MOUNT VERNON — If the Mount Vernon girls cross country team attains the lofty goal of reaching the state championship as a team this year, it will be Sarah Baker at the head of the train.
The 2008 All-Ohio cross country runner wants to go out as a champion in her senior season and she doesn’t want to do it alone.
“I help support all the girls during workouts and meets,” said Baker. “I’m just hoping that everyone does really well. We have so far and I hope we keep it up.”
Being a senior on a talented, young squad is an additional set of responsibilities for Baker.
“If we are doing a workout and it’s hot and they look like they are getting tired, I try to cheer them on and boost their confidence,” said Baker. “I try to make them feel comfortable — especially for the freshmen. For a lot of them, it’s a new experience to be on a high school team. This year all three freshmen are on the varsity and they are doing real well.”
“This is her fourth year now,” said Mount Vernon girls cross country coach Pat Gray. “She comes to practice every day and she knows exactly what to do, what’s coming and what she needs to do. All she needs to hear from me is what we are going to do that day. She just takes it, puts herself in a good frame of mind and works really hard. She is one of the few people that I’ve seen work as hard as she does. She really concentrates and focuses.”
Along with her experience, Sarah’s physical presence has grown as she is taller and stronger than last year.
“We lift every winter and we lift through track season,” said Gray. “We don’t really lift a lot during cross country, but we do push-ups and crunches. I think that she’s growing up and she is eating more healthy. She staying away from junk food. I think that, along with her confidence and knowing what to do, people are really noticing this year.”
“After track season (in the spring) I took some time off,” said Baker. “When I got back into it I just did whatever I could to help me for whatever I could do this season.”
Baker, who set the school record for girls last season, pulled off a dramatic win at a 26-team invitational at Watkins last Saturday. Sarah was leading with 100 meters to go, but was passed by a trio of girls from Dublin Scioto.
“I just thought, ‘I’ve been leading this whole thing. I don’t want to lose now,’” said Baker. “I just kicked in a sprint out of nowhere.”
“She beat out the three other girls,” said Gray. “It was sensational. With about 50 meters to go, she was actually fourth. She just darted out to the side and then cut back in, leaned at the line and got it. When you look at the results of all four girls, all four were less than a second apart.”
It’s not just Baker’s strength that helps her to get the better of those finishes.
“Just the fact that I know it’s my senior year and I want to make it the best year that I have had,” said Baker. “I think that gives me more motivation.”
Sarah has made it to state on her own, but alone is not enough in 2009. She would love to lead her whole team there as a senior this year. While Sarah is helping the team achieve their goals, the team is on target to help Sarah do the same.
“I want us to make it to state as a team,” said Baker. “I want to be the senior leader and help lead my team with me to state this year, which would be great. I want this to be the best season that I have had. I want this to be a season that I can go out happy with.”