The Classical Academy’s Kennedy McDonald found herself alone among a pack of Class 3A cross country runners Saturday afternoon.
Usually the junior runs in stride with Sawyer Wilson, who placed second at state as a freshman. But due to a COVID-19 exposure, Wilson was quarantined as McDonald and the Titans aimed to defend their state title.
And rallying around Wilson, TCA did just that. McDonald captured a second-place finish and TCA earned a second straight 3A championship in dominant fashion.
“We were trying not to expect much because we lost our fastest runner,” McDonald said. “But we all thought it would be so cool if we could come in and win this for her, and so we just came in with the mindset of let's just do our best and see what happens.”
Following advice from her coach Alan Versaw, McDonald stayed back behind the "crazies," described as the runners who start fast, but begin to fall back midway through the race. Late in the race McDonald said she started catching some of the "crazies," and quickly found herself in second place with the finish line in sight.
“When I saw some people ahead of me I was like, ‘OK you just have to catch them and I just need to keep doing that’,” said McDonald, who finished the 5K in 19 minutes, 13 seconds. “I just knew if I didn’t go for it I would regret it, so I did and it paid off.”
While he advised his runners to not enter the race with expectations, Versaw said he was impressed with McDonald’s performance at Norris Penrose Event Center.
“It’s one of the ones where your eyes pop out of your head,” Versaw said. “I was expecting Kennedy to have a good race, I was thinking a good race is probably fourth or fifth and all of a sudden she is coming in second.”
Cassidy McDonald (19:35) and Sophia Valentine (19:37) placed eighth and ninth, respectively, followed by Kyra Shaner (15th, 20:20.6), Alaina Bonacquista (49, 21:53) and Natalia Wright (56th, 22:05.3). TCA earned 65 points for the 3A title, 49 points ahead of second-place team Holy Family.
Bonded together through cross country, the entire TCA team was rocked by the news of the quarantine, which also affected the boys’ No. 6 runner David Ahnfeldt. But that didn’t stop the Titans’ boys’ team from taking home a second-place finish despite not placing a runner in the top 10.
“I know the ladies wanted to do an honor to Sawyer,” Versaw said. “And I think that was a huge part of their motivation. They are driven to excellence.
“I think the closeness of both teams is what held it together. This could have blown up on us with eighth-, ninth-, 10th-place finishes with just chaos out there, and it didn’t.”