In his four years of Collegiate cross country, senior Lakelin Conrad has developed a well-earned reputation as the gold standard among runners.
Winning two state championships in three years has reinforced that reputation.
“He is a marked man,” Collegiate coach Clark Ensz said. “Everybody knows him.”
In Saturday’s 4A regional, Conrad was trailing El Dorado senior Cale Carson late in the race.
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But in the homestretch, Conrad had moved comfortably ahead and successfully defended his regional title in a time of 17 minutes, 5.8 seconds. Carson was second, nearly 10 seconds back.
Conrad said afterward that conditions – including a steady 20-30 mph wind – played a role in his race strategy.
“It was hard to run in the wind,” he said. “You had to run smart.
“I didn’t want to go out too hard (Saturday), especially with the wind. I felt like that would not be to my advantage strategically to lead the way with such a hard wind going. So I wanted to let someone else break the wind and be tight there.”
Running a strong mental race has fueled Conrad’s success, Ensz said.
“Lakelin is just a very smart athlete,” Ensz said. “He feels a race out.… Lakelin has a feel for a race when he’s out there, and he knows instinctively. That’s a gift that he’s got.
“Everybody’s going to have to figure out a way to beat him.”
Conrad said he decided to get the lead with about 200 meters left.
“We both started to really pick it up and really race from that point on and dig deeper,” he said. “The first mile was slow, but no one really wants to take control (early) and sacrifice themselves.”
Conrad, who said he likes hilly courses, said next week’s state course at Wamego will be enjoyable.
“I love the hills,” he said. “It should be fun and to my advantage. I’m just trying to focus on the things I can control, being well-prepared and hopefully get a third title.”
The Spartans missed qualifying as a team, finishing fourth, but senior Grant Henry was eighth and will be going as an individual.
Ensz said Conrad had a lot to do with Collegiate’s team being in contention.
“A lot of that was Lakelin pushing these people,” Ensz said. “A lot of these people hadn’t run before they started cross country this year. Lakelin was always there to encourage them and keep them going. He has a lot to do with (fourth place). No one would have expected us to get that close to state.”
Ensz said Conrad’s biggest strength is his mental ability.
“You don’t get a Lakelin very often,” he said. “I think more than anything he’s just mentally tough about how he approaches things.
“Our goal (Saturday) was for him to run smart, and not set himself up by trying to lead the whole way. (Saturday) was not going to be a fast day with this kind of wind.”
Circle qualified both its girls and boys teams. The boys were first, edging Andover Central by a point. El Dorado qualified third.
In the girls race, Andover Central was first, followed by Circle and Trinity Academy. Independence’s Renee Trout won the girls race in 19:40.20 – 50 seconds ahead of runner-up Aimee Davis of Clearwater.
Team scores (top three qualify): 1. Circle, 50; 2. Andover Central, 51; 3. El Dorado, 88; 4. Collegiate, 138; 5. Arkansas City, 142; 6. Clearwater, 172; 7. Winfield, 196; 8. Labette County, 204; 9. Augusta, 235; 10. Rose Hill, 275; 11. Andale, 277; 12. Mulvane, 294; 13. Independence, 321; 14. Coffeyville-Field Kindley, 363.
Individuals: 1. Conrad, Collegiate, 17:05.80; 2. Carson, El Dorado, 17:15.10; 3. Stuever, Circle, 17:23. 4. Maki, Andover Central, 17:37.50; 5. Christo, Andover Central, 17:39.20; 6. LaBrue, Winfield, 17:41.30; 7. Kemboi, El Dorado, 17:43.30; 8. Henry, Collegiate, 17:43.40; 9. Jacobson, Circle, 17:47.90; 10. Derry, Circle, 17:50.20.
Team scores (top three qualify): 1. Andover Central, 36; 2. Circle, 47; 3. Trinity Academy, 66; 4. Mulvane, 121; 5. Andale, 126; 6 (tie). Augusta, Winfield, 152; 8. Rose Hill, 185.
Individuals: 1. R. Trout, Independence, 19:40.20; 2. Davis, Clearwater, 20:30.20; 3. Hulse, Winfield, 20:33.50; 4. Lieb, Trinity Academy, 20:42.00; 5. Kelly, Circle, 21:43.00; 6. L. Trout, Independence, 21:47.60; 7. Schumann, Andover Central, 21:49.90; 8. Steward, Andover Central, 21:56.20; 9. Garrison, Clearwater, 22:02.70; 10. Horyna, Circle, 22:08.30.