By Zach Smith / Special Contributor
ROUND ROCK — Susan Bailey could tell by the look on Sophia Oliai’s face that the Highland Park sophomore runner was going to have a good day on Saturday.
Oliai finished fifth overall in the Class 5A state cross country meet at Old Settlers Park, just seven-hundredths of a second behind the fourth-place finisher — a marked improvement from her 15th place finish a year ago.
“It’s amazing, totally amazing,” said Bailey, the HP head coach. “It’s not easy doing well her freshman year and then trying to repeat. She was a determined young lady throughout the season.”
As a team, the Lady Scots finished fourth, yet another improvement following last year’s seventh-place finish.
“I’m never happy unless you get up on the medal stand, but am I proud of them? Of course,” Bailey said. “I want them to be rewarded for all their hard work. We’re very young and we still have room to grow.”
After Oliai’s fifth-place finish in 18 minutes, 20.49 seconds, Alli Grace Ott (19:16.65) came in 34th, Cameron Fawcett (19:19.53) finished 39th, Maddy Stephens (19:46.57) brought home 64th place, Phoebe Spackman (20:00.45) finished 74th, Isabel Blaylock (20:13.18) finished 86th and Gracyn Applegate (20:20.50) came in 95th place.
Of Highland Park’s seven runners, Stephens is the only senior, and the Scots’ three fastest runners are underclassmen. So the future is bright for the team that has had at least one runner at the state meet every year since 1975.
Bailey said the thing that stood out about this team was its ability to learn and grow on the fly.
“Just being young and figuring out how to race at a high level make a difference,” she said. “We were young last year and we’re still young this year and I think they’re learning. That’s different from some of the other teams I’ve been a part of. I’m pleased with what they did.”