By BEN JOHNSON
Amy Hembree was more than 1,500 miles away from Tahlequah on Tuesday. She was off touring a prospective university destination — Dartmouth College — in Hanover, N.H.
That left her cross country teammate, Gracie Medellin, to run on her own.
Medellin’s solo act worked out just fine.
Tahlequah’s sophomore runner ran a two-mile race in 12:22.52 and won the Metro Lakes Conference championship on a soggy, muddy course at Tahlequah Middle School.
“It felt amazing, because I really didn’t think I was going to win today without Amy Hembree,” said Medellin, who crossed the finish line 13 seconds ahead of Bishop Kelley’s Amber Obermaier.
“Me and Amy Hembree pace off of each other...so I had to run my own race. I’m told every day to run my own race.”
For Medellin, it was the first individual title of her young high school career.
“Today, we was all nervous again,” Tahlequah coach Elzy Miller said of Medellin. “But that’s just Gracie. I just told her, ‘you have to go out and set the tempo.’ I wanted her to go out and make everyone try and catch her on our home course, and that’s what she did.”
Without Hembree, Tahlequah was unable to keep pace with Bishop Kelley while vying for the team title. Medellin was Tahlequah’s only runner in the top 10, while Bishop Kelley had all five of its point-scoring runners in the top eight, including Jaqui Fernandez (13:13) and Victoria Udrisky (13:14) in fourth and fifth, respectively.
Bishop Kelley totaled 26 points to coast to the title. Tahlequah was second with 56 points, and Collinsville was a distant third with 87.
“We knew Bishop Kelley was loaded; they have a good amount of depth throughout their whole squad,” said Miller, whose other point-scoring runners were Lindsay Chaffin (13:32) in 11th, Alejandra Medellin (13:35) in 13th, Madison Reed (13:40) in 15th and Miranda Bohannon (13:42) in 16th.
“We knew it would have been an uphill battle, even if we had had Amy. But I thought the kids ended up stepping up pretty good.”
On the boys side, it was a clean sweep for Tahlequah.
Zech VanFleet breezed to an individual title by crossing the finish line at 16:42 in the 5,000-meter race. VanFleet was 20 seconds better than Coweta’s Kyle Roberts (17:02), who claimed the silver.
Tahlequah’s Mo Bassime (17:07) and Braxton Hood (17:21) were fourth and 10th, respectively. Aaron Eversole (17:41) in 15th and Seth Martin (18:01) in 18th rounded out the rest of Tahlequah’s top five runners.
The Tigers ended up with 48 points, which was four points better than Bishop Kelley. Coweta (64) and Skiatook (91) were not too far off in the top four.
“This was kind of a big deal, because it could have been any of four teams between us, Skiatook, Coweta and Bishop Kelley. It could have been any of the four of us,” Tahlequah coach Jason Proctor said. “So to come out on top of all of that heap was a big boost of confidence heading into the last two weeks (of the season).”
Tahlequah’s next competition will be Oct. 26 at the Class 5A regional at Oral Robert University in Tulsa.