BRADEN RIVER — Braden River High freshman Madison Daunt is familiar with the thrill of competition.
The 15-year-old cross country runner has competed in numerous 5Ks, triathlons and half marathons since lacing up her running shoes for the first time two years ago.
But no matter how many races she has under her belt, Daunt admits she still gets nervous every time she approaches the starting line.
Such was the case last month at the Canes Classic 5K when Daunt competed in her first high school cross country meet.
“It was excitement mixed with nervousness, but once the gun went off, my head was in the race,” Daunt said. “It’s all a mental game.”
But Daunt wasn’t the only member of the Braden River girls cross country team overcome with nerves.
Fellow freshmen Bridget Lanier and Kristie Affolter also got caught up in a swell of emotion as they anxiously waited for the gun.
“I was nervous and had the jitterbugs waiting for the race to start, but after that, it was game on,” Affolter said.
“I was nervous at first, but I was excited to run with other high schools to see what it’s like to run three miles,” she said.
Since joining the Braden River cross country team, Daunt, Lanier and Affolter have been pegged by coach Chris Bratton as the undisputed leaders of the Pirates’ girls cross country team.
“We have a lot of inexperience this year, but we had a core group of freshmen girls that ran during the summer and three of them will be my top leaders coming into the season,” Bratton said before the season began. “I’m excited to start the season and see how they fair. It’s going to be pretty exciting just to see what happens and see how far they go because you just never know.”
But although all three girls ran cross country in middle school, the trio has had to get used to competing at the high school level, including training their bodies to run a three-mile race instead of two.
“It’s more challenging,” Lanier said. “Just being able to keep yourself going when it’s really hot out … it’s like a game sort of in your mind.
“The hardest part is pushing yourself even further to try and get a better time while still dealing with the heat,” she said.
Through the team’s first three meets, Daunt, Lanier and Affolter are already off to a fast start. In the Canes Classic 5K, Daunt finished second in her age group, eclipsing her personal best by one minute, 23 seconds.
Affolter finished within five seconds of the time she ran at the 13th annual Jingle Bell Run last year.
The following week, the girls competed in the Venice Invitational where Daunt finished 11th in 21:18 and Lanier followed in 21:50 for 19th place. With five meets left before the district meet Nov. 7, the girls already have set lofty goals, including cutting nearly a minute off of their times. Daunt said she hopes to break 20 minutes, while Lanier and Affolter are looking to break the 21-minute mark.
The trio will return to action Saturday morning in the Riverview Invitational at McIntosh Middle School in Sarasota. And after having the past few weeks to practice and rest up, Bratton is eager to see how his freshmen perform.
“It’ll be kind of exciting in our next competition to see where they are,” Bratton said. “They’ve been working out, training and adding (mileage), so hopefully that’ll make a big difference in their times.”
Contact Jen Blanco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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