Varsity Kansas

Freshman flying for Valley Center

The names were irrelevant to Valley Center's Morgan Wedekind.

She had no familiarity with the two runners that finished behind her last Saturday at the Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League Div. I and II cross country race.

"I really didn't know who any of them were," Wedekind said.

Maize's Dani Walker and Derby's Emily Hornbeck, two of the top runners in Class 6A, might as well have been called runner red and runner green.

It's not like Wedekind is an experienced runner. This was the first season she decided to give cross country a try.

"I kind of just wanted to have a reason not to play volleyball," said Wedekind, a freshman. "But at the same time, I knew I was a good runner, so I knew I should just go for it."

The result has been a meteoric rise, including five race victories.

"She just has a lot of natural talent and natural speed," Valley Center coach Lonnie Thiessen said. "Now we're working on that endurance part."

A lot of it is still foreign to Wedekind. Race strategies and scouting the competition might be the last thing on her mind.

"I basically just go out there and run," Wedekind said.

A natural competitor, she uses her only blemish — a fourth place finish at Rim Rock — as motivation for the future.

"I slow down at the start now," Wedekind said. "I started way too fast in my first meet and I got tired really quickly. Then I sort of figured out what is good for me as I went along with the different meets."

Wedekind's definition of "good" has been the standard in recent weeks. The last two races she has broken 15 minutes, including her time of 14:39 at league to best Walker and Hornbeck.

Up next in the list of challenges for Wedekind is the defending Class 4A champion in El Dorado's Molly Milbourn. The two should decide the individual race at the Bishop Carroll Regional this Saturday. Now, Wedekind is aware of her competition.

"Now that I've gotten more into the season, I'm starting to pick things up," Wedekind said. "Who people are and their accomplishments. Then I have something to push myself with, so I can say, 'I've got to beat this person.' "

What started out as escape is turning into a state championship run. Wedekind might have found a new fall sport.

"Yeah, I think so," she said. "I'm really starting to enjoy it."