Athlete of the Week: Ris leading the pack for Wildcats this fall

Jacqui Ris

FRONT ROYAL – Nearly two years ago, Jacqui Ris was in between cross country and track and field seasons at Warren County High School and found herself as the only girl working out for the Wildcats’ distance track team.

Warren County assistant coach Paul Ranney gave Ris two options: she could run her workouts by herself or participate with the boys. Ris chose the latter and, now a junior, continues to compete with her male counterparts on occasion during cross country practices this fall.

“As the season progressed I grew really, really close to them, and some graduated, but now I just really enjoy it and I enjoy being around them because I’m close to them,” Ris said before cross country practice Tuesday afternoon. “But they also, as I observed, made me faster because having to catch up with someone rather than being in front has helped me.”

Ris, now in her third year with the school’s cross country team, has emerged this season as the Wildcats’ No. 1 girls runner. In the Bull Run District championships at Central last week, Ris was nearly the top runner in the field.

Ris, The Northern Virginia Daily’s Athlete of the Week for Oct. 10-16, placed second in the eight-team race, improving her time on the North Street course by nearly a full minute from the Wildcats’ first race of the season back on Aug. 27.

“Going into the district meet she seemed very calm, very confident and she just pretty much went out there and took care of business,” Warren County cross country coach Joseph Owens said. “She usually does what we expect her to do and that’s phenomenal. She went out there, she ran really hard, gave great effort and came through as district runner-up.”

Ris, who completed the three-mile course in 20:53 at the Central Invitational back in late August, ran the Bull Run District race on Oct. 12 in 20 minutes flat, trailing only Clarke County’s Madison Webster (19:38) in the field of 51 girls runners.

Warren County’s girls team as a whole placed second with 63 points, 19 behind George Mason.

“My expectations and my goals are always vastly different. I was hoping to at least get in the top three so that matched my expectations. But my goal is about 30 seconds faster than what I actually ran,” Ris said.

“I’ve run that course a lot over the years. We used to do it twice as much in years previous, so nothing really unexpected or really challenging.”

Ris turned around three days later at the Third Battle Invitational in Winchester and placed 60th (20:12.10) out of 220 girls last Saturday.

“There was a lot of people. There were like hundreds of girls on that starting line, so getting boxed in was kind of a problem we ran into,” she said of the Third Battle race.

“It still could’ve been better but you know, Bull Run was right before so as far as rest you can only do so much to prepare.”

Preparation, Owens said, is what sets Ris apart from most runners.

“Whether it’s the sleep she gets or the food she’s eating or the way that she goes about her workout at practice, like her preparation is phenomenal,” said Owens, who also serves as the head coach of Warren County’s track and field team. “It’s one of those things that if you could put that mindset in every single athlete, that’s what you would want.”

With the Conference 28 meet next on the schedule for Warren County on Wednesday, Ris – who led the Wildcats with a fifth-place conference finish and a seventh-place effort in the Region 3A East championships last season before placing 36th in the state meet – said she’d ideally like to be completing races in under 20 minutes in the postseason.

The Wildcats this year have focused on slowing down their season-long progression in order to encourage peak times at the regional and state meets, but Ris said she still expressed her concern to Ranney about her inability to shave off significant chunks of time from meet to meet this fall. Ranney’s reply? “Trust the system.”

“I know that at times in her mind she just wishes she could drop a minute off her time and be where she wants to be because that’s how hard she works,” Owens said, “but I think that she will be content with the progress that she sees. I think over the next few weeks she is gonna get some results that she has been working for for a long time.”

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