Nervous start, smooth finish

September 26, 2007 at 11:41 pm Leave a comment

 By KEVIN CARY    kcary@charlotteobserver.com

Moments before the Gaston County cross country championship Tuesday, South Point’s Elyse Will was nervous.

The junior bounced up and down along the start line, where dozens of girls lined up to run the course at Forestview High School.

She already knew her strategy: Go out fast and seize the lead. She had finished second in the meet the past two years, and she was the favorite to win this year since Ashbrook’s Brittany Walker had graduated.

The official blew his whistle to get the runners set, before raising his starters’ gun into the air.

Will had been in the top 10 in the 5K race the last two years, and her times had steadily improved. Will had finished the race in under 23 minutes as a freshman, and reduced her time by more than a minute as a sophomore. This season, she ran a career-best 20:59 in a meet two weeks before.

She also had another advantage: genes. Her uncle Joe Will is the coach at Bessemer City High, and her cousin Jeremy was a standout runner who eventually made it to Appalachian State.

“Elyse has incredible talent, but when you grow up with running, that’s huge,” Forestview coach Jon Hunsucker said.

That’s how Will first started to love the sport. She watched her cousin run when she was in elementary school, and started to run in physical education class.

“I was one of the fastest kids in my class,” she said. “I figured I’d try to run cross country when I was older.”

She made an immediate impact on the South Point team as a freshman, qualifying for the state meet. Last season she placed 14th at the 3A championship, just two places away from being designated an all-state runner.

This season, she vowed to do better. She ran her last race in 21:03, and she was a prohibitive favorite Tuesday. But, Will says she can’t help but fidget before a race.

She said it’s her nature. Will is also an accomplished pianist — she’s been playing for eight years — but says she still gets nervous at recitals, too.

She had eaten her customary turkey sandwich for lunch and drank four bottles of water before the race, and she had spent hours running the week before in preparation.

“It doesn’t feel like a chore,” she said. “It’s a gift, so I try to appreciate it.”

She showed her talent Tuesday. Within the first quarter mile, Will had dashed out to the lead. She finished the race in 21:34, more than a minute ahead of her closest competitor.

She said she’s still trying to improve. Will said she will continue to work on distance training for another month, before shifting to sprinting in the final few weeks of the season. That way, she’ll be in peak form for the state championship in November.

But she’ll still be a little nervous.

“That’s just the way I am,” she said. “I think it helps me to run faster.”

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Entry filed under: Belmont, Charlotte Observer, Cross Country, Elyse Will, Front Porch, HS Sports, NCHSAA, School, South Point HS, Sports.

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