Tara Arnold never really expected to find herself in this situation.
The junior soccer player at Chickasha High School only joined cross country on the advice of her coach, Bethany Goble. Now, the decision to take up running in the fall has paid off, with a trip to the state meet coming up this Saturday.
"I didn't really know what to expect when I went in there," Arnold said. "I was nervous, but I'm going to try my hardest. My first meet, I had a 15:20. By the time I got to regionals, I got a 13:25."
The quick turnaround is a little out of the ordinary, coach Angela Widener said, although she has seen it before. Still, Widener said she sees something in Arnold that could make a good distance runner.
"Her first race, I told her she had potential," Widender said. "I said if you can bring your time down under that 14 mark, that's the barrier. You have to get under that to give yourself a chance as an individual to qualify for state. That's what she started working for."
Arnold said the reason she never really got into cross country before is because she preferred sprints. It makes sense, given her main sport, soccer, consists of persistent running coupled with short bursts of pace.
"I practiced with offseason, but I was never in it," Arnold said. "My coach told me and my friend to try the first two meets and see if we did good. We ended up placing sixth and seventh and seventh and eighth. So, we kept doing it because we were good at it."
Things are a little different for Arnold now in the state meet. She will be there at Edmond Santa Fe on Saturday afternoon as an individual to run the two-mile trek, instead of having teammates with her. Cross country is often a mix, but Arnold said she is preparing mentally for how to handle the situation.
"Individually, it really is all mental," she said. "I can push myself."
Instead of aiming for a specific time, the goals Arnold is setting for herself in the state meet are in increments. After running all season, she'll know the other runners she wants to be next to or ahead of to give herself the best chance of winning. The rest will be down to what Widener calls a natural ability.
"I have not seen this since a couple of girls we had years ago, in 2006," Widener said. "I haven't had as many runners that run naturally as fast, just because that's what's in them. She reminds me of them a lot. They have that natural fire, and so does she."