Experience pays off for Central’s Keller

Central's Lexi Keller runs during a meet earlier this season. Keller placed 12th in the Group 2A state meet this season, and led the Falcons to an seventh-place team finish. Rich Cooley/Daily file

WOODSTOCK — Experience paid off.

Central senior Lexi Keller had been to the state cross country meet each of her first three seasons with the Falcons, so this year when she made it again she was a pro at it.

Keller used her experience to help her in the race to make all-state and finish 12th in the Group 2A meet.

“I remember running there as a freshman. It was very intimidating, all the people. It was a new course that I hadn’t run before,” Keller said. “So as a freshman it was a little nerve-wracking. But since I’ve run it before, as a senior it was helpful to know where the hills were and where the downhills were, and how to run the hills and how to pace myself because it was a harder course.”

Keller, The Northern Virginia Daily’s 2015 Female Cross Country Runner of the Year, navigated her way through the course at Great Meadows just fine finishing the 5K course in 22 minutes flat.

In the Region 2A East meet Keller finished 14th, making all-region, but she said she didn’t really think about making all-state until after the race had started.

“I wasn’t expecting to medal and then I noticed about my placing about the second mile,” Keller said. “So I decided that I had a possibility of medaling, and I really wanted to push myself as hard as I could to make sure that I left everything that I had on the course.”

Central cross country coach Melissa Wright said that she didn’t say much to Keller between regionals and states. Wright said that she thinks Keller had a great attitude going into the final cross country meet of her career.

“I feel like that last week of practice she was pretty reflective that it was all coming to an end,” Wright said. “I think she thought a lot about being the last race, and she was pretty relaxed and that allowed her to run well.”

Keller said she began running in her eighth grade year in part because her dad really loved to run.

She said she didn’t take it seriously until her freshman year at Central, when she made all-region and qualified for states.

“My freshman year I really started getting into running and realizing that I had the potential to do well if I pushed myself,” Keller said.

This off season Keller said that she worked harder than in previous years and it paid off.

She won the Shenandoah County meet, which she said gave her a confidence boost heading into the postseason.

The girls team placed seventh in the state meet, and Keller said she enjoyed working with the younger runners and being a leader.

“I was hoping that I could be a leader for them, someone they can look up to,” Keller said. “…Since I’ve been running for a while I think I might know some things that could help them better themselves as runners. Hopefully they could take that and pass it on to the runners in the future when I’m not here to help out.”

Keller, who also runs track and swims at Central, said that she has decided not to run in college, but she is hoping to run in marathons. She plans on training next summer for her first half marathon and then working her way up.

“It’s a new challenge,” Keller said. “I haven’t run that long of a distance before. It’s something new for me to try. I also like the idea of the longer distance, because it’s not as stressful I would think. I can just settle into a pace and just let it carry me through the race.”

She was one of the Falcons’ top two runners all four of her years at Central and qualified for the state meet each year.

Wright said Keller is one of the most consistent runners she’s coached at Central. Wright said that made her performance at this year’s state meet even more special.

“As a coach that was probably going to be one of the greatest highlights of my career — just to watch a young lady start well and finish well throughout four years,” Wright said. “She was so well deserving of being all-state. It was just nice to see everything fall into place for her, and that she had an outstanding day.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com