this fall is to qualify the entire Warren County girls squad for the meet like the Wildcats did in 2013. Morrow is also aiming for a top-20 finish in the Group 3A race this season, a goal Owens said is “absolutely” realistic for the senior.

“I think the sky’s the limit when it comes to her,” Owens said. “She works hard, she’s talented and when you put those two things together anything’s possible.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com