Conner ready to lead Sherando this season

Sherando's Paige Conner, left, and Stella Williams, right, pace each other early during the Conference 21 Cross Country meet last October in Kernstown. Conner is the only senior on the cross country team this season. Rich Cooley/Daily file

STEPHENS CITY – When Paige Conner was a freshman she decided to give cross country a try for the first time. Little did she know then that she was about to find a sport she would love.

The Sherando senior said she had ran in track, but never really considered cross country. But once she did, Conner said she quickly realized it was her sport.

“I was going to do volleyball in my freshman year, but it ended up not working out,” Conner said. “So I was like what else is in the fall – cross country. I’ll just try it and I just fell in love with it. My first race was amazing. I loved competing. So I’ve been kind of hooked, I guess.”

Conner had instant success at Sherando her freshman season. She ran in a junior varsity race in her first race, and her time was better than any of the varsity runners.

Sherando cross country coach Jamie McCarty moved her up to varsity after that and Conner advanced to the state meet that season.

Conner said she was very pleased with her freshman year and how her older teammates treated her.

“Our team, they really took me in and made it a great experience,” Conner said. “It could have been really rough. I could have quit if I didn’t like the girls and how they took me in. I thought they were going to hate me because I beat them, and I was like oh no. But they really liked me, and that really brought me to kind of love the sport too.”

The last two years haven’t gone quite the way Conner would have liked. She had to battle through numerous injuries, but Conner said she’s still proud of what she’s done.

In her sophomore season the Warriors advanced to the state meet. Conner said that she wasn’t at her best, but the team did well so that’s all that mattered to her.

She said that there have been times when she probably shouldn’t have run at meets because of injuries, but she did anyway because she wanted to help the team.

“A lot of people wouldn’t do it because a lot of people are like, ‘well if I’m not good I’m just going to quit,'” Conner said. “But I kind of just have the mentality that I just like running even if I’m not at my best I just like it.”

McCarty said Conner’s toughness is one of her biggest strengths.

“What she lacks for in speed, she’s just really mentally and physically tough,” McCarty said. “When she gets into some races she’s able to kind of fight through some bad stretches and stuff like that. And she’s also pretty patient. She learned when she came in as a freshman how to do things a little bit differently as far as how we race and strategy wise. And she does a good job of applying those things.”

For the last two years Conner has had two teammates — juniors Olivia Couillard and Camryn Ubert — to help push her out on the course.

Conner said the three have become good friends on and off the course.

“We hang out all the time,” Conner said. “We train together, we swim together, we bike together. We do a lot of stuff. It’s good to have them to train with, and just to be friends with. Because they help me with other stuff in general.”

Conner is the only senior on the cross country team this season – girls or boys team. She said she’s trying to be more of a leader this year.

Conner said she wants to make the most of her senior season.

“Our summer running just got over and I’m like ‘this is my last summer running,'” Conner said. “Everything’s a last for me. And I want to make these memories last. I want to have a good season, but you can’t plan everything out. So I’ve had a good three years and I hope to finish strong.”