As freshman Anna Colby stands behind the starting line at the Baldwin Invitational, ready for the gunshot, thoughts fill her head. “Was it a fluke? Do I belong on varsity? What if I have to stop running?” But when the inevitable shot fires through the air, all thoughts are lost. She’s no longer having doubts of if she will cross the finish line.
She’s thinking about being the first to cross the finish line.
Colby may be younger than her teammates but at the first two meets she participated in, she came in first place for East. With the exception of one missed meet and an eleventh place finish last week at Rim Rock, she has consistently performed well in races. Her one blemish on the year, Rim Rock, was a meet where she felt sick prior to the race. Regardless, she has been a constant force on the team, scoring points week to week.
Junior team captain Hanna Jane Stradinger saw Colby’s potential from week one.
“I could tell she was going to be good,” Stradinger said. “She did well this summer [in summer running], I guess I just didn’t realize how good she was going to be.”
Colby’s talent has head coach Tricia Beaham impressed as well. Beaham is wowed by her work ethic, determination and the encouragement she offers to others. One thing in particular she sees in Colby is her natural ability.
“Her capability is phenomenal, she’s a naturally gifted athlete,” Beaham said. “I think that she has had that ingrained in her from doing other sports growing up, like soccer, so she’s a competitor.”
Colby may be currently experiencing success on the team, but prior to time trials making varsity was a distant thought.
Colby only decided to go out for cross country a day before the first day of school. Originally, she was only going to do club soccer. She made a last second decision to balance the two sports throughout the fall sports season. Needless to say, she was shocked when she realized she had made varsity for cross country.
The idea of reaching the top level barely crossed her mind.
“I didn’t really think about it that much,” Colby said. “Right before time trials I ran a few practices with varsity, so I was hoping to make either JV or varsity.”
The result of the time trials was better than she had originally expected. Not only had she made varsity, but she did so in impressive fashion, finishing with a time of 16:42. When she crossed the finish line at third place, she was exhilarated that she would be a varsity runner. She knew she had achieved quite a feat, making the top level as a freshman.
“I was really excited, I was hugging all the upperclassmen girls already on varsity,” Colby said. “It was kind of crazy.”
Her performance in time trials reflects the hard work she’s displayed in practice. One of the first things Colby’s teammates notice about her is her desire to improve.
“Anna is a just a natural athlete,” sophomore varsity teammate Emily Kerr said. “But on top of that she works hard in practice and sometimes even leads the workouts even though she is a freshman.”
Acting as the newcomer on the team, Colby is open to advice from her teammates. She takes in each criticism they have, and actively tries to improve on it. They have shaped her as an athlete and shown her the basics. She looks up to her sophomore, junior and senior companions. Beaham has seen the very same connection week after week.
“I believe that it’s not only talent, but that those girls like Maddy [Rich] and Hanna Jane – they’re such kind girls and role models – that Anna, who’s also one of those kind people, sees that and gravitates towards that,” Beaham said.
Colby is continuing to bond with her teammates as the season continues. And as she puts up good times each week and helps out her peers, she is beginning to transcend from just a freshman to a team leader.
“I think the reason why she is such a leader is, not so much again as a freshman because you don’t expect freshman to step it up and be leaders, but she is leading by example,” Beaham said. “She is a very competitive young lady and because she has a great personality, I think that people will look at her not just as a great runner but as a role model.”
Colby’s leader status as a freshman is nothing new to the cross country team. For the past three years, a freshman has gone to state, acting as a leader on the team. It is becoming a trend for the girls.
Three years ago, then freshman Jessie Sykes went to state. A year later, it was Stradinger that carried on the tradition. And last year, Katie Crawford represented East at the state tournament.
Attaining this hefty goal is no easy task but Beaham thinks the possibility of qualifying is looking promising for Colby.
“I think she has absolutely enough capability of making it to state,” Beaham said. “She’s young and so the experience is going to be every race that she runs and has more success in, she will also build confidence.”
This year, Colby has times that tend to qualify for state each year. She has already broken 16 minutes in a race, which is a time worthy of reaching state. Her teammates and coaches feel she should reach the tournament with ease. But Colby’s not concerned about state yet.
She’s not looking too far ahead.
“I don’t really want to think about it until I actually get to that point,” Colby said. “And just try to run if I get there, I haven’t really thought too much about state yet.”
The entire East squad may qualify for state this year. The lancers are currently putting up good times leading into regionals at Shawnee Park. All of the Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley schools will be present at the meet, making it one of the largest on the season. Beaham believes South and Northwest will prove to be challenging competitors but she still thinks East can prevail. All they must do is finish in the top four to qualify for state.
And leading this state contending team is none other than freshman Anna Colby, not letting up and not looking back. She retains a focused attitude moving forward. The nerves now seem far away. The thoughts in her head are beginning to vanish. She’s focused on the remainder of the season, acting more like a veteran than a freshman with each passing week.