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Worland runners shine in Billings

WORLAND — The motto for the Worland High School cross-country team this season is “Rise Above.” In their first meet of the season, that motto was tested and held true as the Worland runners battled a wild array of weather.

Competing at the Billings Invitational on Aug. 26, the Warriors and Lady Warriors had to run through a wild stretch of weather filled with a downpour of rain and hail with multiple delays due to lightning and hail.

Even with the weather testing them as much as the competition on the course, the Worland runners still posted excellent times to start the season.

Two sophomores led the Warriors and Lady Warriors. Trajn Swalstad led the Warriors, finishing 13th in Billings with a time of 17:08.86. Leading the Lady Warriors was Zena Tapia, who crossed the finish line at 19:59.60 and finished sixth.

“I’ve coached for quite a while. We’ve had blizzards, we’ve had rain but nothing to this capacity. It was a whole other coaching experience,” said WHS cross-country coach Kienlen about the weather. “It was a huge benefit having experienced runners. To warm up for a race three times, they handled that incredibly well. We had a hail delay and a lightning delay, and they still came out and still performed. That was huge.”

Kienlen added, “Having Zena finish in the top six with so many competitive teams was exciting. The leadership on our girls team did a nice job, too, dealing with that same weather and making sure everyone was ready. From the heat to hail to rain, they all handled it. They were responsible and maintained their focus on running. That says a lot about an athlete when they can compete in all elements. Our motto this year is to ‘rise above, and that’s what all the kids did.”

Even with the erratic weather, many Worland runners posted personal best times on the Billings course. It also gave those runners who worked hard in the offseason the gratification of seeing their hard work pay off.

Overall, Kienlen was happy with how well her runners executed their race plan.

“It’s fun to get their first times in because you can get to analyze and compare times because we’ve been on that course for a while. You see that from just the first race, they are improving and getting better and pushing each other. For some, like Trajn, who put in a lot of miles during the offseason, it was rewarding seeing that hard work pay off.

“We conference with them on the bus, and we have a race plan. Within that race plan for most of our team, we knew that first mile would take care of itself. We were really focused on miles two to three and keeping that consistency and how to do that. As a whole, the team was able to implement that really well,” said Kienlen.

With the first times in the books, the battle for varsity positioning among the Warriors begins.

“It’s no secret that no varsity spot is safe. It is a dogfight, and they’re going to continue to work hard during practice and reap the benefits because of that. There is no room for complacency,” said Kienlen.

This week’s race is in Buffalo on Friday and with similarities to the fast, flat course in Billings. The Worland runners will have comparable strategies to their Billings race.

There is one stretch in the Buffalo course where runners are isolated from the crowd. This spot in the course is where Kienlen wants her runners to rely on their mental toughness.

“During motivational Monday, we reiterated that we’re going to be practicing the way we compete. To mentally prepare for our workouts this week, knowing that in the middle of our race, when we’re by ourselves with no fans. What do you do to push through that,” said Kienlen.