Plato High School’s Lexi McNiel had a hunch she might do pretty well in the Class 1 state race.
She had scouted the competition and her times compared favorably to the other top runners that weekend.
When she crossed the finish line, she sensed something was different: There was no else around.
VOTE FOR LEXI IN THE 1 AWARDS
Not only had McNiel won the race, she had blazed the competition. McNiel, a sophomore, won the Class 1 girls cross country championship in Jefferson City last November – 41 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher.
“I couldn’t really grasp it when it happened,” McNiel said. “I started running in fifth grade and I had always wanted to win state… but it was one of those things where I didn’t know (if) I could do it.
“I remember crossing the finish line and looking behind me to see who was coming in close to me. That was surprising. I didn’t know I had finished that far ahead.”
McNiel’s finish enabled Plato to take third in the girls’ team standings that day.
SEE ALL THE 1 AWARDS NOMINEES
McNiel said the turning point in the race came around the first mile marker. She began pulling away from the lead group, and after a few zig-zag turns, was in the clear by the second mile.
She had enough breathing room to climb up the big hill near the end of the course.
“I guess I was expecting a little more competition and to be pushed, but I’ll take the win any way I can get it,” McNiel said. “I knew I had to use the the downhills and straight paths to my advantage.”
McNiel, who also runs track in the spring, said she’s much more of an endurance runner.
“I knew I had to pace myself,” McNiel said. “I’m not much of a sprinter. I usually start slow, then build up more as the race goes on.”
McNiel is a four-sport athlete at Plato. She also does volleyball in the fall and basketball in the winter.
“It’s kind of tough at the beginning of the school year, because sometimes I’ll have two practices a day,” she said. “I’ll go to volleyball until about 5:45, then go do cross country, and then get home about 7:30 or 7:45. And when I get home, I obviously have school work and all that.”
Multi-sport athletes are common at Plato, so coaches are accommodating to athletes like McNiel.
“The coaches are really understanding,” she said. “We’re a small school, so we have a lot of athletes that play more than one sport.
“If I had a volleyball game that day, I probably wouldn’t run. If I had a meet, I wouldn’t go to (volleyball) practice.”
Of the four, McNiel said basketball is her preferred sport. She was a second team All-Frisco League selection at guard last winter.
Getting to know Lexi McNiel
Favorite athlete: Yadier Molina
Favorite team: St. Louis Cardinals
Pregame superstition: I never untie my running shoes during the season
Most disliked athlete: I don’t really have one, but I definitely don’t like the New York Yankees
Favorite movie: Tangled
Favorite musical artist: Carrie Underwood
Favorite actor: Sandra Bullock
Favorite athletic memory: Winning state cross country
Song on your iPod most people wouldn’t expect: The Little Beethoven song that came with the iPod. I can’t figure out how to get it off there
Hidden talent: I can do a standing backflip on a trampoline