Splinter primed for state cross country meet

Published 7:49 pm Tuesday, November 3, 2009

It didn’t seem as likely a few weeks ago, but an Austin runner found a way to get back on track and shift her season around.

Freshman Haley Splinter will be the first Austin girl to run at the Class ‘AA’ girls state cross country meet in 16 years this Saturday at St. Olaf College in Northfield at 11 a.m.

She did so by taking sixth at the Section 1AA meet last week in Owatonna, a place that hadn’t been kind to her at an invite earlier this season. Splinter was coming off a foot injury and she finished 24th at that meet with a time that was about 35 seconds slower than her personal best.

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“We were trying to get her to believe in herself more. She wasn’t quite sure where she belonged (at that point),” Austin head coach Tony Einertson said. “She got injured and then lost confidence. After Owatonna we just sat down with her and said ‘you can be a good runner, but until you believe in yourself there’s not much more us coaches can do.’”

Splinter showed much more zest at the Big Nine meet in Owatonna and took fourth, which helped give her the confidence to run well at the section meet in the pouring rain.

“The weather conditions can play games with you mentally and physically,” Einertson said. “But she had a good attitude and she was ready to run.”

Einertson said he is hoping Splinter will finish somewhere in the top 40 out of 100 runners, based on qualifying times.

While Splinter is not sure what to expect from the meet, she’s gotten some advice from two very helpful sources — her sister Averi Splinter, who has qualified for the Class ‘A’ state swimming meet four times and Albert Lea runner Chrissy Monson, a two-time state qualifier.

Monson, who took second at the section meet last week and finished just over 20 seconds before Splinter, met Austin’s top runner at the finish line and gave her a hug after the race.

“I said I’d see her at state,” Splinter said. “We were both happy for each other. She told me not to overreact to (running at state) and to just stay calm.”

While Monson’s advice was comforting, Splinter has seen first hand what a state meet can be like when she’s watched Averi over the past few years.

“She told me when she made her first trip she made herself sick worrying about it,” Splinter said. “But now she keeps herself calm and listens to her music. She’ll talk to her friends and laugh before she competes. Then she gets in total focus and it’s really fun to watch.”

Splinter has already acquired her sister’s taste for using music to get ready. She has picked up the habit of jamming out to the song “Down” by Jay Sean before her races and singing it to herself as she runs.

“I sing it in my head during the race and it just goes by,” she said.

Splinter, whose mom also ran at the state cross country meet, started running in fourth grade and she was working with the Austin varsity team since her sixth grade year.

Splinter said the toughest part about cross country running is not letting the mind get in the way of the body.

“The mental spot is the toughest. Because you can physically do it, but in your mind it’s like ‘oh I’m tired I want to stop’ and your body will slow down,” she said. “You’ve got to break the mental barrier, which I’m still training to do.”

Einertson said that Splinter has come a long way in the last few years with her training and she runs with the boys in practice now. He thinks the state meet should be a good springboard to lift her into stronger training over the summer.

“Her work ethic has turned around a lot this year and she’s coming along quite well,” he said. “This is just the beginning for her. There’s still another level in her.”