MEMPHIS – Kayla Puzdrakiewicz has some goals for herself, but making a teammate was a more immediate source of motivation Thursday afternoon. That was University School of Jackson senior Gabbie Stevens.
“It means more this year, I think, because it’s Gabbie’s last year and we want to make it count,” the junior Puzdrakiewicz said. “Before the race today we said ‘Run it for Gabbie.’ It’s for our senior.”
Puzdrakiewicz rolled to a dominant victory inside 21 minutes and Stevens finished third at 21:20 as the Lady Bruins took second as a team Thursday at the Division II-A West cross country meet at Shelby Farms in Memphis. The top four girls’ teams – Evangelical Christian School, USJ, St. Mary’s and St. George’s – qualified for the Nov. 7 state meet.
USJ’s boys, the majority underclassmen, were fourth as a team Thursday and thus qualifyed for state along with St. George’s, ECS and Harding Academy. Sacred Heart finished sixth.
USJ’s Anjali Mahajan took fifth Thursday. At last year’s state meet, Puzdrakiewicz finished 10th and Stevens was 11th.
“I’m proud of the team. We did a good job. We worked really hard this last week. We just all were mentally in it this race, I think,” Puzdrakiewicz said. “Last Friday, the upperclassman girls got the group together and we just talked about how we really wanted to go to state.”
Now they’re on their way, hoping to improve upon last year’s third place team finish.
“Oh it means so much. I’m so proud of the girls,” Puzdrakiewicz said. “I’m just really happy to see even the freshmen, it’s not really as serious for them, to see them really put in the work and focus. It was great.”
Senior Jack Goodwin took control of his race in a similar fashion, stretching his lead for a convincing win in 16 minutes, 52 seconds.
“It’s kind of unknown what’s going to happen every time, but I came out here, put my faith in God and assumed that I would win,” Goodwin said.
“I got about a mile-and-a-half in and saw I had some time so I picked it up a little bit harder. Got to the finish and turned around, I had won,” he said with a smile.
Goodwin finished third individually at state last year. Last year’s winner graduated but the second-place finisher is now a sophomore, Carter Coughlin, and Goodwin expects a good duel with him.
“I feel like I’m pretty ready,” he said.
Craig Thomas, 425-9634